Friday, June 3, 2011

Statement of Michael Rikon, Counsel to Willets Point United, Inc. on Lawsuit Filed

Queens, New York, June 2, 2011, Lawsuit Filed

Property owners and commercial tenants in the twenty (20) acre parcel, designated phase 1, in the Willets Point Development plan, filed a lawsuit pursuant to the Eminent Domain Procedure Law to annul a “Determination and Findings” adopted by the City of New York to take their property by use of eminent domain. The lawsuit was filed in the Appellate Division, Second Department in Brooklyn.

The Petition seeks to set aside the authorization to condemn because of violation of the United States and New York Constitutions. The Petition also alleges substantial violations of Federal and State Law.

No Public Use

Among the many challenges made to the decision to condemn is the fact that “there is no specific development plans.” This is a case of “condemn first, decide what to do with the property later.” Both the United States and New York State Constitutions provide that private property cannot be taken by the exercise of eminent domain absent a public use.

It is extremely doubtful whether any developer will come forward willing to undertake the development of such a large area of property. This is especially true when considering the potential need for environment remediation, the need for sanitary and storm sewers, and the need to fill seven feet or more to prevent flooding.

City Denied Spanish-Speaking Business People Due Process

The City knew that there are over 150 Spanish-speaking businesses in Phase 1. The City failed to provide Notice of the Public hearing or advise of the consequences of the hearing in Spanish.

It held a public hearing without providing a Spanish interpreter. The Spanish-speaking members of the public and property owners were not able to comprehend what was being said. Nor was the “hearing officer” able to understand what the Spanish-speaking individuals said. For these individuals, it was as if no hearing was conducted at all.

The City has deliberately misrepresented the rights of commercial tenants to obtain just compensation for their trade fixtures. It has told the small businesses that the limit of their entitlement upon condemnation is $4,000 for moving expenses which is absolutely untrue.

The City Violated the Environmental Conservation Law

The City has failed to take the necessary “hard look” at the environment impacts of the proposed condemnation.

The City proposes to condemn without first having obtained approvals for new ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway. The City has acknowledged that the proposed ramps were an “integral” and “key” part of the development plan.

The City is also violating the E.C.L. by segmenting the Willets Point Development project into segments.

The City’s Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) specifically rejected a phase development approach.

In order to proceed forward with a phase condemnation – without Van Wyck access ramps, the City must first complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

The City has failed account for the terrible and unmitigable traffic impacts the development will cause.

Failure of Equal Protection Of the Law

New York’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law requires that all condemnees, real property owners and commercial tenants receive a written offer of 100% of the highest approved appraised value for their property. This was not done in Willets Point for a single condemnee. Instead, the City made “sweetheart” deals with select prominent owners that garnered political opposition to the project’s approval. Once the “sweetheart” deals were made, City Council members formerly opposing the project, then approved it.

This selective treatment is clearly a violation of the statute and a violation of equal protection of the law.

The approval of the project was also the result of the illegal lobbying funded by the Mayor utilizing former Borough President, Claire Shulman, an unregistered lobbyist who was otherwise precluded from such activity because she was an officer of a non-profit organization which itself is barred from lobbying. The New York State Attorney General is conducting an investigation regarding the blatant violation of Law which corrupted the Legislative Process.

The environmental issues were drafted by Michael B. Gerrard, Esq., a partner in Arnold and Porter, LLP

Michael Rikon is a partner in Goldstein, Rikon & Rikon, P.C. 212-422-4000 ext. 23