Tag Archives: eminent domain

MTA granted eminent domain powers for Flushing LIRR project


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo rendering courtesy of the MTA

The MTA has been given eminent domain powers to move forward with a long-awaited plan to upgrade the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station in Flushing.

The agency’s board voted Jan. 29 to approve the potential use of eminent domain to acquire a one-story building at 40-36 Main St., currently owned by Ou Jiang City Supermarket, an MTA spokesperson said.

It may be a necessary measure in order to continue with a plan to reconfigure the Flushing-Main Street station’s east and westbound entrances.

“We’re hoping not to have to take that step,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan, adding that a State Supreme Court judge in Queens would still need to sign off on the use. “We are hoping to negotiate with the building owner to arrive at a way to acquire that property.”

The MTA wants to construct elevators and wide staircases to make platforms more visible and handicapped accessible — a plan long welcomed by local leaders.

“The LIRR’s Main Street facility was built in the 1950s and is in dire need of an upgrade,” said Councilmember Peter Koo.

Koo said he has received multiple complaints from elderly and disabled riders of the station’s dim lighting and lack of accessibility.

Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said the “hideous” blight has also become a nightmarish “dumping ground” for garbage.

“Our community has had to deal with these terrible conditions for way too long,” Koo said. “I’m glad this train is finally pulling out the station.”

Design work is underway, and construction is slated to begin in 2015, Donovan said. It is unclear when the project is expected to end.

The station is not expected to be impacted during morning and evening rush hour commutes, Donovan said, but there may be temporary closures during off-peak hours.

The project was expected to cost $8.5 million in 2012, MTA-LIRR President Helena Williams previously said. MTA officials now say the project’s budget is under review.

 

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‘Don’t sell out’: Brooklyn holdouts’ message to Willets Point owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The battle against the behemoth billion dollar Barclays Center has long been lost for some Brooklynites, but leading opponents of the project are hoping the war waged against the city will be won in Willets Point.

“Fight to the bitter end,” said Donald O’Finn, one of 14 Brooklyn plaintiffs that took state developers to court in 2009. “These are really important fights. We lost our battle, but the war is not done.”

The Barclays Center — Brooklyn’s new 675,000-square-foot sports arena and home to the Nets — opened on Friday, September 21, but only after a decade of debates by community activists who opposed the project and multiple lawsuits filed by landowners fighting to keep their properties.

Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” (DDDB), a volunteer-run community coalition, said he fought against developer Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, for seven years in federal and state court until eminent domain was used to condemn the entire 22-acre site, including 171 units of housing and 35 businesses, in 2009.

O’Finn, co-owner of Freddy’s Bar — which received a “Ratner payout” to vacate — recalled the seven years spent aggressively fighting legal battles as “sad,” in light of the arena’s grand ribbon-cutting last week.

“It seemed wrong the way things were happening, with the misuse of Eminent Domain, how things were sort of just taken by people who have power and wealth just because they want to,” he said. “It was just so wrong.”

Meanwhile, a similar battle has been brewing over in the next borough.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June that he had selected the Wilpons of the Mets, Sterling Equities and Related Companies to develop 23 acres of land in Willets Point into a major hub for retail, hotels, entertainment and dining.

But before “environmental remediation” can begin, the entire area — home to scores of long-established auto repair shops near Citi Field — must first be vacated, according to Benjamin Branham, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Twenty-seven property-owning entities in the “Phase 1” area have reached deals with the city for an undisclosed amount, while four have refused to sell, Branham said. They are Janice Serrone, Ralph Paterno, George Romano and Tony Crozzoli — none of whom returned calls for comment.

The city rescinded its first bid to acquire the “Phase 1” neighborhood using Eminent Domain in May. Branham said the city would only go back to using it “as a last resort.”

“It remains our strong preference to reach negotiated agreements with these remaining owners, and we’re optimistic that we can achieve this,” he said.

O’Finn, who urged remaining residents in Willets Point not to sell out, said the key to securing victory is to ignite the community.

“You need to get people to listen,” he said. “If you can find a way to get people to actually hear you — that would be my advice, especially in New York, where everything is so busy and fast. I really hope at some point we can win this war.”

Goldstein, however, said the land grab in Willets Point is only similar to what happened in Brooklyn in one way.

“They’re getting screwed just like we are,” he said.

Mets reach deal to develop Willets Point, according to reports


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A new deal has been reportedly struck between the city and a real estate firm to redevelop Willets Point into a mixed-use retail and housing hub, according to reports.

The city rescinded its bid two weeks ago to acquire and develop Willets Point through Eminent Domain, and instead, according to published reports, has reached an agreement with Related Companies and Sterling Equities — which is controlled by the owner of the Mets and Citi Field — to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall with a parking garage on one side of Citi Field and a 200-room hotel and stores on the other.

A Sterling spokesperson declined to comment, and Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, did not confirm the reports but said the city expects to have an announcement in the coming weeks.

Published reports anticipate another prolonged process and said the new proposal awaits an environmental review, public hearings and a public review by the city. However, Friedberg said the city is still scheduled to complete the project in 2013.

According to the Wall Street Journal, developers have until 2025 to begin construction on the property.

Meanwhile, property owners in the 20-acre piece of land are still fighting to keep their businesses and are urging the city to repair the severely deteriorated streets before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.

Attorneys representing the land owners are also seeking over $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the eminent domain case over three years.

Willets Point biz owners fighting for repairs, legal fees


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Willets Point

A coalition of Willets Point business owners are urging the city to repair severely deteriorated streets in their “forgotten land” before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.

“There is no reason to deny our neighborhood essential services. We are New York City taxpayers, and we will not tolerate having to operate our businesses under ridiculous conditions that are direct results of the city’s deliberate neglect,” said Ralph Paterno, who owns Empire Commercial Corps on 37th Avenue. “It’s been neglected for 40 years on purpose. Now we’re just fighting to get basic services that any other community has.”

According to Paterno and his group, Willets Point United, the dilapidated conditions of city streets in Willets Point — a district they say employs close to 1,800 people — obstruct the productivity of more than 250 businesses that operate there and discourage customer access.

Besides the streets being pockmarked with deep craters, Paterno said there are no sewers and few sidewalks in the area. He also said there is no sanitation pick-up, forcing business owners to pay for their own carting services.

According to Janice Serrone, also a Willets Point property owner, the poor condition of the roads directly impacts emergency responders.

“Right now, if a medical or fire emergency was to occur in Willets Point, emergency response vehicles — including ambulances and fire trucks — cannot get to their destinations within Willets Point efficiently or in spots at all,” she said, adding that in 2010, an entire fire truck got stuck in a deep pothole for an extended period of time. “By deliberately denying street repairs and maintenance services in Willets Point and allowing the terrible roadway conditions there to fester, the city is going to be legally liable if and when an emergency occurs and emergency response times are extended with deadly consequences.”

Willets Point United members said they have sent out about three written complaints to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) but said they have never received a response back.

A spokesperson at the DOT said the agency repairs — and will continue repairing — potholes on an ongoing, as needed basis both in Willets Point and throughout the city. More than 500 were fixed since 2008 in the Willets Point area, the spokesperson said, including nearly 100 in the past year.

According to the spokesperson, the agency completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street. However, given ongoing repairs to sub-surface infrastructure in the area, the DOT said full resurfacing projects cannot be scheduled.

“Financially, I’ve suffered quite a bit,” said Joseph Ardizzone, the only homeowner left standing in Willets Point. “I think it’s a disgrace. Democracy is not alive in this country at this point in time right now.”

Last week, the city rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through eminent domain, according to opposing lawyer, Michael Rikon. Rikon, who represents property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property on the 12.75 acre piece of land. He said his firm is seeking about $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the case over three years. Combined with Arnold and Porter — the other firm working against the city — he said the bill could go as high as $800,000.

Meanwhile, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood, which would transform the area into a retail, hotel and entertainment center in place of the established businesses.

“We anticipate an announcement soon for the future of Willets Point,” said Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Since breaking ground on the offsite infrastructure in the fall, we have made enormous progress and are scheduled to complete the project in 2013.”

- Additional reporting by Liam La Guerre

Eminent Domain dead, but Willets Point will still proceed


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

New York City rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through Eminent Domain and may not be able to obtain it for a while, according to an opposing lawyer.
“They cannot condemn this property,” said Michael Rikon, the lawyer who represented Willets Point property owners against the city. “That would require starting from square one.”

Last week, lawyers for the city called Rikon to inform him of their withdrawal of the bid to acquire the neighborhood nearby Citi Field using Eminent Domain. Rikon was shocked but saw the move coming.

“My reaction was surprised, but I understood because there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to win,” Rikon said. “The city saw that as well.”

However, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood.

“We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” said Julie Wood, a representative from the mayor’s office. “Last week’s action ensures that our plan will comply with the site’s myriad technical and legal requirements.”

Before Rikon learned of the city’s decision, he was getting ready to argue that the city didn’t treat the business owners fairly at the public hearings.

“They targeted 150 Hispanic businesses with over 650 employees and they didn’t hire a translator,” he said. “That was so disrespectful.”

Rikon added that the property owners were not properly informed of public hearings. He said they should have been told about them personally within 10 days.
He also denied that the city could have actually transformed the entire 60-acre land for public use because he said there would be too much work for the city to do on a $3 billion.

Rikon admitted that the city could still buyout tenants and property owners.

According to the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the plan to improve Willets Point included a full makeover “with retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing and public open spaces.”

Ramps approved, repairs wait at Willets Point


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

willets point6w

As the redevelopment of Willets Point moves ahead, city officials are “ramped” up, thanks to approval by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) of the proposed ramps that would connect the Van Wyck Expressway to Willets Point.

However, area businesses fighting the city’s use of Eminent Domain to revamp Willets Point say that the ramps are not what is needed — pothole repairs are necessary.

Proprietors are dissatisfied over the recent decision, expected to greatly increase area traffic instead of decreasing the number of potholes lining the neighborhood’s major roadways.

According to several published reports, the area, referred to as the Iron Triangle, has been without repairs because it is slated for redevelopment. As part of a multi-phase process, the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) hopes to install retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing and public open space in the upcoming years.

According to the EDC, the purpose of these new ramps, approved by the FHA on March 22, would be to “provide direct access to the Willets Point Development District and to facilitate traffic circulation in the area once it is redeveloped.”

Willets Point United, a group of local property and business owners, has remained staunchly against this neighborhood makeover.

Larry Santana, manager of a plant that creates asphalt, has run his business in Willets Point for over 30 years. Santana’s company, Willets Point Asphalt, belongs to a collective of local businesses called Willets Point Industry and Realty Association.

He feels that the city needs to do something to repair the potholes.

“There are some pothole areas right in front of my yard that look like speed bumps but they’re not,” said Santana. “Whenever there are potholes and vehicles going over it, it’s not a good thing.”

According to a representative from the DOT, the agency repaired more than 500 potholes since 2008 in the Willets Point area, including nearly 100 in the past year. The DOT also completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two-block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street.

The DOT representative alleged that they are currently unable to schedule resurfacing in this area because of ongoing sewer work. They will not make paving adjustments until after all other roadway changes have been made.

– Additional reporting by Steve Mosco