The StorageMart on Atlantic Avenue — a huge, hard-to-miss building — is closing to make way for Atlantic Yards. Management sent out a notice via email to its customers yesterday, which one of them forwarded to us. Turns out the building is one of the ones being taken over by eminent domain! The judge granted the state’s request for all seven of the remaining Atlantic Yards sites yesterday, as DNAinfo and Atlantic Yards Report were the first to note.
StorageMart isn’t happy about the seizure. “The New York State Urban Development Corporation dba Empire State Development (ESD) has been trying for years to take over our property located at 718 Atlantic Ave as part of the Atlantic Yards project. Unfortunately it finally succeeded on August 29, 2014,” the email says.
Tenants at 402-406 Albee Square in downtown Brooklyn object to city plans to move them to remote parts of Manhattan and the Bronx to make way for a park and underground parking lot, the Brooklyn Paper reports. Previously, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development promised to relocate them to “comparable housing,” after it acquired the property through eminent domain, said residents and housing activists. One resident said he was offered a new rental in the Tremont area of the Bronx — a 90-minute commute by train. Many residents are asking to be relocated to the Ingersoll and Walt Whitman houses in nearby Fort Greene, where there are reportedly 800 available units. The city allowed the building to fall into ruin over years, claim residents. Downtown Evictees: City Booting Us From Brooklyn [Brooklyn Paper] Downtown Tenants Claim Shoddy Treatment by HPD [Brownstoner] Willoughby Square Park Plans Resuscitated? [Brownstoner] GMAP Photo by raulistic
Atlantic Yards Report and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn point to an article by law professor Ilya Somin entitled “Let There Be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur” that will be published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The article looks at the blight condemnations used to justify the application of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards and Columbia and characterizes them as “highly abusive.” Atlantic Yards Report notes that Somin says the “extraordinarily broad definition of ‘blight’” used for Atlantic Yards is at “odds with the text of the New York Constitution, which allows blight condemnations only in ‘substandard and insanitary areas.’” Somin also argues that the blight studies were predetermined and concludes that the precedents set by Atlantic Yards and Columbia mean “there are virtually no remaining constitutional limits on blight condemnations in New York state.” Law Professor on Atlantic Yards and Columbia Eminent Domain Cases [AY Report] “New Lows in Dubious ‘Blight’ Condemnations” [DDDB] Photo by threecee.
The Daily News reports on how the state has brought two property owners to court because they don’t want to let Atlantic Yards contractors touch their buildings, which the ESDC says they need access to in order “to shore and install tie-backs.” The buildings in question are 700 Atlantic Avenue, which the business Global Exhibition Services operates out of (shown above), and 718 Atlantic Avenue, which is a StorageMart. Forest City Ratner says it needs to do the work on the buildings in order to finish the Carlton Avenue Bridge, which must be complete before the arena opens. State officials say they’ll be able to do the work by partially condemning the properties if they have to, but a lawyer for Global Exhibition Services says there’s “no basis” for such a move under eminent domain laws. Atlantic Yards Report, which reported on the dispute last week, said that a judge has adjourned the matter until the end of the month. The buildings could eventually be seized by eminent domain either way in order to make way for future phases of Atlantic Yards. Businesses Opposed to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project Dragged to Court [NY Daily News] ESDC Seeks Access to Properties Not Yet Taken for Railyard Work [AY Report] Photo from PropertyShark.
It’s Robert Moses all over again! As it prepares for the reconstruction of the triple-cantilever portion of the BQE that below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the State Department of Transportation is considering taking some historic homes in the area by eminent domain and demolishing them, reports The Brooklyn Paper. While project manager Peter King calls the destruction option unlikely, it hasn’t been ruled out. It is well-established that the public sector has the authority to acquire properties for public purposes, he said. It would be premature to rule out anything, and a violation of process to start discounting things. The cantilevered highway was designed to last 50 years and is now approaching 70. Other voices urged not jumping the gun. We are talking about a 10-year process and we’re in year one,” Rob Perris, the district manager of Community Board 2. “It is conceivable that there could be alignments that result in property being taken, but from the standpoint of today that seems highly unlikely. If the prospect of eminent domain does emerge, expect an ugly fight from a powerful group of property owners. Robert Moses isn’t here now, and if a new Moses emerges, we have practice, said Judy Stanton, the executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. We know what to do. State Mulling Taking Heights Homes for BQE Repair [Brooklyn Paper]
On Friday Judge Abraham G. Gerges of State Supreme Court somewhat unexpectedly declined to immediately green-light the Empire State Development Corporation’s request for final approval of the seizure via eminent domain of properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint. Gerges said he would rule on the matter “expeditiously” following arguments from a lawyer for property owners urging the judge to reexamine the project given because of the changes it’s undergone in the past few years. Meanwhile, a lawyer for the ESDC said current Atlantic Yards plans are “virtually identical” to those approved by the state in 2006. On Atlantic Yards Report Norman Oder has an extensive post about the hearing, saying “Gerges’s focus is on the narrow law of condemnation, so it would be unusual for him to allow argument on claims that the project has changed so much–and after the chance for public comment on such changes–that the ESDC should issue a new Determination & Findings. So he could simply dismiss the news claims filed by property owners and leaseholders. Or he could ask the ESDC to revise the petition because of technical defects. Or–the longer shot–he could look at the broader claims, or hold this case in abeyance while another court examines those claims.” Oder also notes that the planned street closings scheduled to start today on 5th Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush are unlikely to occur. Property Seizure for Atlantic Yards Is Delayed [City Room] Condemnation on Hold [AY Report]
The Empire State Development Corporation is gearing up to defend the Atlantic Yards’ use of eminent domain later this month in court, a decision that will make or break the infamous development project. Gabby Warshawer (who also writes for Brownstoner) reported in The Real Deal that if the ESDC prevails, then several residences and businesses along Dean and Pacific will be condemned under eminent domain and occupants will be relocated. More importantly, Warshawer obtained a contract between the ESDC and the Cornerstone Group, a firm contracted for its relocation services that has a history of questionable results. Under the contract, the Cornerstone Group would receive no more than $40,000 in order to contact, meet with and interview each occupant that needs to be relocated to determine individual needs and relocation preferences and provide a comprehensive database of available apartments either through its own resources or by working with a residential real estate brokerage firm. The firm must do the same for businesses, but Warshawer notes that in 2006 Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressman Jerrold Nadler claimed that the Cornerstone Group, an MTA subcontractor charged with assisting in relocation, has continuously failed to provide helpful rental listings for those forced to relocate. Making Money Off Eminent Domain at AY [Brownstoner] Image of 479 Dean via PropertyShark
On 4th Avenue in the 80s, the School Construction Authority hopes to put a 480-seat school to help alleviate crowding at PS 104 and 185. Only problem: private citizens own the property. So the possibility of eminent domain is being invoked, the first time many folks can remember it being used for a school (though surely preferable to some than using it for private development). The property owners had other plans in mind. “The possibility of eminent domain – which is typically used for projects that would benefit the public – has put plans for a grocery store and medical center on hold for the swath of Fourth Ave. between 88th and 89th Sts,” writes the NY Daily News. Since a grocery store or medical center can be classified as good for the public, too, that clouds the argument that a school is the property’s most beneficial incaration. Matthew Brinckerhoff, a lawyer who has worked on eminent domain issues at Atlantic Yards, agrees a school is a “quintessential public use,” but says “[the School Construction Authority] should target a spot that doesn’t already have another public purpose in mind.” Eminent Domain Cloud Darkens Bay Ridge Neighborhood [NY Daily News]
Eleven property owners and tenants within the Atlantic Yards footprint filed a petition yesterday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their eminent domain case, nearing its 18th month in the judiciary system still without a trial. The case was dismissed twice by lower courts in developer Forest City Ratner’s favor. Since news broke of the basketball arena and high-rise project’s Dec. 19, 2009 kill-date (as long as Ratner stops pursuing litigation or construction matters), a lot of attention has been focused on the ticking clock rather than the people arguing beneath it. Now, about that legal case: In short, it seeks to clarify the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo v. New London decision in 2005, which allowed the Connecticut city to give a developer private property for the purpose of economic development. In that case, eminent domain was decided by a legislative body, whereas Atlantic Yards was voted on by three publicly accountable politicians, though it went through a lengthy review process. And lead attorney for the plaintiffs Matthew Brinckerhoff said Kelo’s definition of public purpose was vague, leaving the average person vulnerable to having their property handed over to more influential citizens. They want the chance to vet that out more, and further investigate who Atlantic Yards was actually intended to benefit.
Forest City Ratner execs have long called lawsuits and appeals filed by project opponents “delay tactics” that deprive citizens benefits from the project’s arena, affordable housing and jobs. And now Ratner has found himself in credit crunch territory, possibly delaying or killing key components of the project. Lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein, who owns a condo in the arena footprint, said it’s about their constitutional rights. But as far as the ticking clock, he said this is their last federal appeal, and he expects the court to decide whether to hear it this July. “If they don’t take our case, or take our case and rule against us, then we will go to state court, the appellate division, and raise our state claims.” When asked if they could drag out their case until 2010, after which time Forest City could automatically default if he decides not to continue pursuing litigation, Goldstein said, “We will take our case as far as we can to protect our constitutional rights.” Ratner Only Required To Show Arena Financing for Eminent Domain Approval[Brownstoner] Read The Fine Print[Atlantic Yards Report] Slow Economy Likely to Stall Atlantic Yards [NY Times] What Will Be Left of Gehry’s Vision for Brooklyn? [NY Times]
This morning the Sun takes a look at the drive to seize the old Pfizer plant in Williamsburg via eminent domain. Assemblyman Vito Lopez introduced a bill that would result in the state condemning the 15-acre property so it could acquire it and issue its own request for proposals to create around 1,700 affordable housing units. Pfizer intends to shut down the plant at the end of this year, and it released its own request for proposals for a mixed-use development on the site that would also include affordable housing. Lopez’s chief of staff says Pfizer’s RFP isn’t good enough since it doesn’t specify how much affordable housing would come out the site’s redevelopment, but Pfizer begs to differ. “Not only is the concept of state-sponsored eminent domain extremely premature at this point and could have implications for development statewide but the legislation’s justification fails to mention affordable housing is one of the key uses already being considered,” said a spokesperson for the pharma giant in a statement. Critics of Lopez’s plan think his bill would result in a completely unwarranted use of eminent domain. “The fact that this grossly mistreats business doesn’t make it any better,” says Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “If Lopez wants the affordable housing on that site then he should work with Pfizer to get it included in the development and require that they build it on their property.” Eminent Domain Foes Fear Bid By Assemblyman [NY Sun] Pfizer v. Vito for Rights to Old Pfizer Plant [Brownstoner] Photo by hi-lo.
According to an article in today’s Sun, our new governor could end up opposing projects like Atlantic Yards that involve the use of eminent domain. As a state senator, David Paterson participated in a 2005 rally calling for a statewide moratorium on eminent domain. Councilmember Letitia James, who also took part in the rally, says she hopes Paterson’s views on the subject haven’t changed. “He stood with me and proposed some legislation and I am very hopeful that the lieutenant governor and soon-to-be governor will honor his commitment and will either issue a moratorium or review the abuse of eminent domain across New York City,” says James. Steven Spinola, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, says it’s “premature” to make predictions about where Paterson will stand on eminent domain, but that “It would clearly be a mistake for the state to give up one of its powers to get public improvement projects off the ground.” Time will certainly tell. Paterson Could Derail Development [NY Sun] Photo by d-4ce.