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  •   Lately, we have been covering the New York transit system and even a few stories about what’s happening in New Jersey.  Let’s face it. Things are pretty bad. The system is more than 100 years old, the City and State are fighting over who is going to pay for the upgrades, and commuters have had enough.   In 2017, the American Society for Civil Engineers published a report card giving America’s infrastructure a D+ average. Coming from the Big Apple, we often think of the city as the best of the best and no one can do anything better. But in the case of infrastructure, Dallas can be a good example on what is going right.  We know that the population is only 1.38 million compared to the population of New York City at 8.5 million, but there are still lessons to be learned. Dallas added more than 100,000 people in 2017.  Even with the “Don’t Mess with Texas” mentality, Texas’ regulatory system has supported positive efforts in the areas of the environment, planning, and rapid advances in smart-traffic technologies. Specifically, here are some of the key areas where the city is hitting a home run on infrastructure. High-speed rail: When the rail will be completed, it will connect North Texas to Houston in 90 minutes. Getting this project done is due in part to the eminent domain laws that grant authority to railroads like the Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail project.  While similar projects are in the works elsewhere in the U.S., Texas Central appears furthest along in completing theirs — and it is privately funded. Autonomous vehicles: In July of this year, the city of Frisco will join forces with the company Drive.AI to launch Texas’ first autonomous street shuttle. While other cities are working on autonomous vehicles, Texas appears to be the first to schedule the use of a shuttle service on public streets. Smart infrastructure: This effort is one of our personal favorites. The cities of Frisco, Grapevine, Dallas and other North Texas cities have started the process of sharing their traffic data to improve stoplight timing. The idea is to synchronize traffic flow rather than building wider streets.  Data analysis is a major part of smart infrastructure, and the city of Dallas authorized an $8.9 million contract with Ericsson to analyze the data collected at tens of thousands of intersections.  From there they will try to synchronize traffic flow in Dallas, and eventually use that same system across a 10-city region. Highway funding: The Regional Transportation Council of the North Texas Council of Governments recently approved a resolution to fill a $1 billion funding gap.  Just like it probably sounds, that is one of state’s biggest highway projects. The eastward expansion of Interstate 635 uses tolled lanes and had to receive the state’s approval to extend the use of tolls to pay that project. In this case it was crucial for the completion of that project. Down the road, pun intended, the Texas Legislature is going to need to restore support for toll roads. Either that or Texas will continue to struggle with funding for years to come. Compared to New York though, tolls in North Texas are minuscule. So there you have it – a bit of an infrastructure road map that also includes eminent domain.  Now why can’t New York get it together?

    25 May
    25 May
  • For those in the New York area who commute into Manhattan, the talk of the opening of the East Side access starts off as exciting news and often ends with skepticism. Finally, there’s been an update and a hard deadline for the long-delayed project that links the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Grand Central Terminal. Here it is: MTA chief development officer Janno Lieber said that the $11.2 billion project will be ready by December 2022. The East Side Access project team has been told that there will be there’s “no more messing around with the delivery date.” Business and political leaders attending a meeting of the Long Island Association in Melville were on hand to hear the promise. Pressure is mounting as the MTA recently announced that there is a $1 billion cost overrun and that the agency will need an additional $1 billion to complete.  (OUCH!) This project has been going on for about 20 years, when way back when, the MTA first proposed the plan to bore tunnels to a new Manhattan terminal for the LIRR at Grand Central.  The launch announcement said that the project would be completed by 2009. (Yup, 9 years ago!) Blame it on the blame game, but Lieber says it’s Amtrak’s fault that the project is only 70% complete. It seems that Amtrak promised cooperation at a work site in Queens and the MTA just didn’t get it.  Amtrak in response says that it has a lot going on and has been hampered by other construction projects its employees are working on in the region. Lieber also said the MTA plans to revamp its third-track project website, amodernli.com.  The site will include information about 100 different railroad that are estimated to increase the LIRR’s capacity by 50 percent. Some have reason to be optimistic and LIRR president Phillip Eng is most likely under significant pressure too.  Especially with so many delays in recent years and several other major infrastructure projects underway that hope to modernize and expand the current system. There’s the Double Track project between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma that’s set for completion in August. Also, you might have heard about a plan to build a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville.  The project will begin this fall and cost about $2 billion. Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, a business and planning group, also commented at the meeting, saying that the public needs to know about these projects. We have to agree, the upgrades will not only benefit commuters, but people’s property value. The question for most Long Islanders is:  Will it ever happen?  Because for those of use who work on Manhattan’s East Side, 2022 can’t come soon enough!

    15 May
    15 May
  •   Billion-dollar plans for a new Islanders arena, retail and entertainment complex at Belmont Park, has gotten Nassau County Executive Laura Curran thinking.  She recently announced that there should be redevelopment plans for the Nassau Hub, the 77-acre area around NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. According to Curran, she’d like legislators to consider the “new possibilities” which include a biotech park; housing; pedestrian walkways; and a rapid bus transit system connecting the site to the Mineola and Hempstead Long Island Rail Road stations. Referencing the Belmont plans, Curran said that, “plans for the largest undeveloped piece of county land need to be rethought.” Last week a public hearing was called by the country legislature to discuss the development of the Hub as well as the legal status of the property. Other county leaders have also sought to redevelop the parcel.  For example, Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project proposes 2,300 housing units, office and retail space.  Former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s plan includes a 25-acre science and technology park to be built atop an underground parking garage. Curran’s plans seem to be more ambitious.  She is looking to build on the entire 77 acres.  This could run counter to a plan by Syosset-based developer, Blumenfeld Development Group, which is proposing primarily entertainment and retail on 11 acres of the site. According the principal of the firm, Edward Blumenfeld, “While reasonable people can debate the term “transformational,” the question for this administration is whether another RFP will bring a higher, better or “transformational” use for this parcel or will it bring another considerable delay that adds one more chapter to the history of repeated land use study and missed opportunities.” Blumenfeld Development Group won a settlement in February against former development partner Forest City Enterprises for the right to propose an idea to redevelop the Hub. Forest City Enterprises worked on the Coliseum renovation completed last year. On May 21st Blumenfeld’s lease for two sections of the Hub property known as the Coliseum plaza will expire. That’s one reason why Curranwants to “take a fresh look” at a plan to develop the entire 77-acre property.  Her office says that it prefers a plan that is “not piecemeal”. One thing we do know is from the Town of Hempstead.  Zoning for the Hub property allows for nonresidential building height restrictions of 40 feet for residential; 60 feet for nonresidential or mixed use; 100 feet for a hotel. A maximum of 500 residential units, with 20 percent defined as “affordable” or “workforce” housing. At least 3 percent of the land area must be public parkland. In the meantime, a 140,000-square-foot Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center building broke ground in October 2017 and there was a renovation of the Coliseum, which reopened in March 2017. It’s off to the redevelopment races!

    04 May
    04 May
  •   For quite some time now, the Hoboken, N.J. waterfront has been in the press with talks of eminent domain and whether or not the northern waterfront property owned by NY Waterway would be taken and turned into a park.  NY Waterway bought the longtime Union Dry Dock ship repair property on Sinatra Drive in November to use as a place to repair its commuter ferries. The ferry serves over 30,000 commuters each day. An unscientific online survey posted on the Hoboken city website had 2, 447 respondents, with 75 percent saying that they would prefer that the property be converted to open space, even if doing do would cost the city “tens of millions of dollars.” Those answering the survey did not have to live in Hoboken, although 77 percent said that they lived within 10 blocks of the site. Hoboken’s mayor, Ravinder S. Bhalla, has been enthusiastic about preventing a commuter ferry service from moving its maintenance operations from its longtime base in Weehawken. NJ Waterway left the old site because it had to make room for residential development.  At one point the Hoboken’s City Council approved the use of the power of eminent domain to take the property from the ferry company if a deal could not be worked out.  The city has offered NY Waterway $11.6 million for the site, but of course no press has reported on the outcome. We’re assuming it’s a no-go. Naturally, these stories have twists, turns, and thickening plots.  This issue is no different.  To counter the efforts of the Council, New York Waterway persuaded NJ Transit, the state-run operator of commuter trains and buses, to buy the Hoboken site and lease it back to the ferry company. This would have stopped eminent domain proceedings in its tracks as the city would not have been able to force a state agency to sell the land. In the end, Governor Chris Christie, on his last day, was not able to get the vote passed and incoming Governor Philip Murphy didn’t want to get involved in the matter.  Murphy is calling everyone back to the drawing board. Fast-forward to April 2018 and the Hoboken City Council is not longer wishing to use eminent domain to take the property.  It’s back to talks as Governor Murphy is pushing Mayor Bhalla to work with NY Waterways, and Bhalla called on Murphy to cancel a special NJ Transit Board of Directors Meeting that was scheduled where a vote was expected to vote on whether to purchase the land. Rumor has it that a join solution will include both a ferry maintenance facility and a public space on the 3-acre property.  Time will tell. This blogger thinks a few more stories will come from this project!    

    30 Apr
    30 Apr
  •   It’s been an exciting week in eminent domain news at Sanchez & Polovetsky PLLC.  Several days ago we were able to announce that the firm settled an eminent domain case for almost triple the amount of the initial offer made to its client by the City of New York. The property was taken in connection with the Archer Avenue Station extension and redevelopment project. Sanchez & Polovetsky’s client is the former owner of a building in Jamaica, Queens (near the Archer Avenue Station Plaza).  Of course it is gratifying to settle a case, but we also feel a great sense of pride when we get to help a property owner in this way. In this case, much was accomplished.  First, although the terms of the settlement are confidential, we can confirm that the settlement was in an amount that was approximately 2.5 times the initial eminent domain award offered to the client (almost triple with interest).   Secondly, court proceedings took approximately 4.5 years, which meant that a long and drawn out trial of the matter (which attorneys at the firm have confirmed was looming), was avoided. Thirdly, Sanchez & Polovetsky was able to obtain considerable amounts of money for their client, while saving the client the substantial time and the money associated with eminent domain trials. Here’s a bit of background about the area.  In 2015, the post office on Archer Avenue in downtown Jamaica moved three blocks away in order to make room for the city’s plan to redevelop the area near the AirTrain Station.  The project widened Archer Avenue and created broader sidewalks and new turning lanes for buses.  It also created pedestrian plazas near the AirTrain hub.  The City acquired privately owned property along Archer Avenue in connection with the project. Just in case you didn’t know, the AirTrain connects with MTA New York City Transit subways, more than a dozen buses, and the Long Island Rail Road. For people who don’t want to spend the money on a taxi or Uber, the mass transit option provides a low-cost way to travel to major destinations in NYC and New Jersey. The general idea of the plan is to rejuvenate the area with new hotels, stores and apartments.  Some of which is already in full swing.  The hope is that some travelers, on their way to and from JFK Airport might want to make a stop to the area and stay a while. We are thrilled to be a part of this exciting transformation!          

    19 Apr
    19 Apr
  • Most of us take what a politician says with a grain of salt, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is no exception. He says that he doesn’t want to take control of the planning authority for Penn Station from City Hall, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Some say, and many agree, that improving Penn Station should be handled by the State of new York, and that this project should top Cuomo’s list.  After all, Albany has more money and clout to modernize the area than NYC does. The State also has the power to override local zoning regulations, which it seems is about to happen. Governor Cuomo has said that “Penn Station is in imminent need. It’s a public safety hazard. You have 600,000 people there every day. We have a new age of terrorism and Penn Station could be a dangerous circumstance if we don’t find ways to do more access and egress.” According to the governor’s proposal, the Empire State Development Corp. would create a development district or special Penn Station zone — from 34th Street to 32nd Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues as well to 30th Street west of Seventh Avenue.  Cuomo’s plan to fund the Penn Station project is to promote large-scale office development.  The only problem is that there appears to be little demand for new office towers in that area.  (Aren’t there so many empty offices already?) City officials have claimed that they were not consulted on the State’s proposal, and that they opposed any attempts by the State to wrest away their local control and remove environmental reviews. Last week, Cuomo had a spending proposal that was approved by the Legislature.  Those paying attention took note that there was no mention of giving the Empire State Development Corp. condemnation power or the right to override city zoning laws.  Tucked into the budget, however, was the “Pennsylvania Station Public Safety Improvement Act” which made it clear that Cuomo is not giving up on the idea of eminent domain. Making unspecified changes to the station “is a major objective for the State to resolve and should be made a top priority,” it said. According to reports, the budget says that the state “should coordinate and consult” with the community, business groups and federal and city government.” And that…“the State will provide funds to UDC [Urban Development Corp., the legal name for the ESDC] to begin with the planning of any such redevelopment.”  What do we think?  We think this smells like eminent domain is coming sometime in the future…. Who is in charge now? It looks like the State is holding the reins here.  The ESDC has a lot of power over the city and local businesses, including the power of eminent domain when necessary. That means it can buy out owners of “blighted” (a highly subjective term) properties and demolish them, either voluntarily or through a forced sale (a/k/a eminent domain). Does all this sound like eminent domain could be on the horizon? Perhaps yes. In a presentation given by Cuomo at the Capitol, it was there for all to see.  And this is where things get sticky. On top of all of this (literally) sits Madison Square Garden (“MSG”), which will have its operating permit with the city expire in seven years.  We can leave that heated debate for another day’s post. Sounds like things are going to be changing…

    10 Apr
    10 Apr
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