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  •   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
  • Sometimes we need to get serious, and this eminent domain story about the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been in the news quite a lot over the years, won for the prime spot of blog post of the week. If you will remember, there was an approximately $8 billion, Canada-to-Texas pipeline that was to be built. It saw lots of opposition from many parties including: property owners, environmental groups, and even several Native American tribes. Under President Trump’s administration, the pipeline has won support from congressional Republicans-who approved a federal permit for the project. Those in support of the Keystone XL pipeline included business groups who claimed it would create jobs. It was also said to reduce the risk of shipping oil by trains that can derail. This is a big pipeline, which if completed, would carry oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. It would then connect to an existing pump station in Steele City, Nebraska and then continue through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas until it reaches Gulf Coast refineries. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t have to reimburse attorneys who defended Nebraska landowners against the company’s efforts to gain access to their land through eminent domain. In 2015, TransCanada Inc. filed an eminent domain lawsuits against 71 Nebraska landowners. TransCanada dropped its eminent domain claims in Nebraska after pipeline opponents raised significant questions about whether the law the company invoked could survive a court challenge. It’s a significant amount of money that has been decided upon, especially if you are the homeowner. Dave Domina, the Omaha based attorney who represented several landowners says that TransCanada owes his clients $350,000 in attorney fees. Domina says that TransCanada lost the case, effectively, and that they should pay the landowner attorney fees. So what happened in Nebraska with the original case? In 2012, a law was passed under Governor Dave Heineman, to approve a route through Nebraska, bypassing an independent state commission that was legally entitled to review such projects. Probably taking a more traditional route for getting permission, TransCanada submitted a new application to the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which approved a slightly different route than the one TransCanada wanted. This lead to another appeal from landowners. That case is expected to go before the Nebraska Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be heard in the fall. James Powers, the attorney for TransCanada, said that the landowners failed to prove that they paid the attorneys, or were legally indebted.

    15 Mar
    15 Mar
  • We just can’t blog enough about the Gowanus and eminent domain. So much to talk about from week to week about this area. Then was saw this interesting story, rather an interesting picture of an historical building, and it peaked our interest. In a nutshell, there is a lovely historical building. It’s a two-story beaux-arts building, built in 1913 by the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity located at 234 Butler Street. Just in case you know the area, it’s a the corner of Nevins Street. This building captures the essence of the area — Gowanus as one of the earliest and busiest industrial and manufacturing centers in this country! Historically it is important as being the only building that actually bears the name of the neighborhood. Of note is that Salvatore Tagliavia and his wife Lena, are the current owners of the 234 Butler Street. Despite the historical importance, and overwhelming community advocacy to save the building, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection Agency (D.E.P.) has plans to demolish the building and put in an 8 million gallon Combined Sewer Overflow (C.S.O.) tank and facility. As readers of this blog already know, advocates are always looking for some sort of creative solution, and there are some proposed solutions buzzing around for this project too. Some members of the community would like to see, at the very least, the façade incorporated into D.E.P.’s design for the C.S.O. facility. The New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) said back in October of 2017 that “Based on our review of the project details to date, it appears feasible to retain and incorporate the historic former Gowanus Station Building (234) Butler Street into the project. This building that has a prominent street presence on the corner and the very edge of the city’s preferred site, has overreaching significance on the National Register eligible Gowanus Historic District. Its demolition would adversely affect both the building and the National Register eligible Gowanus Canal Historic District. To destroy this intact, architecturally distinctive example of Brooklyn’s civic and industrial heritage would be a disservice to the Gowanus neighborhood and to the city as a whole.” There is also support from Community Board 6 that agrees that there is historical importance for the building in the community. Alas, it seems that the D.E.P. is not up to the challenge of saving the building. And like so many other stories of this nature, there is a bit of history in the story itself. In June of 2016, the E.P.A. finalized an agreement with the City of New York that secures the design of the larger of two combined sewage and storm water overflow (CSO) retention tanks, mandated by the Federal Agency as part of Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup. There are lots of other details, but you need to know that the City’s plan relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street, which currently houses a film production studio, will be seized and then leased by the City for temporary staging purposes. The NYC Council will cast its vote in April 2018 (or so they say), when other government parties have completed their studies. While all of that is going on, the D.E.P. is designing the C.S.O. facility on the footprint of 234 Butler Street. The D.E.P. has determined that it is not technically feasible to keep the building or the façade. The excavation for the retention take would undermine the structure, because it is too brittle and has been alerted too many times. What…

    07 Mar
    07 Mar
  • By Jennifer Polovetsky On Saturday, March 03 rd, 2018 · no Comments · In , , , ,

    We are going to give you a bit of a refresh about the Gateway Project, which was supposed to ensure that a new rail tunnel is built under the Hudson River. It’s Amtrak’s busiest and most profitable stretch of track that connects New York City and New Jersey.  Putting it in gentle terms, it’s a hot mess of corrosion ever since Superstorm Sandy flooded the tracks and wiring with salt water. To understand the importance of this project, one needs to know that the existing tunnel moves 80,000 people a day. It is the only rail link between the city and all points south. That’s a lot of people and a lot of homes where people need to get to and from each day. After the Amtrak Train crash in Washington that killed three people, Trump touted his infrastructure plan.  However, more recently, the Trump administration firmly said it was not on board with an Obama-era agreement to split the cost of repairs with the State. “There is no such agreement,” Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams wrote to project planners in a letter published by Crain’s New York Business. This might force New York and New Jersey to reimagine the project and have it funded with a public-private partnership, which would replace federal grants with money from private investors. Federal funding would be capped at 20 percent of the project cost. Unfortunately, some say this will drive up the costs of what is one of the most expensive rail projects on earth.  It also adds delays to an improvement schedule.  (Who has time for that?!) If you commute, or know anyone that does, you’ll realize along with the experts, that repairing the tunnel is a must.  To get there, we must suffer with a 75 percent cut in service.  That would most likely be felt by the city’s economy and perhaps even on a national level. Superstorm Sandy wasn’t the first time talks of major repairs were discussed.  Way back in 2009, there was a tunnel project funded with stimulus money, but then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled it. He sent that money to road repairs. Later, in 2015, Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached an agreement with the Obama DOT head Anthony Foxx. The agreement was to share the cost of the new tunnel, with the federal government paying 50 percent. This past July, the signs of trouble began.  The U.S. DOT representative resigned from the board of the Gateway Program Development Corporation.  That signaled that Gateway would receive no special treatment in Washington. Later, the DOT recommended a low-interest federal loan. It would be similar to the one that came from the RRIF (Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing) program. So there you have a beginner’s lesson in funding vs. financing. The timing of all this could not be worse.  There is a significant problem with institutionalized corruption in the city’s public works projects. Brian Rosenthal, from The New York Post, published a story that shows why projects undertaken by Cuomo’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority can cost seven times as much as similar endeavors in other global cities. OUCH! Although Gateway is not an MTA project, there are many similarities including the need to work with: consultants, contractors, and labor groups.  When it comes to budgets, the tunnel has already nearly doubled from initial estimates, to $12.7 billion. For many, that supports the message that it’s time for a public-private partnership. That bad timing is not just for New Jersey folks.  Those commuters still don’t know how everything will be paid for which is estimated to be as much as $30 billion. There is a…

    03 Mar
    03 Mar
  • By Jennifer Polovetsky On Friday, February 09 th, 2018 · no Comments · In , , , ,

    For a long while, since 2015 really, everyone thought that the Willets Point project was over. That was when a state court ruled that the city could not take a piece of Flushing Meadows Corona Park (you know… from the MIB movies) for a large shopping mall and garage.  Bloomberg was the mayor at the time and the project was estimated at $3 billion. As with most of our blog posts, it’s not a simple story, and the plot thickens.  This past Monday, Mayor Bill deBlasio’s office agreed to a new deal with the original developers for a new version of the plan.  If you know anything about this Mayor, he likes to talk about affordable housing.  So it comes as no surprise that the plan includes the building of 1,100 apartments for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, a 450-seat school, open space and retail outlets. The area will be six-acres at Willets Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. The idea for a mall has been struck down. The Mayor’s office seems to be happy with the arrangements. “This is a happy and smarter ending to the first phase of Willets,” said Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for economic development under Mayor De Blasio. Plans are to convene a task force with the Mayor’s office and Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, and Francisco Moya, the local City Council member, to fashion a framework for developing the remaining 17 acres at the site. Some, including Ms. Katz, are pushing hard for a soccer stadium at the Willets Point site, near both the National Tennis Center and Citi Field. This has been an idea in the works. Bloomberg came close to a deal in 2013 with the New York City Football Club to build a 28,000-seat stadium on the site. What was the problem?  Youth soccer leagues who were promised new fields loved the idea, but park advocates opposed turning over park land to a private developer. The city has already spent $287 million on buying land, cleaning it of the remains of hazardous chemicals and paying for the relocation of businesses. So the situation has been long and difficult.  Then there is also the community opposition, litigation and the politics related the needs of local residents. News of the redevelopment plan first came out in 2002, as party of the city’s bit for the 2012 Olympic Games.  In addition, plans called for 5,500 apartments, a hotel, a convention center and retail. But that didn’t work. Mostly, property owners, business owners and the like were upset about the news.  Over the years there have been ongoing issues from clean-up to proximity to CitiField.  At any rate, last year the state’s highest court upheld the lower court decision and the project seemed to die again. In recent months, the de Blasio administration has worked with Ms. Katz and Mr. Moya to craft a new arrangement with the developers. The developers will be responsible for cleaning the site of toxic materials by the end of 2020, with the first 500 of the 1,100 apartments built by 2022, according to city officials. One of the three buildings will be reserved for older tenants and more than one-third of the units will be for households earning less than $43,000, for a family of three, more apartments than under prior proposals. After 12 years of ongoing changes, it will be interesting to follow what comes to fruition!

    09 Feb
    09 Feb
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