The phenomenon of hotels being used as homeless shelters is not only occurring in Manhattan. It’s happening on Long Island too.
Back in early August, the Town of Oyster Bay issued a stop work order against a developer planning to turn an old, unused Hampton Inn hotel into the new “Jericho Family Support Center.” The idea was to house homeless families there. The Jericho Family Support Center would be managed by a nonprofit called Community Housing Innovations, in conjunction with the county commissioner of social services.
Many residents opposed the move, while others supported it. A lawsuit challenging the conversion and seeking a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) was filed in Nassau County Supreme Court. An initial TRO was obtained, and the Court extended the TRO again last week.
The property, which is located at the intersection of Brush Hollow Road and Jericho Turnpike, would house an estimated 80 families in the shelter (with no single people). Those in favor of the plans say that the site will allow them to keep families together in a safe environment before moving them to more stable housing.
Those opposed to the shelter, however, raised the issue of zoning in their arguments against it, and the town of Oyster Bay agreed.
The empty Hampton Inn is currently zoned for short stay use. The town defines short stay, as per State regulations, as a stay for no longer than 30 days. If the hotel was converted to a shelter, the homeless families could potentially stay for six to eight months, much longer than the currently allowed 30 day limit.
"If we were to allow them to break our zoning code it would set a legal precedent," says Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino. "We are protecting our zoning codes and in doing so we are protecting our residents."
Some residents say that the project was not transparent.
"We certainly don't have an issue with homeless people having shelter or even having shelter in Jericho. It really was the way that this thing was done under the radar, it appears to be an underhanded type of deal and without any input from the community, the school district, from the local politicians, from the town and without any real thoughts," says Marc Albert, of Concerned Jericho Parents.
Other residents are not concerned and feel that it could be a positive move. They believe that the shelter is an important project that would help families gain access to critical services.
"We know all of the good things that the support center was going to do -- child care, tutoring, budgeting workshops, life skills development, housing assistance and so much more," says Sivan Komatsu. "These families really deserve to be getting that, so it's really just heartbreaking that because of a group of people, they're not getting that."
It will be interesting to see how this all turns out, since there is a State mandate that requires the Department of Social Services to assess and provide temporary housing for those who are eligible.
We will, of course, keep you posted!
Here on the Sanchez & Polovetsky eminent domain blog, we like to take a look at the often colorful side of eminent domain lawsuits. Mostly we focus on New York, but here and there we find something that we want to share across the border. By that, we mean New Jersey.
Valley Chabad is a Jewish Orthodox organization that has been looking for a larger facility for more than ten years. Over that time the group twice entered into contracts to purchase property without success. Each time the town of Woodcliff Lake effectively blocked their purchase of those properties by acquiring them by using eminent domain or by modifying the applicable zoning laws.
For reference, Woodcliff Lake is 20 miles northwest of New York City and just over the New Jersey border from Rockland County, New York (where towns such as Monsey and Airmont have concentrations of Orthodox Jews).
The town recently announced that it has reached an agreement in a federal lawsuit that accused it of illegally denying this Orthodox Jewish group’s attempt to expand its footprint. The agreement is being reviewed by a judge and, if approved, would result in the town of Woodcliff Lake allowing Valley Chabad to expand its existing property. It also means that the town will pay Valley Chabad $1.5 million to settle a separate lawsuit filed by the group against the town.
And now the interesting story behind the suit: In 2018, the U.S. attorney’s office sued the town of Woodcliff Lake, alleging that the town violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when it blocked Valley Chabad from buying additional property or expanding its existing building.
Did we mention that there was a third attempt by Valley Chabad too? According to the lawsuit, on that third occasion the town modified zoning laws so townhomes could be built on the same property that Valley Chabad was seeking to buy. Consequently, the Seller of that property cancelled the contract with Valley Chabad.
Valley Chabad also previously attempted to request zoning modifications in an effort to expand their existing property. Those too were rejected by the town. Woodcliff Lake has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. In its Court filings, the town alleged that the plans submitted by Valley Chabad (in connection with their modification request) failed to meet zoning requirements governing houses of worship, such as minimum lot size and parking capacity.
The town has publicly stated that Woodcliff Lake’s goal “is and always has been to engage in sound planning, common sense development, and beneficial environmental practices while fully respecting the constitutional right of religious freedom,” the town said. “The voluntary settlement with Valley Chabad strikes this important balance and provides us with a path forward unencumbered by costly legal action.”
Hopefully, all sides can come to an amicable resolution of this case. As always, we will keep you posted!!
As one might expect from a blog about eminent domain and real estate in New York, we have covered Central Park more than a few times. There are the hidden cemeteries as reported in the New York post and our post abut Seneca Village, a settlement of free African American property owners. This area of Manhattan is where Andrew Williams, a Black shoeshiner, bought three parcels of land between what is now West 85th Street and 86th for $125. By 1850, there was a school, three churches, gardens, livestock, some 50 homes, and roughly 225 residents, the majority of whom were Black.
Amber Tamm, a horticulturist and urban farmer who works at the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm has made a suggestion that is catching on, at least in the press, to convert 14-acres of Central Park into a farm that would feed people in need that are located in Manhattan. The idea is to simultaneously honor a historic black community but also give back to the present ones.
In 1853, the city of New York took control of Seneca Village through eminent domain and razed it to create Central Park. Until recently, in 2011, a group of historians and archaeologists excavated the site and found thousands of artifacts and household items that reflected a middle-class lifestyle.
Tamm wants to take the area back and call it Seneca Village Farms. The effort is timed with COVID-19 and the economic and food insecurity that has arisen from it. “I think calling out Central Park is powerful, because it’s the biggest park in New York City and it has the most flatland,” Tamm said.
In June, a GoFundMe page was launched for Seneca Village Farm which has already raised more than $120,600. The land would be managed as 14 one-acre sites, which would be overseen by one person or group. An urban farming training program would be part of the proposal.
“For me land ownership is more than possession of land, it’s something that I could leave for my future lineage, it’s a way to create a safe space outside of the city to connect with Momma Earth, it was a way to bring community together to heal,” the fundraising page reads. “It’s a way to regenerate soils and grow more local food. This would also be an opportunity for me to find a way to give land access back to the original indigenous people of the future land I decide to rest upon.”
Tamm is planning to meet with the city’s Parks Department to discuss the community farm in Central Park. As with most things that happen in NYC, there are permits. Considering that the Great Lawn is part of the plan that sounds like an impressive obstacle to overcome. Last year, the Central Park Conservancy launched an outdoor exhibit to teach visitors about the historic neighborhood.