Eminent Domain Surprise? You bet. We’ve got the story here: two sisters, Fran Gandarillas and Angela Camarda, have a property in Islandia, Long Island, that is up to date on its taxes and is under contract to be sold. So you can imagine their surprise when a Newsday reporter called them asking them about the Islandia village’s plans to take the property by eminent domain to build a new public works and truck yard facility.
“We know nothing further unfortunately,” Gandarillas, told the Newsday reporter. “We thought it was some kind of prank.” They questioned how the village could take their property, citing that it is up to date on taxes and is under contract to be sold.
They found out about the plan a day before a public hearing was initially scheduled. According to Islandia Village officials, they are proposing to seize the 1.7-acre residential property on Old Nichols Road by eminent domain.
When asked by the reporter, officials did not immediately say how they sought to notify the property owners. Officials said they commenced eminent domain proceedings against a nearby property two years ago and stopped the effort because of an unrelated issue of illegal action, which they did not immediately specify.
The village has outgrown its current public works yard behind village hall, and officials have been looking for a property to store equipment for several years, Village Attorney Joseph W. Prokop said, noting a preference for a location on the north side of the Long Island Expressway. Prokop gave a pretty standard answer when asked about the proceedings, “This would allow the village to better service roadways and provide other services in this part of the village.”
According to the reports, municipalities have to notify property owners within 10 to 30 days of a public hearing either in person or by certified mail, but an “inadvertent failure to notify” them may not affect the validity of municipalities’ claim on the property, according to state law.
The sisters’ property has been used until now as a day care center called “The Nursery School, Too,” according to state records. The property is in a residential area that is surrounded by homes. There is also a nonprofit equestrian center serving people with special needs.
If the Islandia Village were to successfully take the property, they would have to pay fair market value. According to records attained by the Islip Town Assessor’s office, that would be approximately $745,000.
Village spokesman Hank Russell said a public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7, despite a public notice listing it for July 31 — a discrepancy he attributed to an error. The hearing will be at 6 p.m. at village hall.
The next time visitors come to visit you for a tour of New York City, the New York Wheel may be on their list of places to see – or not.
Let’s take a quick look at how it all began… The idea for a New York Wheel began in 2008, when Meir Laufer, CEO of Plaza Capital Management, a small Financial District-based developer, first visited the London Eye and had a dream to create something similar in New York. Laufer pithed the idea around and eventually caught the attention of investor Eric Kaufman, a developer and a former top broker at Colliers International.
Not everyone agreed that the project was a good idea, but an exclusive construction deal with Mammoet-Starneth, the engineering firm behind the London Eye, was achieved. This agreement enticed deep-pocketed investors, including those with EB-5 visas. According to the US Government website, the program is for entrepreneurs that are eligible to apply for a green card if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States, and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. According to the Real Deal, the program is facing a major backlog in applications, resulting in up to 15-year wait times for visas.
By 2010 a site for the New York Wheel was searched for and with the help of NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing arm, as well as with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Staten Island was finally agreed upon. In September 2012, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the plan to the public.
The project’s challenges are long, and here are just a few: The current estimated cost is over $600 million, which is more than twice the original figure. Vicious infighting has ripped apart the working dynamic of the development team. All of these challenges have resulted in public officials and government agencies suddenly going quiet when they had given support to the project for the past three years.
In May, the engineering company, Mammoet-Starneth, walked off the site after saying the soil could not support the structure. (Some reports say they were fired.) In December, the contractor filed for bankruptcy and in February, the developers agreed to pay $460,000 to help cover storage costs for some parts of the wheel.
In addition to a new management structure and the amount of money it will need to continue, the Wheel is one of many EB-5 projects across the U.S. mired in controversy that has left investors in limbo. Regional center Canam Enterprises has raised $206 million from 412 EB-5 investors for the project, according to the firm’s website.
So where does it all stand? A deadline was set for September 5th, and pushed back to September 11th, to see if the Wheel will keep rolling or if the project will have a permanent end. If it does end, it would be seen as one of the largest EB-5 failures. Maybe Hollywood will dive in and make a movie about it all.