We’ve blogged about bridges and buildings, and now we can blog about yachts in upstate New York! The Oswego Yacht Club building is facing potential eminent domain proceedings by Oswego City officials after the club mounted a legal challenge to the City’s lease termination effort.
The Oswego Common Council terminated a lease agreement between the City and the Oswego Yacht Club (“OYC”) in late summer. According to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, City officials voted to break the lease because they decided that the use of the pier and the building had “drastically changed,” and it was no longer sensible to use the building as a private club.
The Oswego Mayor has often called the International Pier underutilized, and he said that revamping the parcel is an important part of the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan.
The City’s efforts began after it received a $6.5 million grant awarded to Oswego as part of the State’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), in an effort to transform the pier from its current status as a gravel drive to a “pedestrian-oriented boardwalk.”
The International Pier contains a single building that, for more than a decade, has housed the Oswego Yacht Club (which first signed its lease for the premises in 2009 when the Port Authority of Oswego owned the property). The city of Oswego took possession of the property in 2012 and inherited the lease, which under its current extension would run through March 2025.
In August, the City voted to terminate that lease agreement. This was done despite significant objection from OYC members, including Commodore Phil McBrearty, who told City Council members in August that the organization did not believe there was “legal justification for termination of the lease.”
The Mayor says that removing the Oswego Yacht Club from the building is necessary to accomplish the goals of the City’s multi-million-dollar waterfront redevelopment.
City officials cited a clause that allowed for the lease termination if the property were partially destroyed, which the City argued would occur with the redevelopment of the International Pier. The Yacht Club, however, has challenged this assertion by pointing out that: (1) the property is not currently demolished; and (2) the city is speculating that the premises will be “voluntarily” demolished (by the city at some point in the future).
There is still a pending lawsuit as to whether or not the City has the right to terminate the lease. Regardless, the City plans to start an eminent domain proceeding in order to take back its own property, and to continue with the construction and redevelopment of the International Pier.
As we have informed you in the past, eminent domain is the government’s power to take private property for a public use. Governments, however, are required to provide property owners with just compensation when taking property via eminent domain. In this eminent domain case, the issues at hand would possibly be the valuation of the unexpired term of the lease and/or any trade fixtures that the Yacht Club is entitled to compensation for (assuming the lease allows it).
In most cases, eminent domain is used to acquire private property for a public use. In this case, however, the City would be repossessing a City-owned building that was leased to a private entity. Although this has happened in other cases in past years, it is not a very common occurrence in the world of eminent domain.
According to Court filings, the OYC has said that “monetary damages are not an adequate remedy for the city’s breach” of the lease. It claims that the property “offers unique access to Oswego’s only deep-water marina,” and that the “location is critical for maintaining OYC’s public presence and recruiting new members.” “OYC’s monetary damages from the City’s unilateral attempt to terminate the lease are difficult, if not impossible to calculate.”
In terms of what and when we will be hearing next, it seems that the full Common Council is likely to vote on the matter at the body’s meeting on October 13th. We will watch for eminent domain proceedings to be filed in New York State Supreme Court (the same venue where OYC’s lawsuit is currently pending against the City).
This is certainly an interesting case with many eminent domain issues. Clearly, the OYC is not quite ready to abandon ship.
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!!