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City Waited Too Long to Build on Property Seized Under Eminent Domain: Suit

By Gustavo Solis | October 9, 2014 10:31am
 The city recently launched eminent domain proceedings for  a long-delayed six-acre East Harlem redevelopment zone  where area property owners say officials are unfairly trying to squeeze them off their land.
East Harlem Eminent Domain
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EAST HARLEM — The owner of a property that the city seized in 2008 for a massive $700 million development is suing to get the land back — saying the city blew its deadline to move ahead with the project.

Heron Real Estate Corp, which owned the lot at 2449 Second Ave. before the city seized it in 2008 along with other nearby properties, filed a lawsuit last week saying the city missed its three-year deadline for its planned mixed-use residential building with retail stores and a community center.

The project never got off the ground after one of the developers, General Growth, went bankrupt in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, filed against the city and the Economic Development Corporation on Oct. 2 in New York State Supreme Court, the city had a three year deadline to move forward with the project that expired on October 2013.

However, the city claims their deadline lasted until February 2014 — and said they filed filed paperwork to start acquisition proceedings to extend that deadline to use eminent domain in the area a few days before the deadline, according to the lawsuit.

Questions over how the three-year deadline was calculated center around a 2010 appeal filed by some of the property owners, according to Heron Real Estate's lawyer, Stephen Meister. 

Meister said a judge ruled in favor of the city getting the land in October 2010, leading the property owners to go to the Court of Appeals, which dimissed the appeal in February 2011, saying the court did not have jurisdiction.

While the property owners believe the eminent domain deadline began in October 2010, the city says the deadline began in February 2011, according to the lawsuit.

“In attempting to justify its untimely acquisition proceedings, the City has relied on a self-serving computation of the date the statute of limitations began to run that is patently erroneous, contrary to the plain wording of the statute, and in violation of all applicable principles of statutory construction," Meister wrote in the lawsuit.

Heron Real Estate is now asking a judge to rule that the city should be forced to return the property to the owners.

The city's Law Department's senior counsel Michael Chestnov wrote in a statement, "We will review this lawsuit. However, as detailed in our legal papers in a related matter, the city has complied with all the procedural requirements, including commencing within the required timeframe, to move forward with this urban renewal project.”

The EDC was not immediately available to comment.