STAPLETON — The owner of a Staten Island catering company has sued the city in an effort to take ownership of a municipal plot he's used as a parking space for 30 years.
Ettore Mazzei, owner of Chez Vous Catering, said he thought the 5,000-square-foot lot next to his 701 Bay St. building was part of his property and he's spent thousands of dollars maintaining it over the years.
But he learned the city owned the lot in November after he saw an MTA photographer taking pictures of it. He was ordered to vacate it the next month.
"They know that I've been using this land for 30 years, they knew they didn't step foot on it for 40 years," Mazzei said. "They're just being bullies."
Mazzei filed a suit in January to take ownership of the lot under the "adverse possession" law, which allows people to take over the title of property they've used and maintained for more than 10 years.
In court documents, the city's lawyers argued that the lot is "immune" to the law because it serves a public use as part of the Staten Island Railway transit line.
They claim the plot of land is needed to build a new power station for the Clifton train stop.
“The complaint will be reviewed," a spokesman for the city's Law Department said in a statement.
Mazzei said the city hasn't needed the property in the years he's been there. It even has a high, barbed wire fence separating the lot from the MTA's adjacent land.
"For ... decades they never stepped foot on it, they never say 'Hey this is our lot,'" Mazzei said.
"They have 100 acres in the surrounding areas and this is one-eighth of an acre. Why are they going to need an eighth of my acre and put me out of business?"
Mazzei said he discovered last year that a previous owner of his property lost the plot of land to a tax lien in the 1960s. Mazzei said he's tried to come up with solutions with the city — including offering to share the lot — but he was ordered out of the lot by Jan. 31, 2016.
Previous adverse possession cases ruled the city to be immune if the property was needed for a "governmental function."
Mazzei said losing the land would hurt his business because it cuts into the entrance to his parking lot from Bay Street and drivers would have to enter through an unmarked alley at the end of Dock Street.
He added that he's spent thousands of dollars over the years keeping the lot free of potholes and cleaning it. He also uses it for storage for his catering company.
In its response, the city wrote the "only immediate harm" to Mazzei would be "having a temporary fence erected on the property and having to relocate his personal property. This is purely an economic harm and is insufficient."
Mazzei said he had to hire Michael Calano, a lawyer who previously fought against the MTA in an adverse possession case, and he expects it to take years to resolve.
"I’m going to be into this thing for $30- to $40,000," he said. "I’m a small business and we really don't have that kind of money."
A judge ordered that Mazzei could temporarily retain access to the lot during the dispute. The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday.