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Eminent Domain Invoked To Build 2 Sunset Park Schools in Overcrowded Area

 This former C Town in Sunset Park was set to become a 7-story building with condos, daycare, supermarket and more, but will instead become a 332-seat grade school.
This former C Town in Sunset Park was set to become a 7-story building with condos, daycare, supermarket and more, but will instead become a 332-seat grade school.
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DNAinfo/Caroline Spivack

SUNSET PARK — A city plan to add 600 seats to the overcrowded school district by taking over a pair of neighborhood lots through eminent domain is an "expensive and unnecessary acquisition, the lawyer for the property owners said Wednesday.

The School Construction Authority is in the process of appropriating a former supermarket at 4525 8th Ave. and 46th Street and a patch of land at 364 43rd St. off of Fourth Avenue that will expand school plans at a landmarked former police precinct to create two pre-K through fifth grade elementary schools. 

Each building will add roughly 332 seats to school district 15, which stretches from Cobble Hill to Sunset Park, where space for more than 2,600 students is needed, Department of Education records show. 

Once a C Town grocer, the Eighth Avenue lot spans 13,030 square feet and at the moment is owned by 4509 Eighth LLC.

The owners are razing the vacant supermarket and had planned to erect a seven-story building packed with 48 condos, a daycare, ground floor supermarket, food court and 89 basement parking spots, according to the two owners behind the company who were present at Wednesday's SCA hearing. The owners of the 4509 Eighth LLC spoke to a DNAinfo reporter, but declined to give their names on the advice of their lawyer.

SCA and the owners declined to disclose how much the city is in talks to purchase the property for, how much they want or how much the property was initially purchased for in 2014.

But the lawyer representing 4509 Eighth LLC made it clear the owners are not thrilled about handing over their land.

“The city will have to pay substantial sums of money in order to justly compensate the record owners of this property,” said attorney Ashley Levi at the Wednesday hearing. “In sum, this is an expensive and unnecessary acquisition.”

When all is said and done the school will boast a gym, music and art rooms and 3,000 square feet for a play area.

Officials have set aside $325 million to construct 3,800 seats in the district over the next five years, but they have struggled to find space to actually build the schools, according to a November letter the SCA sent to local leaders. 

Eminent domain has helped bridge that gap.

The city's most recent use of eminent domain before this was also in Sunset Park and was used to acquire four 59th Street lots in foreclosure between Third and Second avenues, according to Tami Rachelson, the deputy director of real estate services for the DOE. A 676-seat kindergarten through eighth grade school will be constructed on the land, which is zoned for the neighboring school district 20.

Eminent domain is a useful tool in the city's arsenal but is "absolutely not" common practice for acquiring school sites, according to Gayle Mandaro, a senior attorney with the SCA. 

"We prefer to negotiate," said Mandaro. "But that isn't always possible."

For the 43rd Street lot, officials are eyeing the barren land used as a makeshift parking lot to expand school plans for the historic castle-like former 68th Precinct building.

The owner, Maria Santiago, was not present at the Wednesday hearing and had told SCA officials she was not planning to comment, according to Mandaro. DNAinfo was unable to reach Santiago on Wednesday.