Willets Point Holdouts Sue To Reclaim Legal Battle Fees
While the city has backed off of using eminent domain as one of the options to force landowners out of Willets Point, some of the property owners are still taking the issue to court. NY1's Ruschell Boone filed the following report.
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When the city announced its redevelopment plans for Willets Point eight years ago it didn't rule out using eminent domain to seize the land from property owners who refused to sell. So some of those landowners sued to stop that from happening. It turned into a costly legal battle.
"We've spent thousands upon thousands of dollars," said Willets Point United Property Owner Len Scarola.
Business and property owners say they've shelled out more than a million dollars in legal and expert fees for a case that never happened. The city withdrew its claim of eminent domain in May. Now the landowners are suing to get that money back.
"It's Eminent Domain procedure law section 702 and it says if the city abandons condemnation then the property owners are entitled to get reimbursed," said Willets Point United Attorney Michael Rikon.
The city says it's reviewing the claim while it moves ahead with the development which has grown from 62 to over 100 acres. The plan to build a retail, residential and entertainment district was recently expanded to include a one million square foot mall and hotel next to Citi Field.
"Now they are increasing it to 108 acres which is going to be almost double the traffic including a million square for mall," Scarola said.
The changes mean the plan needs a new environmental impact study and re-approval by the City Council. But the city's Economic Development Corporation insists it will ultimately mean not only "investment, jobs and housing in a long-blighted area but it will result in even more environmental cleanup than originally anticipated."
There are a number of business owners who have sold their property and are waiting for relocation. This week they got a letter from the EDC stating that the process will begin in February 2013.
Most of those businesses are next to Citi Field in an area EDC calls phase one. The city says it owns 95 percent of the land there, but around 10 landowners are still refusing to sell.
An environmental hearing on phase one of the project is scheduled for September 27.