An appellate court has thwarted Yonkers’ efforts to seize a crucial 3.6-acre riverfront property that is owned by the city of New York.
The Appellate court’s Second Department ruled on March 20 that the proposed condemnation by the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency may not be granted under the doctrine of prior public use.
The property at 59 Babcock Place is between the Hudson River and the Metro-North Hudson Line and within the Alexander Street urban renewal area. Last year, the Yonkers IDA granted tax incentives for a $500 million project by Extell Development to build 1,395 rental apartments and retail space near the Metropolitan Transportation Authority depot.
The city of New York bought the property in 2005 and leases it to the MTA.
Yonkers wants to use it to extend Alexander Street and open up more land for development.
“These precious lands should not be sleeping quarters for buses,” Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said in 2015, in announcing plans to use eminent domain to take the property, after years of trying to find a new location for the bus depot.
Spano described the depot as an impenetrable barrier to the waterfront and an obstacle to development of underutilized land.
Yonkers IDA authorized the use of eminent domain in late 2017, to take the property from the city of New York but to exclude the MTA’s lease interest from the action.
The city of New York and the MTA petitioned the court to deny the condemnation.
Municipalities have broad authority in New York to take property for a public use or benefit. In this case, the four-judge appellate panel ruled, the Yonkers IDA had established a legitimate public purpose: increasing Yonkers’ economic viability and tax base.
But land may not be condemned, under the prior public use doctrine, if the new public use interferes with an existing public use.
The court cited several comments made by Yonkers IDA officials at a 2017 public hearing:
- “It’s not a proper spot for them.”
- “We need to get this out of the way.”
- “It has to go if we want development to continue.”
Those comments, the appellate justices ruled, confirm that Yonkers’ intended use would interfere with the bus depot.
Accordingly, the Yonkers IDA determination to condemn the property “must be rejected.”