The Appellate Division of New York state Supreme Court has annulled the action of the White Plains Urban Renewal Agency that would have had the agency using eminent domain to take a number of properties along East Post Road.
The court found that the agency did not demonstrate that it had a specific public purpose for the taking and did not provide evidence that the area was blighted as it claimed.
The court not only annulled the agency’s determination that it could go ahead with taking the properties but also said, “The petitioners (landlords who sued) are entitled to be reimbursed for attorneys’ fees and costs.”
Appellate Court Judges J. P. Rivera, Christopher Barros and J. J. Wooten signed the decision.
The corporation counsel for the City of White Plains, John Callahan, told the Business Journal that the city received the court’s decision on Thursday and is reviewing it. “After that, the URA will consider its options and decide how to move forward,” Callahan said.
Callahan also said that last week the Urban Renewal Agency took title to one of the East Post Road properties it had been seeking. He described the acquisition as a negotiated purchase.
The lawsuit was filed by Gabe Realty Corp., 12 East Post Road Associates LLC, 2 East Post Road Associates LLC, Adeogun Owonikoko Co. LLC and Mian Shah. The White Plains-based law firm Watkins & Watkins LLP, with attorneys John E. Watkins Jr. and Liane V. Watkins, represented the petitioners.
The urban renewal agency had been moving ahead with the process to condemn 12 privately owned parcels on East Post Road and an abutting 13th parcel on South Lexington Avenue owned by the White Plains Housing Authority. It had reached agreements to buy a couple of the properties.
In an interview with the Business Journal after the lawsuit had been filed, attorney Liane Watkins was critical of the agency saying that it wanted to take the properties so they can be used for a public purpose without specifying precisely what that purpose would be.
The properties the agency moved to take by eminent domain cover approximately 4.18 acres and are a mix of residential and commercial.
The court’s decision said, in part: “A condemning authority which has determined to take real property via eminent domain must, among other things, render findings regarding the project, including, its (1) public use, benefit or purpose; (2) approximate location; (3) general effect on the environment and nearby residents; and (4) such other factors as the condemnor considers relevant.”
The court said that the agency improperly relied on a 25-year-old urban renewal plan when it concluded that the area was blighted and that the urban renewal plan lacked detail or documentation.
“This Court will not act as a mere ‘rubber stamp’ to approve findings of blight where the condemning authority has failed to provide evidence to support its findings,” the court’s decision said. “Where a condemning authority does not demonstrate that property is substandard for the purpose of urban renewal, the authority must identify some public purpose other than purported remediation of blight.”
Citing previous court cases, the judges also said, “The effect of condemnation of property upon the surrounding community depends on the use to which the property is put, and without knowing the use, a condemning authority cannot reasonably conclude that the taking will serve a public use, benefit or purpose.”
The court continued, “A mere potential future public benefit is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that property be taken only for public benefit.”