Building owner to pay for FDR repairs

Building’s foundation with cracks over and along the FDR. In 1938, the Board of Estimate approved an extension of the FDR Drive from East 92nd Street down to East 49th Street. The City acquired full title to the land necessary for the extension except from East 54th to 56th Streets, where it acquired a permanent easement from the Henry Phipps estate to use the area for street purposes. The estate retained the right to erect columns, beams, and foundations within the easement area, which would allow it to construct a building over the FDR. The City agreed not to interfere with the estate’s structures, and paid, per a court’s judgment, $336,757 as just compensation for the easement. In 1957, the Board of Estimate noted that the City’s easement was limited to 36 feet above the FDR. In 1959, the estate completed construction of a residential building known as 25 Sutton Place South above the easement.

In 2002 and 2003, the City inspected the area and found cracks in the concrete above, and in the columns along, the FDR. When the building refused to make repairs, claiming it was not responsible, the City hired a contractor that repaired the cracks for $295,142. The building sued the City, seeking a declaration that it was not responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the understructure. The City counterclaimed to recover the cost of the repairs and for a declaration that the building was responsible for the repairs as the owner of the understructure.

The lower court ruled that the building owned the understructure and was responsible for its repair and maintenance. On appeal, the First Department agreed that the building owned the understructure, finding ample evidence in the Board of Estimate’s records as well as the court’s condemnation and compensation orders. The court found that the City’s easement specifically excluded the columns and foundations and that the owner was awarded additional compensation for the added expense of constructing a building over the easement. The court also found that the transfer platform upon which the building rests was four inches above the City’s 36-foot easement and was built by the owner, providing additional proof that it was the owner’s responsibility. The court remanded the question of who was responsible for the emergency repairs, however, finding that the City’s actions from de-icing the FDR may have caused the understructure to crack.

Cannon Point North, Inc. v. New York City, 2007 N.Y. Slip Op. 07496 (N.Y.A.D. 1st Dept. Oct. 29, 2007).

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