City’s condemnation of SI park to proceed

Three brothers owning land in Staten Island challenged use of ULURP to exempt City from condemnation procedures. In 2002, the Planning Commission approved an application by the Department of Parks and Recreation to add 14.5 acres to the Skyline Playground, a neighborhood park in Staten Island. Six of the 14.5 acres belonged to the Putter brothers, who planned to develop the site and had a pending application with City Planning for 50 affordable townhouses.

The Putters sued in 2002, but dropped the suit when the City informed them that the map amendment would not impede their development plans. The brothers proceeded until 2004 when City Planning told the Putters that an application to down-zone large parts of Staten Island, including their six acres, could gain City approval before the Putters’ application.

The Putters sued again, requesting that the court force the City to vote on their application. They claimed that City Planning purposely delayed their application while Staten Island’s down-zoning initiative worked its way through the land use process. Less than a month after the Putters’ suit, the City filed the required court proceeding to condemn the Putters’ six acres.

A lower court ordered the Planning Commission to vote on the brothers’ plan, but the court overturned the order after the City appealed. 3 CityLand 49 (April 15, 2006).

With the case pending, a court stayed the City’s condemnation. When the condemnation proceed ing recommenced, the Putters claimed that the City’s ULURP process in this case was insufficient to replace the hearing required under eminent domain law. The Putters claimed that the notices for the Parks map amendment referred to acquisition of private property, but did not specify acquisition through eminent domain. The City was not, as a result, acting as a condemnor when it conducted the ULURP hearings.

Justice Abraham Gerges granted the City’s condemnation petition, ruling that the City’s procedures satisfied the requirements of the eminent domain law. The City had considered and submitted to the Planning Commission the factors set out in the eminent domain law; the City clearly stated that its application pertained to the demapping of streets, the creation of the park, and acquisition or disposition of property related to that purpose. In addition, the court found that the Charter envisioned that property taken by eminent domain could be reviewed in accordance with ULURP. Finally, the court ruled that the Putters’ claims concerning the propriety of the ULURP process should have been raised in an article 78 proceeding. If the Putters were allowed to bring claims relating to ULURP during the City’s condemnation proceeding, the exemption provision of the eminent domain law would have no practical value.

Jones Woods Park Addition to the Skyline Playground, 2006 NY Slip Op 26433, Oct. 25, 2006 (Kings Cty.Sup.Ct.) (Gerges, J.).

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