Town Board’s Use of Eminent Domain Costs Tax payers Millions
It is not uncommon for the Huntington Town Board to purchase parcels of land for various reasons. After being purchased, the parcels typically become the assets of the CDA (Community Development Agency). They are removed from the tax rolls. Typically the town board is not forth coming in what their intention is for the parcels. Typically after acquiring the parcels, the land sits vacant for many years. There have been cases where they pay what seems to be above market rate. One example of this was the purchase of parcels on the corner of Columbia and Lowndes in Huntington Station. This land was purchased from a well known landlord in Huntington Station, Don Pius for nearly $800,000. On the other hand there have been cases where the parcels are taken by Eminent Domain and the rightful owner is offered well below market rate. It seems to depend on who the owner is. Too many of these transactions appear to be illogical and deserving of some kind of scrutiny. Many of these purchases result in wasted money and loss of tax revenue. Most often these purchases adversely affect Huntington Station and the Huntington School District.
The story surrounding the acquisition of 1345 G New York Avenue is one that raises many questions. Despite years of research, we can not ascertain the reason why the town board went to such lengths to acquire this property. 1345 G New York Avenue is a parcel of land located behind the Huntington Station Branch Library, more commonly referred to as the Rotondo property.
The history of 1345 G New York Avenue is a sordid one. It is a widely accepted belief that the Rotondo’s were not responsible property owners. Taking it for face value, it might have seemed beneficial and popular for the town to acquire the property, especially in 2002.
If the Town has specific plans for this land, they are not sharing them. This raises questions as to the very costly use of Eminent Domain in this case. The expenses are related to legal fees, environmental and site studies, and eventually a nearly 2 million dollar settlement to the once rightful land owner. The money spent to hold on to this parcel of land far exceeds its value. It resulted in lost revenue to the Huntington School district. It was also curious that Supervisor Petrone worked to get the fines dropped against the Rotondo’s so they could acquire the land.
On March 2, 2002, the town board scheduled a public hearing for the purpose of acquiring 1345 G New York Avenue. At the time the town Board was made up of Frank Petrone, Susan Berland, Mark Cuthbertson, Marlene Budd and Mark Capadanno . Only 3 days after the public hearing was scheduled on March 5, 2002, there was an auction of the property. As far as we can tell, the property went to auction for the failure to pay back taxes. When the town board scheduled the public hearing to acquire the property didn’t they know that the land was up for auction in 3 days? Why not wait to see who purchased the land and what they intended to do with it?
At auction, the property sold to a subsidiary of the Dejana company called New York Avenue Properties.
The Town continued with its plans to acquire the parcel regardless of the fact that it was purchased by another company.
Prior to New York Avenue Properties buying the land, there were no taxes collected on this parcel. Immediately after purchasing the property, the new owners began to pay taxes of which approximately $20,000 went to the Huntington School District.
Only 4 months after the property was purchased by New York Avenue Properties, the Town Board voted 5 – 0 to acquire the property by eminent domain. This occurred in July 2002.
According to sources at the company, the plans for the parcel included a commercial project that would not have included any housing and would have resulted in approximately $250,000 annual tax revenue to the Huntington School District.
After a long and costly legal battle between New York Avenue Properties and the Town of Huntington, the new owners were required by law to vacate the property. This occurred in August 2007. New York Avenue Properties lost their right to the property they purchased and no longer paid taxes. The Huntington School District lost the revenue.
In of August 2007, the town took over the property. There has been no taxes paid on the land for the nearly 7 years since the town took ownership.
During that time numerous studies have taken place. To this day, the town denies that they have any specific plans for this parcel of land despite the fact that it is mentioned numerous times in the Brownfield study report.
In September 2013, the Huntington Town Board voted to pay New York Avenue Property a settlement of 1.65 million dollars.