The White Plains Urban Renewal Agency voted unanimously Dec. 5 to move ahead with the condemnation of 12 privately owned parcels of real estate on East Post Road and a 13th parcel on South Lexington Avenue owned by the White Plains Housing Authority, which abuts the East Post Road properties.
The East Post Road parcels are identified as numbers 1-3, 2-4, 60, 42, 34, 26-28, 22-24, 18-20, 14-16 and 12. The South Lexington Avenue property is identified as having street addresses of 184-188 and 190-192. The properties are diagonally across from White Plains Hospital.
The agency held a special meeting in the Common Council Chambers at White Plains City Hall for the votes on two resolutions.
The agency’s legal consultant, Shawn Griffin of the law firm Harris Beach, which has offices in White Plains, explained that much more remains to be done before the properties actually are transferred to the agency’s ownership.
“What we’re doing today is … taking an action that allows the acquisition of the property. We would have to come back to this board before we actually physically go into court one day and take title to the property.”
Griffin said, “I think the most important thing to understand is that this proposed acquisition of parcels is meant to serve the public use and benefit.”
On Sept. 5, the agency had conducted a public hearing that gave property owners who would be affected by a condemnation an opportunity to express their views.
In discussing a comment made at the public hearing by one property owner who complained of not having yet received an offer from the agency of fair market value, Griffin said, “You don’t make an offer for fair market value yet. You’ve had a public hearing. Today you’re saying go forth with counsel and corp counsel (the city’s corporation counsel) to move forward with the actual purchase, and then I’m going to come back to you and under Eminent Domain Procedure Law Article 4. I’m going to ask your permission to go to a judge with a taking map and take this lot. Right now we have the four-plus acres. We might come back to you and say we’ve decided we only need three or something like that. You’re not taking a final act yet. It’s at that point when I’m standing before the judge he’s going to say, ‘Did you make them an offer? What’s the appraisal?’”
One of the affected property owners, Gabriel Arango, attended the special meeting and said later that it’s now time for the agency to negotiate and “make a deal.” He also said that it would be up to the agency to cover the costs of helping tenants relocate.
Griffin said that relocation help from a Westchester housing agency would be sought for residential tenants who will be displaced and that commercial tenants and landlords can go to court after the fact to seek additional compensation if they deem the funds they’re offered to be inadequate.
Mayor Thomas Roach, who is chairman of the agency, had said at the Sept. 5 meeting that the agency had no specific project in mind for the properties. The documents presented at the Dec. 5 meeting categorized the move as “returning the underutilized parcels to productive use” and “combating economic stagnation through stimulating, promoting and/or supporting new and/or existing economic revitalization.”
The agency determined that going ahead with the condemnation of the properties would not have adverse environmental impacts, would not adversely impact the land and would have no adverse impact on health and safety.
The properties cover approximately 4.18 acres and are a mix of residential and commercial. Familiar retail names along the strip include the Burke & McCowen hardware store, the Union Food Market and the One Source Pharmacy. There had been speculation that the agency might seek to have mixed-use development take place on the properties, such as a residential building with street-level retail and an associated parking garage.
Susan Fox, president and CEO of White Plains Hospital, attended the Sept., 5 hearing on the condemnation and at that time told a reporter that the hospital would welcome additional parking and that its staff could benefit from additional housing in the neighborhood.
There has been ample legal precedent in the U.S. for properties condemned in urban renewal projects to be turned over to developers when it can be demonstrated that a public purpose is being served, although the White Plains agency has not announced plans to do that with these properties.
The agency owns land beneath the garage at the City Center shopping and entertainment complex, property on Amherst Place used as a parking lot, the Bronx Street parking lot near the Metro-North Railroad station, and a couple of rights of way.