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Appeals court OKs New Rochelle taking property for fire station in development deal

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An appeals court has upheld New Rochelle’s right to condemn a property that is part of a complicated deal to relocate Fire Station 1 and develop a 28-story apartment building.

New Rochelle fire department development MacQuesten Development
New Rochelle Fire Department Station 1.

The Second Appellate Division ruled on March 11 that the city acted properly in 2017 when it authorized the taking of 65 River St. by eminent domain and when it decided not to conduct a full environmental impact study.

“The fact that a private developer will receive an ‘incidental benefit’ as a result of the project to relocate the firehouse,” the panel of four justices concurred, “will not invalidate the condemnation.”

The property is owned by River Street Realty Corp., managed by Michael Gravenese.

The 1.5-acre site is across the street from a Toyota dealership and Radisson Hotel, at Palmer Avenue near the Exit 16 interchange of the New England Thruway (I-95), at the edge of the downtown.

For years, the two-story office and warehouse on the parcel was home to Gravenese’s Post Marine Supply. Now the building is empty.

Fire Station 1 is about a quarter-mile away, at 45 Harrison St., in the thick of the city’s ambitious $4 billion initiative to rebuild the downtown with new dwellings, stores and offices.

MacQuesten Development New Rochelle eminent domain
A rendering of MacQuesten Development’s project.

In 2017, the city determined that the 50-year-old fire station was antiquated, and that the property could be put to better use as a high-rise mixed-use development.

Bids were solicited and MacQuesten Development of Pelham won the right to build an apartment, office and retail structure and parking garage.

But to make the $120 million deal work, MacQuesten could not disrupt firefighting.

MacQuesten proposed starting the project in 2018. It would begin on Harrison Street and work around the firehouse, and then relocate the fire station to 65 River St.

New Rochelle tried to buy the Post Marine property.

“They named a price,” Gravenese’s attorney, Kenneth J. Finger, said in a telephone interview, “but we felt it was a low-ball price.”

He would not say how much the city offered. But the price was irrelevant, he said, because his client had offered to lease the property to the city. That would have enabled New Rochelle to get immediate use of the property without resorting to eminent domain or paying the full sale price.

“They rejected it,” Finger said. “They wouldn’t even discuss it.”

River Street Realty Corp. challenged the condemnation directly with the Second Appellate Division, and since then, there has been no work done on the Harrison Street project or a new fire station.

Now Gravenese has two options. He can challenge the decision in the Court of Appeals or he could allow New Rochelle to take 65 River St.

“They would pay my client the offered amount,” Finger said, “and then we would litigate over the value of the property.”

The city was represented by Darius P. Chafizadeh and Michael Curti of Harris Beach PLLC of White Plains.

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