June 17th, 2009 — By — In News & Events

Port Chester offers apology for taking property by eminent domain

Jun 16, 2009 – Port Chester, NY – The village of Port Chester publicly apologized to property owner William Brody for improperly seizing his commercial property by condemnation nearly in 1999. In a settlement that ended the decade-long battle between the property owner and the village, Port Chester paid the property owner $475,000, formally apologized from the steps of the Village Hall during a settlement signing ceremony and re-named the street corner where his commercial buildings previously stood “William Brody Plaza.”

Dana Berliner, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice (and a member of OCA), represented Mr. Brody in his litigation against the village. As reported in LoHud.com, Ms. Berliner explained that the conditions of this particular settlement were out of the ordinary but that “The case was never about money; it was about vindicating Mr. Brody’s rights.”

In reality, the case was more than simply vindication for Mr. Brody’s individual rights, it became a stimulus for changing New York’s eminent domain law.

In 1999, Mr. Brody’s property, including four commercial buildings, was seized by eminent domain for the construction of a 27-acre shopping complex built by G&S Investors. Mr. Brody missed the legal notice in the local newspaper which indicated Port Chester’s intention to take his and other privately-owned properties. At the time, that was the minimum requirement for notification to a property owner under New York law. Mr. Brody sued the village claiming that he had no opportunity to fight the condemnation because he had missed the newspaper notice.

In a 2004 landmark reform, the notification requirement was amended obligating municipalities to notify property owners by certified mail or personal delivery.

At Tuesday’s settlement signing ceremony, Port Chester’s Mayor indicated that the village had no intentions of further condemnation actions and that it respects individual property rights. However, many would agree that actions speak much louder than words. Currently, the village owes two other property owners approximately $900,000 for properties seized in 2000 and 2001 for the same development. (See LoHud.com: Port Chester owes nearly $900,000 to owners of 2 seized businesses.) Port Chester has missed its May 15, 2009 deadline to pay these property owners the amounts owed, which includes the property value plus interest since the properties were seized years ago.

Attorney Michael Rikon (OCA New York Member) filed a motion recently against the village seeking payment of the amounts due plus a late payment penalty. Rikon explained that this has become an unnecessary and improper burden upon the two former property owners, who are no longer in business as a result of losing their properties.

The village attorney responded to the recently filed motion by saying that it was unnecessary and that the property owners will eventually get their money. Isn’t it interesting: the village was able to quickly condemn property after simply posting legal notices in the paper, yet, some of the property owners whose homes, businesses and livelihoods were taken continue to await just compensation for their losses?

In a blog post yesterday: Apology Doesn’t Go Far Enough, veteran journalist Phil Reisman who reported extensively on this “eminent domain fiasco” wrote: “…the apology to Brody isn’t enough. The village should extend it to the scores of merchants, landlords and apartment dwellers who were bullied, terrorized and swindled during that terrible period.”

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