City drops bid to condemn property at Willets Point: Lawyer

By Joe Anuta

Lawyers for the city have dropped their bid to use eminent domain to obtain property in Willets Point, according to a lawyer who was challenging the process.

Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property in the Iron Triangle to make way for the first phase of the $3 billion Willets Point Redevelopment Project, which would take the place of the auto shops and pockmarked streets in the neighborhood.

The city confirmed that it dropped its current court case to use eminent domain, but said the project was still moving ahead.

“We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” said Julie Wood, spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Today’s action ensures that our plan will comply with the site’s myriad technical and legal requirements.”

Rikon received word at about 4 p.m. Wednesday that the city was withdrawing and would no longer seek to take property within the 20 acres across from Citi Field that comprises the first phase of the project.

“I got to tell you, it took me completely by surprise,” he said, since he was preparing to argue in court Monday that the city did not follow proper procedure to take the land.

Rikon signed a document Wednesday indicating that the city would be dropping its bid, he said, therefore putting the project on hold unless property owners were to sell their land to the city so it could continue with the development. But the document stipulations did not prevent the city from attempting to use eminent domain on the property in the future, Rikon said. If a deal cannot be reached with property owners, the city can simply file another case to use eminent domain and go through the legal process again.

Rikon was set to contend that the city violated the rights of property owners by not providing Spanish language translators at a public hearing. He also argued that the $3 billion redevelopment was not a valid public use.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

More from Around New York