Dispute of city’s massive East Harlem project rumbles on

Resolution next month could be start of long appeals process

Rendering of the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center
Rendering of the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center

A Manhattan judge dismissed several counterclaims by a group of East Harlem businesses against the city’s eminent domain plans for the neighborhood, setting up a hearing next month that could lead to a long appeals process.

New York Supreme Court Judge Shlomo Hagler threw out all but two claims made by the East Harlem Small Business Association, which represents a group of mostly African American and Hispanic landlords and tenants. The association is attempting to block the city’s plans to evict business owners in the neighborhood to make way for a 1.7 million-square-foot project known as the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center.

While the decision brings the city one step closer to the $700 million Bloomberg-era project, there are many hurdles still to overcome. The judge upheld claims that the city “failed to comply” with eminent domain procedure requirements – namely, its responsibility to provide an acquisition map of the areas it sought to condemn. Another hearing on Sept. 16 will decide this claim.

“We’re actually very excited about this decision,” Adam Leitman Bailey, an attorney who represents the association, told The Real Deal. The appeals process could last “a few years,” he said, and added that “no one’s won anything.”

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Representatives for the city, however, also said they were pleased with the decision.

“It rejected nearly all of the challenges, and found that our petition to acquire the properties was timely,” said Michael Chestnov of the New York City Law Department. “We are confident that we’ll prevail on the remaining procedural issue once the facts are presented at the hearing.”

The City Planning Commission first approved the acquisition of the properties in 2008, but delays associated with the project’s developers pushed plans back. The Economic Development Corp. launched the eminent domain process last year, but was hit with legal challenges by the association and other businesses in the area.

“The site holds the potential for much-needed affordable housing as well as community, cultural and commercial space, all of which were prioritized by the community during a dedicated planning process,” an EDC spokesperson said.