Former Property Owner Loses Fight to Regain Land
Domenick Vitucci owned a parcel of property on which he operated a business repairing and selling used trucks. In 1992, the New York City School Construction Authority condemned Vitucci’s property for construction of a public school. However, some time later the City abandoned its plan to build the school. Instead, the City determined that the area would benefit from an expansion of the facilities of Blue Ridge Farms, a large-scale food production business whose land surrounded Vitucci’s property, and which had long desired the land.
When the City tried to sell the property to Blue Ridge Farms, Vitucci sued, seeking to invoke his right under section 406(A) of the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law. That provision states that when a condemning authority later abandons the project for which the property was acquired, the condemnor may not dispose of the property for private use within ten years of acquisition without first offering the former owner the right of first refusal to purchase it back. After a long and heated court battle, a state appellate court in late 2001 upheld a lower court’s ruling that the City’s urban renewal plan furthered a legitimate public purpose by creating jobs, providing local infrastructure and stimulating the local economy. According to the court, the property’s sale to a private entity serves primarily a public purpose, the court held, notwithstanding that a private entity directly receives a substantial benefit, and therefore is not subject to the refusal rights set forth in EDPL 406(A).1
Given the court’s interpretation of the statute, it’s hard to imagine under what circumstances a former owner could buy his land back. In Vitucci’s case, the City abandoned the original project and was selling the property to a private party. Apparently that’s not enough. This case highlights a frequent problem with condemnations—the government agency claims some public-sounding purpose for the condemnation but after the agency gets the property, it abandons the original purpose and conveys the property to a private party. In many states, and now in New York, former owners are simply out of luck.
1 See Vitucci v. New York City School Construction Authority, 735 N.Y.S. 2d 560, 562 (N.Y. App. 2001).