NEW YORK—Community members protested a new Harlem development project on Wednesday that is being proposed to City council. The protestors claim that homes and businesses on 126th street and 3rd Avenue, including the NY Dry Cleaning Academy where the protest was held, are subject to threats of forceful eviction by the private development using eminent domain, if owners refuse to sell.
Eminent domain entitles government to claim privately owned land for public use, such as highways, or libraries.
Damon, a local business owner from NY Dry Cleaners Academy, explained his predicament. His is one of the businesses that will have to sell or be forced out if the plan is approved.
“The city told me, ‘We don’t want to use eminent domain. Eminent domain will be used only as a last resort.’ That’s just like me holding a gun to your head telling you, ‘I don’t want to shoot you, don’t make me shoot you, I’ll only shoot you as a last resort if you don’t sell me your house at the price that I dictate.’” Damon continues, “Isn’t that what happens in all those mob movies? Aren’t they in fact just making me an offer I can’t refuse?”
This is the second plan the City has brought to the community, the first plan was rejected and now the City has come back with essentially the same proposal, only this time it’s called the ‘East 125th Street Development Project.’ If approved, it will force seven private property owners and 17 local citizens off their land.
The City promises the new development will provide at least 450 affordable apartment units.
Richard Lipsky, a Legislative and Public Relations Consultant working with the community in their opposition to the proposed development said this case is an unusual one.
“Unlike other development projects, with a plan and proposed developer, with this East Harlem development project no plan has been made and no developer has been chosen. It could end up being some residential, some retail?” said Lipsky. “But in this current economic climate, one wonders what will come of it.”
The news conference and rally was held in parallel to a state senate hearing on Wednesday about the way in which eminent domain is used, and abused, in New York State. Among a coalition of eminent domain critics at the hearing was newly elected state senator, Hiram Monseratte.
“Eminent domain, as it is currently practiced in New York State, is a deeply flawed law and must be changed to protect everyone’s home and business,” said Monseratte.