LIRR's property plans: Long Island NY Newsday, 1/28/07

Railroad wants to seize portions of up to 80 properties along path of planned third track project

By William Murphy

The Long Island Rail Road plans to seize portions of up to 80 properties by eminent domain for its Third Track Project along the Main Line Corridor from Hicksville to New Hyde Park, the railroad confirmed last night.

Susan McGowan, a spokeswoman for the railroad, said those areas would be acquired for right-of-way to allow siting of a third track, which is meant to ease congestion on the busy commuter rail line. Only "several feet" of property or easements is contemplated - not seizure of entire lots - for the right-of-way, she said.

In a telephone interview, McGowan confirmed that 27 properties in New Hyde Park, including some homes and businesses, could be seized either wholly or partially in order to eliminate three at-grade crossings in that village.

She would not say how many properties on the Third Track Project's route east of New Hyde Park might be taken by eminent domain for elimination of at-grade crossings in those jurisdictions.

McGowan's comments came hours after a crowded meeting in a community center next to New Hyde Park village hall, with people questioning the railroad's plans and angered by the lack of information about the project.

The total number of 80 properties was included in an LIRR "Project Briefing" plan that was given to village trustees by the LIRR in New Hyde Park last month and was distributed at yesterday's meeting.

The Third Track Project, affecting an 11.5-mile stretch from Hicksville to Queens Village, includes addition of a third track, elimination of at-grade crossings and renovation of stations. The railroad is supposed to submit a draft environmental impact statement to the Federal Transit Administration in April, with public review of that draft slated from September to December.

The railroad held public hearings in 2005 as it prepared the draft environmental impact statement, but local officials and residents along the project route have complained bitterly about the lack of information they have gotten from the railroad.

The possibility of the usage of eminent domain to seize homes and businesses became public only in recent weeks.

"Who knew?" one woman in the audience yelled out yesterday.

About 300 people crammed into the community center for the meeting yesterday morning. Robert Lofaro, a trustee of New Hyde Park and chairman of the village's Long Island Rail Road Task Force, said at least 50 people could not squeeze in. So he did a second presentation at noon after the first wave thinned out.

"We come in peace," he said at one point to the angry crowd. "We're just the messengers, so we don't want to get shot."

Word of which villages or other areas along the Main Line Corridor could face seizures through eminent domain has come largely through interviews with local government officials who have been notified about plans affecting their locales.

Officials with the villages of Bellerose and Floral Park have said that the LIRR has told them that no private property there will be taken. The Village of Garden City has said that it might lose a portion of one commercial property.

That leaves in question a number of communities east of Garden City, including Carle Place, Mineola and Hicksville.

Mineola Mayor Jack Martins said the LIRR briefed him on its plans for his village, and the agency did not rule out condemnations under eminent domain.

The LIRR has not briefed North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, town officials said Friday.


How many properties in Nassau possibly will be seized for the LIRR Third Track Project?
Portions of up to 80 properties from Hicksville to New Hyde Park for right-of-way only; all or part of 27 properties in New Hyde Park for elimination of at-grade crossings; and an unknown number for at-grade crossings from Hicksville to New Hyde Park. The LIRR will not decide which properties until the federal government makes a decision on the project sometime around September 2008.

What compensation do property owners receive?
Reasonable compensation, which normally is defined as a property's fair market value. But property matters can be complex, and fair market value sometimes might include more factors than what the property could bring on the open market.

Who determines the amount to be paid to property owners?
Ultimately, a court fixes the compensation.

Is there an appeal?
Appeals can go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What is an example on Long Island of property seized by eminent domain?
One recent example is Stony Brook University's annexation in November 2005 of 246 acres for a technology center. The university took the property from Gyrodyne Corp. and paid the firm $26.3 million. Gyrodyne considered the property worth a great deal more and has gone to court, seeking $158 million in damages for what it alleges is the state's undervaluation of the land.

What is the legal and moral justification for seizing property from a citizen?
That the individual's private property rights must bend to the public good. For example, should a private home be razed to make way for a water pipe that supplies thousands of homes? Balancing those interests has proven difficult for government and for the courts.

Long Island NY Newsday: http://www.newsday.com