Eminent Domain Seizures Loom Over West Maspeth: Queens Chronicle, Rego Park NY, 4/12/07

By Colin Gustafson

The government’s proposal to renovate or replace the Kosciuszko Bridge could bring innumerable benefits to motorists who traverse the dilapidated 1.1-mile stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway each day. But for a handful of residents and industry workers in West Maspeth, the impact could be devastating.

In a draft of the Kosciuszko Bridge Project’s Environmental Impact Statement, the Department of Transportation considered five different building alternatives. They include plans to refurbish the 68-year-old bridge and build either one or two parallel spans; demolish the existing bridge and replace it with two new bridges; or build a temporary bridge while construction on another permanent bridge is ongoing. Construction could cost between $515 million to $712 million and take up to six years.

The project could displace as many as nine Maspeth businesses and between 260 and 368 employees, state officials said. “This is going to be difficult, even under the best of circumstances,” said George Kosser, vice president of operations for Karp Associates, a door manufacturer that has operated out of the same plant on 43rd Street for more than five decades.

With over 100 employees, Karp is the largest business in the neighborhood facing seizure under eminent domain. All five of the state Department of Transportation’s building proposals would force the company to relocate, while a sixth “No-Build” option would leave it unscathed.

Already this month, Karp executives have entered talks with state officials on a potential time frame for relocating — a process that would be especially hard for the manufacturer, since its interlinked assembly lines and delicately calibrated machinery cannot be moved without major interruptions to the operation. To stay afloat, Karp would have to open a whole new plant before leaving the old. “We’re not a distributor who can just pack up and move,” he said. “If we don’t get a few years to rebuild, we won’t survive.”

In the meantime, state officials have instructed the company to continue its daily operations as if there were no prospect of being displaced. Under federal statute, the government is not required to reimburse a business for decisions made on the assumption that its assets will be seized under eminent domain. Such rules allow federal and state officials to minimize future liability — for instance, if a business owner buys up expensive new properties in hopes of being handsomely compensated for them later.

That same rule, however, has left Karp in financial limbo, with a recently purchased lot that can no longer be developed. “It does not pay to put the effort and agony into expanding it,” Kosser said. “We’re realists: We know it’s going to be taken along with everything else, and we don’t want to further jeopardize our company or employees.”

Karp’s northern neighbor, the Choudri family, may also lose their properties to the Kosciuszko project. One of the state’s proposals, which calls for the rehabilitation of the bridge and construction of a second bridge on its eastbound side, would result in the right-of-way acquisition of the three adjacent houses owned by Akhtar Choudri, who has lived in the area for 28 years.

Now, Choudri’s 42-year-old son, Tes — who occupies one of the homes on 43rd Street with his wife and child — is hoping to simply cut his losses. State officials have promised him a new home in or near Middle Village, if they decide to seize his father’s properties, he said. But if the government does not take the homes, the noise of construction and other disruptions will likely drive the family out anyway, he said.

“I’d prefer to leave. If the state adopts another plan, and we end up staying, all that (construction) is going to be happening right over my child’s head,” Tes Choudri said. “I’d never give up my home voluntarily, but every other option is just going to kill us. It won’t be worth the aggravation.”

Businesses that do remain, along with residents of more than two dozen other homes on the Queens side of the project, can expect noise increases during construction, according to the impact study. The state will release its completed Environmental Impact Statement in either August or September, according to department spokesman Adam Levine. The approved proposal still has to be reviewed by federal transportation officials.

Before the completion of the impact statement, the state will host two public hearings; one in Brooklyn on April 19 and the second on April 26 at DeVry Institute of Technology, located at 30-20 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City

Queens Chronicle, Rego Park NY: http://www.zwire.com