Judge gives OK for Haverstraw village to enter chair factory site : Westchester NY Journal News, 4/6/07

By Akiko Matsuda

A state Supreme Court judge gave the OK for the village [of Haverstraw NY] to enter the old chair factory site for environmental testing, although he didn't decide if the village's authority to condemn the property was still valid.

Owners of the former Empire State Chair Factory site in Haverstraw village have filed a complaint in state Supreme Court in Westchester, claiming that the village and its contractors have been trespassing on their property.

The 10-acre waterfront property on Liberty Drive was designated in 2003 as part of the village's urban renewal zone and was to be developed by Ginsburg Development Cos. into condominiums.

Village officials argued that the village's agents have recently entered the property because under state eminent domain law, the village has the right to conduct environmental testing on the property even before acquiring it.

Bruce Kanner, an owner of the property, disagreed and said that based on the village's August 2003 eminent domain agreement, the village was supposed to acquire the property within three years. Because the village didn't do so, the agreement expired, and the village no longer had authority to enter the property, Kanner said.

Justice John R. La Cava issued an order last week, saying that because property owners failed to prove that the village's action would irreparably harm the property, the owners' request to stop the village from entering their property was denied.

"I'm very pleased with the judge's decision and not at all surprised," Mayor Francis "Bud" Wassmer said. "We knew we had the right for our agents to be on the property to do the necessary testing."

Wassmer said the once-stalled testing was resumed yesterday. The work will continue today and possibly Monday, he said.

Kanner that he was disappointed with the judge's decision, but that he was still hopeful because the judge did not make his determination regarding the validity of the eminent domain agreement.

"We have a very strong position there," Kanner said. "It's very clear that the agreement was for three years."

Liane Watkins, attorney with Watkins and Watkins LLP, the village's special counsel for eminent domain, disagreed with Kanner's interpretation of the eminent domain agreement, saying that as long as the village started condemnations in certain areas of the urban renewal zone within three years, the village was authorized to continue the process.

"Frankly, I don't understand how they can possibly argue ... that it's only three years because it's not just that way," said Watkins, adding that even if that were the case, the village still could make a new agreement to condemn the property.

Kanner said he and his lawyers were ready to present their basis for arguing the three-year limit.

Both parties have filed documentation with the court to support their cases, and decisions would be made within a month or two, Kanner said.

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