Ronkonkoma bus company resists town’s attempt to seize property

A Ronkonkoma bus company is fighting Brookhaven Town’s attempt to seize its property by eminent domain to make way for part of a $750 million housing and business complex.

The North Fork Express charter bus depot on Hawkins Avenue is one of several properties eyed by the town Industrial Development Agency and master developer Tritec Real Estate as the East Setauket-based company seeks to build the second phase of the massive Ronkonkoma Hub development.

Tritec has asked the IDA to condemn the bus company’s 2.2-acre site. The agency has scheduled an online public hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

While many of his neighbors have agreed to sell their land to Tritec, North Fork owner Greg Mensch has refused. He says his property is a key site for the Tritec project because it is near Ronkonkoma’s Long Island Rail Road station.

“They won’t negotiate,” Mensch said, referring to Tritec. “They want to give you what they want to give you and that’s it. … They’re taking private property and they, the town, want to give it to a private developer.”

Eminent domain is a legal process by which municipalities may seek to take property for public purposes, such as roads, parks or affordable housing. Property owners must be paid reasonable compensation for their land.

When Brookhaven initially approved the Ronkonkoma Hub in 2014, town and Tritec officials said they had no plans to use eminent domain to acquire properties.

Tritec spokesman Christopher Kelly said last week the company preferred to negotiate with Mensch and other property owners. Condemnation “allows us to negotiate with anyone who is not participating right now,” he said.

The IDA in December approved the condemnation of more than a dozen other properties, mostly small businesses, for the hub project. IDA chairman Frederick C. Braun III told Newsday that legal proceedings were on hold while appraisers determined the market value of those sites.

“Till that takes place, there really isn’t anything that can be done,” Braun said.

Tritec and Brookhaven officials have said the hub would create at least 10,000 jobs and inject billions of dollars in new revenue into the region. Construction of Phase One, including 489 luxury apartments, was finished two years ago.

Kelly said the second phase includes 388 residential units, 74,000 square feet of retail such as shops and restaurants, and 17,000 square feet of office space. Phase Two is highlighted by a village square where concerts and other events would be held, he said.

Overall, the hub is expected to have a total of 1,450 new apartments, 360,000 square feet of office space and 195,000 square feet of retail.

Mensch said he was amused by officials’ frequent description of the Ronkonkoma Hub as a “transit-oriented development” that would provide easy access for commuters to public transportation.

“I’m across the street from the Ronkonkoma railroad [station], I’m across the street from Long Island MacArthur Airport, and they want to throw me out,” he said.

“I have 100 people working here, and we’re going to try to keep our private property.”

What is eminent domain?

Eminent domain, or condemnation, is a legal process under New York State law for municipalities to obtain land for public purposes such as parks, power plants, roads or certain private developments.

Here’s how it works:

The municipality must hold a public hearing at which officials explain why a property is required to complete the project.

Property owners may present arguments at the hearing for why their land should not be taken.

If the municipality decides to take the land, the property owner may file an appeal to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

Owners are owed “fair market value” if their land is condemned. That value is determined by appraisals.

Property owners may challenge appraisals in the state Court of Claims.

SOURCE: New York State Attorney General’s Office

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