Thursday, February 26, 2009

City May Launch Eminent Domain Fight for Site of School by JOhn Lauinger - NY Daily News

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THE CITY has quietly begun laying the groundwork to use eminent domain to acquire land for the construction of an 1,100-seat high school in Maspeth.

The school is proposed on the site of a former Restaurant Depot on 74th St. at 57th Ave., but a city official said the School Construction Authority has reached an impasse in its effort to buy the property.

"It has not been possible, as of this point, to negotiate a purchase," Education Department spokesman Will Havemann told the Queens News.

"As is our right, we are proposing to acquire the property through eminent domain," Havemann added, noting it is unclear if and when a condemnation proceeding would head to court.

The property owner, Lucky Star Elmhurst LLC, bought the industrial property in 2006 for $12.6 million, city records show. The warehouse is now used by a food distribution business, said Lucky Star attorney Hayes Young. Previous attempts to sell the property have been unsuccessful because the city's interest in buying it, starting in 2007, have "tied our hands," he said.

A public meeting required under state eminent domain law has been scheduled for Thursday at Public School 58 in Maspeth.

The new high school, projected to open in the fall of 2012, would serve grades 9 through 12.

One hundred seats would be reserved for special-education students. The remaining students would be divided between two high schools under the same roof.

Since the city introduced its plans last year, opposition has centered on the community's desire to have local students get priority.

Nick Comaianni, president of the local Community Education Council, noted that the district is the most overcrowded in the city. He also pointed out that there are two other schools in the vicinity of the proposed site.

"If it is not locally zoned, we don't see it as necessary for another school to go up in that area," he said.

City officials have said priority will be given only to Queens students. But Havemann said giving priority to local students to alleviate high school overcrowding in the district has not been ruled out.

"We believe strongly in the value of school choice at the high school level," he said. "Zoning a high school limits that choice, and can keep students from attending the school that will serve them best."

Plans for the new school, funded in the Education Department's 2005 capital plan, must be approved by the City Council.

Newly elected Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has said she would not support it unless it is locally zoned.

The plan was scheduled to be taken up by Council subcommittees yesterday and today and could be voted on by the full Council as early as Thursday, Council sources confirmed last week. But Crowley announced yesterday that the Education Department has agreed to a one-month review period for the new school.