Friday, April 10, 2009

NYRA to Auction Land Near Aqueduct by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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A satellite image of NYRA’s vacant lots, which are being prepared for auction, and homes that abut them. The lots are located near Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park. (image courtesy of Stephen Geffon)

The New York Racing Association announced last week it will auction 64 parcels of vacant land it owns in Ozone Park near Aqueduct Racetrack on Wednesday, June 10 at 1 p.m.

NYRA and the state were involved in a long dispute over who owned the properties, which was resolved last year under an agreement that extended NYRA’s franchise for 25 years and handed to the state ownership of New York’s three racetracks, Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. NYRA retained title to the vacant land surrounding Aqueduct.

The properties, touted by the auctioneer as “prime development opportunities” are located on 17.5 acres of land between the Belt Parkway and Aqueduct Racetrack and range from 2,000 to 75,000 square feet. The lots can be purchased separately or in groups, according the auctioneer’s website,

The lots are zoned R-4, which allows for detached, semi-detached and attached housing, including row houses and multiple-unit buildings.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he is determined to seek as much information as possible for the community from NYRA and Gov. David Paterson’s office regarding the pending sales.

Addabbo added that it is important to deal now with the situation carefully since the residents of the surrounding community will have to live with whatever is built there.

NYRA’s Chief Administrative Officer Jack Ryan said the association has been interested in selling the properties for several years. The Ozone Howard Little League field in Centerville will not be included in the sale.

As NYRA emerged from bankruptcy in March 2008, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck said the horse-racing association may hold auctions to individually sell the 64 parcels of land that have a total worth in the range of $15 million to $20 million, according to published reports.

The funds are expected to be put toward paying NYRA’s creditors including state back taxes of $1.4 million and an Internal Revenue Service debt estimated to be close to $25 million.

News of the auction came as a complete surprise to the residents of the Ozone Park community. Those whose homes abut the empty lots said they first became aware of the sale when they received a letter dated March 25 from Richard Maltz, vice president of the Real Estate Auction Division of David R. Maltz & Co. Inc.

Maltz’s letter began, “As you may be aware, NYRA Inc. owns the vacant land that adjoins your property. At this time we must inform you that NYRA has decided to liquidate certain assets that are not part of its core business strategy. Every parcel must go!”

The letter also advised homeowners that they must immediately remove any structures, fences, pools or items stored on the NYRA property.

“You are welcome and encouraged to participate in the auction and to purchase the property,” Maltz concluded, advising the homeowners that any questions should be directed to his office at (516) 349-7022.

In a telephone interview Richard Maltz told the Chronicle he had received no negative feedback from the community. He said the calls he received were from residents requesting more information about the auction.

A resident of Huron Street in Centerville who gave his name only as George said that he and his neighbors are concerned that a developer would purchase the land and build row houses on it. He added that the area is already congested with traffic and has no sewers, causing floods when it rains.

George said construction of additional homes would just create more problems for the residents. George felt that he should be given preference in bidding for the vacant land adjacent to his home or that it should be turned into a community garden.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) has vowed to closely monitor NYRA’s public auction sale. In a statement released Monday, Pheffer said that she, along with other local officials, will meet with NYRA and the auction company to clarify details of the June sale. “It is important that the process be conducted in an open manner whereby local residents know exactly what to expect,” Pheffer said.

Pheffer noted that the Bankruptcy Court’s Order mandates that the first $9 million of the land sales profit go to pay the IRS, and then be utilized to provide needed capital improvements at Aqueduct. The remainder would pay off NYRA’s debt to New York State.

Pheffer said all the properties are subject to existing zoning restrictions, meaning that any new buildings must be similar to surrounding homes.