MTA Prepares To Take Properties Via Eminent Domain

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is moving to take private property, both temporarily and permanently, to continue construction on the first phase of the Second Avenue subway.

Notices were sent March 26 to various properties" owners and residents along Second Avenue from the East 60s to the East 80s, and around Lexington Avenue and East 63rd Street, where the T line will connect with the F train. The properties are needed for new subway entrances and ancillary facilities near the East 63rd Street F-train station; an entrance for the new subway"s East 72nd Street station; and for relocating utilities, tunnels and cavern mining for the East 86th
Street station.

On East 63rd Street, the Society of Illustrators (background) and a garage (foreground) are concerned about a ventilation facility needed for the Second Avenue subway. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Co-op and condo board presidents, business owners and attorneys came to MTA headquarters on Madison Avenue April 20 to hear more details on the eminent domain plans. Many said they knew few details, while others came equipped with attorneys who had prepared statements opposing the plans. Several were angry or concerned, often both.

Judith Hahn and her family own 124 E. 63rd St., a four-
story building that holds a 134-car parking garage with a basement. The MTA wants 20 of those parking spots, at least nine of which are needed at the basement level so that an ancillary facility can be maintained and inspected. The authority also wants to erect a ventilation shaft on top of the garage. Even though she"ll still have parking space left, Hahn believes the temporary disruption and smaller number of spots will prevent a parking garage operator from buying space in her building.

“Garage operations will cease entirely, Hahn said in her testimony. “No garage operator will ever agree to operate a facility under those conditions.

Next door, at 128 E. 63rd St., is the Society of Illustrators, where the MTA wants to temporarily use the buildings" air rights to operate a crane to construct the ventilation shaft on top of the parking garage. Nearby construction will consist of pile driving, which the society"s president, Dennis Dittrich, believes will loosen the masonry in the century-old building.

“We"re a vibration-sensitive structure, Dittrich said in an interview after the hearing.

Perhaps a bigger fear is that once the ventilation shaft is in operation, the small museum"s public and private fundraising events, often held outdoors on a patio, will be affected by noise and exhaust. Previously, subway ventilation structures have been built as street-level grates (which are no longer permitted), so no one knows how the larger ventilation structures will affect surrounding properties.

Robyn Pocker, the owner of J. Pocker & Son, an 85-year-old framing store at 135 E. 63rd St., said the store lost half of its retail space to construction of the F-train station in the 1980s. More construction would decrease the foot traffic and visibility of the store, threatening its survival, said Pocker.

At the meeting, MTA officials said they could also use sidewalk café space, canopies, cellar doors and even basement space for subway construction, if needed's a prospect that worried many residents.

“The biggest concern is, even though the [MTA"s] plans may be fluid, people have lives here. Possible electrical outages, possible loss of basement space is frightening to people, said Helene Hartig, an attorney and resident of a 56-unit co-op at 233 E. 86th St. “We"ve got some concerns that we hope to have rectified.

A public comment period on the eminent domain proposals ends April 30. Afterward, the MTA has up to 90 days to seek approval from its board on a package of temporary and permanent easements. If approved, those affected have 30 days to challenge these plans.