Search results for "eminent domain"

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Eminent Defiance
A rendering of Renzo Piano's plans for 131st Street, which is currently occupied by Tuck-It-Away self-storage.
Courtesy Columbia University

When Columbia University proposed a new $6 billion, 17-acre campus in the Manhattanville section of West Harlem in 2004, the institution considered using eminent domain to acquire land it could not buy. Most owners sold—the university had quietly bought up half the neighborhood starting in 2002, and more followed suit after the announcement—but two local businesses, Tuck-It-Away Self Storage and a pair of gas stations, did not. Instead, they sued the state last year over its use of eminent domain, and today a state court handed down a surprising decision in their favor.

In a stern 3–2 ruling, the First Department of New York’s apellate court determined that the project lacked any true public purpose, with the state exercising eminent domain wholly to the benefit of a private entity, Columbia University. Furthermore, the decision admonishes the state on two counts related to its finding of blight in Manhattanville, which became the pretext for condemning the area. First the blight study was done belatedly—two years after the state had gotten involved on the project—and the study was prepared by the same firm, AKRF, employed by Columbia, creating a blatant conflict of interest.

An aerial photo of Manhattanville. One of Sprayregen's storage facilities is plainly marked by its orange paint. A gas station sits on the triangular lot at the corner of 125th Street and Broadway, the other at 125th Street and 12th Avenue, next to the viaduct.

“This ultimately became the defining moment for the end game of blight,” Judge James Catterson wrote in his majority opinion. “Having committed to allow Columbia to annex Manhattanville, the EDC and ESDC were compelled to engineer a public purpose for a quintessentially private development: eradication of blight.” Catterson is referring to the city’s Economic Development Corportation and the Empire State Development Corporation, and his writing may have wider impacts on both: “The time has come to categorically reject eminent domain takings solely based on underutilization.”

The move is all the more surprising because this same panel of judges found in favor of the state’s use of eminent domain at Atlantic Yards, a ruling that was affirmed last week and touted by the state in its promise to appeal this decision: “ESDC believes the decision of the Appellate Division, First Department in the matter of the Columbia University Manhattanville Campus to be wrong and inconsistent with established law, as consistently articulated by the New York State Court of Appeals, most recently with respect to ESDC's Atlantic Yards project.”

A sketch by Renzo Piano shows the service roads that run beneath the project. The university says it must control the entire 17-acre site to accommodate these facilities.

How Columbia will proceed remains to be seen. Should an appeal fail, the school would have to negotiate with the two holdouts. This could mean a buyout, though both parties have expressed their interest to remain in the neighborhood, suggesting Columbia build around them."It's a good and valuable business and they'd like to keep doing it," said David Smith, attorney for the gas station owners.

The school has called such a scenario impossible, because its new campus, designed by Renzo Piano with planning by SOM, entails a below-grade service core stretching across much of the site. The school argues that this would eliminate truck traffic in the neighborhood, providing for a better pedestrian experience, which could not be achieved without controlling all of the land, of which it currently has 91 percent. A Columbia spokesperson declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Nick Sprayregen, the owner of Tuck-It-Away, called the decision a victory not only for him but for all New Yorkers who fear for their property rights. “Although I’ve always been cautiously optimistic, I knew the weight of prior eminent domain rulings had been against us,” he said. “It’s nice to see the courts, when given actual proof of collusion, will rule in the right way and support the people.”

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Eminent Decision at Coney?
When the City Planning Commission barely altered the city's plans--plans that remain diametrically opposed to those of chief landholder Joe Sitt--we couldn't help but wonder whether the Bloomberg administration would some how grossly undermine its plan, or let it fall on the sword at the City Council, at least part of which is firmly under the sway of Sitt. Thus far, the Bloomberg administration has yet to allow a single one of its nearly 100 rezoning fail at the council, often crafting 11th hour deals. Would, could things be different this time? Well, following a hearing at City Hall yesterday, the Daily News reports that the city's rezoning proposal has indeed run up against council opposition, but not for the reasons we would have thought--or hoped. No, it has nothing to do with the lack of vision for either Sitt or the city's plans. The council's opposition stems from an aversion to eminent domain, which the city's economic development czar suggested could be on the table should Sitt not sell, something he has currently refused to negotiate on, despite repeated attempts by the city. But that's not what struck us as wrong. No, the problem is--shocking, we know--that many of these council members now in opposition to eminent domain once supported it, in a way. Look no further than Manhattanville or Willets Point, where Columbia and the city, respectively, have used the threat of eminent domain to push around small businesses and landholders. Clearly, it's not the principal that matters to the council but the size of one's pocketbook.

Expanded Domain

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Grounds Shifting
The Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem was an early eminent domain project in New York, as well as the site of a hearing on its future in the state.
Courtesy GigaPan

In 2005, when the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London in favor of the Connecticut town, it had a ripple effect across the country, with some 43 states changing their eminent domain statutes.In New York, the decision seemed to reverberate in a different direction. Instead of reform, a wave of new eminent domain–driven projects sprang up.

One—Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards arena cum condos plan—verges on groundbreaking while another—Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville campus—has just lost a crucial court case, with others—Willets Point, a casino for Niagra Falls—on the horizon. Now, a clutch of Albany pols are preparing to begin changing what some consider the worst eminent domain laws in the country.

Perkins and Alessi at an eminent domain hearing in Harlem earlier this month.
Tracy Collins

Leading the charge is state Senator Bill Perkins, whose district covers much of Harlem. “I think the forces are coming together for change to take place,” Perkins said. “There is, from my observation, growing interest on a grassroots level.” As chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Perkins oversees the main executor of eminent domain in New York, the Empire State Development Corporation.

Among those joining Perkins is fellow senator James Alesi, a republican who represents the rural areas surrounding Rochester. “After many decades, it is time for an overhaul for what has become a double-edged sword of beneficial economic development but also deleterious theft,” said Alesi at a January 5 hearing held on eminent domain reform, the first of many planned in the coming months across the state.

The hearing was held at the ominous 19-story state office building on 125th Street in Harlem, one of many so-called urban renewal projects undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s by then-governor Nelson Rockefeller. It was an irony not lost on those in attendance that they were the indirect beneficiaries of eminent domain.

Norman Siegel, the noted civil rights attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs in the Columbia case, was quick to point out that it was for just such public purpose that Rockefeller first created the Urban Development Corporation the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered, to help take land from greedy landlords and other unrepentant nogoodniks, erasing blight for affordable housing and public buildings. “But we have moved 180 degrees opposite, where land is taken from the community and given to the powerful and greedy,” Siegel said.

Perkins holds up a report from a few years ago, the only fruit of the most recent efforts to reform eminent domain in the state.
Tracy Collins

As chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Perkins has some oversight of the main executor of eminent domain in New York, the Empire State Development Corporation. The senator stressed that he has some ideas about how to address eminent domain, but he does not want to tip his hand this early and also hopes to gain insight and ideas from the public.

There were proposals aplenty, ranging from compensation reform to abolishing the ESDC. One of the most obvious suggestions was to essentially reverse *Kelo and outlaw the taking of private property for anything but use by the government. But given the power of real-estate interests in the state and the proclivity of certain politicians, *including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, toward development, such a provision is unlikely.

The simplest changes may affect eminent domain litigation. Numerous attorneys advocated for a more open legal process to allow landowners to challenge eminent domain proposals. In New York, all such cases forbid jury trials, a practice exercised by no other state. “You slip on the floor, you get a jury,” Michael Rikon said. “You have your property taken, you get nothing but a judge. Let the people decide what’s right and wrong.”

The Paterson administration’s position on eminent domain is somewhat murky. In 2005, after *Kelo and with Columbia ramping up its plans, the then-senator called for a moratorium on eminent domain, but since becoming governor in 2008, Paterson has neither stated his opinion, nor intervened at Atlantic Yards or Manhattanville.

Warner Johnson, an ESDC spokesperson, declined to discuss what he called hypothetical changes to eminent domain law, but he reaffirmed its importance. "Eminent domain is an essential governmental tool that allows for the implementation of important development projects to the benefit of the public at large," Johnson wrote in an email.

This is not the first time the state has attempted to reform eminent domain, however. Shortly after Kelo was decided, Alesi convened numerous hearings as Perkins is doing now. The result produced a report hundreds of pages long, but little else. Asked how things will be different this time, Perkins argued the Supreme Court decision was not as close to home as these more recent actions are. And even if he can’t stop Ratner or Columbia, he emphasized that they are not the last people New Yorkers have to worry about.

“This is just the beginning, there will be more,” Perkins said after the hearing. “People have to understand this isn’t like making instant rice or instant coffee. This is going to take time.”

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Bridging the Gap

Detroit’s bridge to Canada ready for construction but faces political challenges
The Gordie Howe International Bridge, a six-lane span between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, is set to begin construction this fall after the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) selected a team to design and build the structure. Bridging North America, an architecture, engineering, and construction 'whos-who' team including ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc., Dragados Canada Inc., Fluor Canada Ltd., AECOM, RBC Dominion Securities Inc., Carlos Fernandez Casado S.L/FHECOR Ingenieros Consultores, S.A., Moriyama and Teshima Architects, and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, LLP, will oversee construction of the $3.7 billion bridge. The WDBA touted the bridge’s benefits in a project update on July 5. The Detroit-Windsor crossing is currently serviced by four separate crossings and accounts for 25 percent of the trade between the U.S. and Canada. Gordie Howe is supposed to streamline entry and exit across both countries for the 2.6 million trucks that make the crossing annually. The 1.5-mile-long span would be the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America and would be supported by two enormous, A-shaped structural towers. In addition to the six lanes for vehicles, three in each direction, bike lanes have been planned for the side of the bridge facing Detroit. The bridge project includes new ports of entry on both borders and a new connection to I-75. Not everyone is on board with speeding up the flow of goods from Canada. Reflecting the sometimes tumultuous relationship that the Trump administration has had with America's neighbor to the north, owners of the nearby Ambassador Bridge, the Moroun family, are reportedly trying to kill the project. The Ambassador Bridge currently handles 60 to 70 percent of truck traffic across the Detroit River, and the Canadian Government, owners of the WDBA, have stipulated that the Ambassador Bridge will need to be torn down once the Gordie Howe is complete. In response, the Morouns have been buying commercial airtime on Washington, D.C.-area Fox News stations in an attempt to influence Trump to scrap the Gordie Howe. The family has also been trying to get the Trump administration to inject the Gordie Howe into NAFTA negotiations and to pressure the Canadian government to drop its requirement that the Ambassador Bridge be dismantled. The Morouns are also fighting to keep the Michigan Department of Transportation from using eminent domain to acquire the land it needs to build a 167-acre port-of-entry in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. The WDBA is still negotiating contract details with Bridging North America, and if everything proceeds as planned, work on the Gordie Howe should begin by the end of September.
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Thomas's Big Brother

Texas’s $15 billion Bullet Train on track to roll out next year
It’s no hyperloop, but construction of a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train from Houston to Dallas could begin as early as next year. Add in the recently announced Amtrak partnership that will cover last-mile trips and tie into the rail company’s established interstate network, and Texas is looking at a major mass transit expansion. Developers Texas Central Partners (TCP) will be privately financing the $15 billion, 240-mile-long high-speed rail line, and have been on a public outreach spree as they attempt to drum up support and garner feedback for their proposal. TCP argues that the Texas Bullet Train will bring in $3 billion in state and local tax revenue through 2040, in addition to the $36 billion in direct spending; not to mention the tens of thousands of projected construction jobs. TCP is still hashing out the exact station locations but are planning on building the 60-acre Dallas stop south of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center, with a footbridge from the station to the convention center. On the other side of the 90-minute trip in Houston, TCP has chosen the city’s Northwest Mall as the preferred location for their station. The mall site will give way to a 45-acre, multi-level train complex with easy access to I-610 and U.S. 290. Additional stops between the two cities, such as in the city of Byran/College Station, have already been confirmed. Still, not everyone is on board with the rail plan, and landowners along the proposed route have fought and lobbied their state legislators over the company possible use of eminent domain to acquire their property. TCP has outlined their process for picking up the required properties, including offering market value for parcels in the Bullet Train’s path and pledging to minimize the impact on landowners. That hasn’t stopped the opposition from filing a flurry of bullet train bills in the state Senate, though only two of the proposed twenty measures managed to pass. As a result the state will not use taxpayer fund for the project, a move that TCP did not oppose. The free-market funding requirement hasn’t slowed the Bullet Train's progress down, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a subsection of the United States Department of Transportation, has given the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) the green light. The FRA also proposed an optimal route that would disrupt the least amount of people, and engineering and construction firms WSP, Fluor, Bechtel, and Lane Construction are now all helping to lay the groundwork for the project’s eventual construction. The Amtrak tie-in certainly won’t hurt the project’s chances, but high-speed rail remains notoriously expensive. Although high-speed rail has historically floundered in the U.S., such as the $77 billion north-south bullet train currently under construction in California, TCP's business plan, and the use of private funds, combined with the high level of government support, has helped the project avoid the hurdles plaguing similar projects. "We are working on the train every day," said TCP spokesperson Holly Reed. "This is the right project being done the right way at the right time -  the Texas Way. That means it will be the safest way to travel in the world, built and operated based on data-driven decisions from free market principles and no state appropriations. Texas is proving again to be a leader in transportation, and the train is a key tool in the state’s infrastructure toolbox as a safe, reliable and environmentally friendly option that efficiently will move our growing population."
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State of the State

NY state budget declares Penn Station area an “unreasonable” public risk, and other shakeups
After a tumultuous series of negotiations over New York State’s 2018-19 budget that came down to the wire, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on a finalized $168 billion bill late last Friday. While a congestion pricing plan and the removal of density caps for NYC residential developments failed to pass, sweeping changes that could preclude a state seizure of the Penn Station area have made it through. The finalized budget provides a bevy of changes and funding initiatives that will affect New York-based architects and planners. In a move to stabilize city’s deteriorating subway system, $836 million was authorized for the MTA’s Subway Action Plan–with the requirement that the city government would have to foot half of the bill. As AN has previously reported, the money would go towards stabilizing the subway system by beefing up track work, replacing 1,300 troublesome signals, tracking leaks, and initiating a public awareness campaign to reduce littering. At the time of writing, the de Blasio administration which has repeatedly claimed that the city already pays more than its fair share, has agreed to contribute their $418 million portion. Congestion pricing, proposed by Governor Cuomo’s own transportation panel, failed to make it into the final legislation. The plan would both reduce traffic on Manhattan’s streets and could potentially raise up to $1.5 billion for subway repairs, but couldn’t muster enough support to pass. Instead, a surcharge on for-hire cars will be enacted below 96th Street in Manhattan; $2.75 for for-hire cars, $2.50 for yellow cabs, and $0.75 for every pooled trip. The terminally underfunded New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will also be getting a boost, as Cuomo has pledged $250 million for repairs across the agency’s housing stock. However, the boost is somewhat undercut by the federal government’s recent decision to restrict NYCHA’s access to federal funds as a result of the lead paint scandal rattling the agency. To save time and money, the budget has implemented design-build practices–where the designer and contractor operate as one streamlined team–for future NYCHA projects, the forthcoming Rikers Island transformation, and the delayed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway restoration. While one controversial plan to remove Floor Area Ratio caps in future New York City residential developments didn’t make it into the final draft, another even more contentious proposal did. According to language in the final budget, the area around Penn Station has been deemed an “unreasonable risk to the public". This formal declaration could be used in future negotiations between the state and Madison Square Garden as leverage, or even as a pretext for eventually seizing the area via eminent domain. The budget, which the New York Times described as a broadside against Mayor de Blasio, ultimately exerts greater state intervention across a swath of local issues, from education to urban planning. More information on the final 2018-19 budget can be found here.
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Iron Triangle Turnaround

Willets Point redevelopment is back on track, and 100% affordable for phase I
The on-again-off-again redevelopment of Willets Point in Queens is finally moving ahead, after an injunction early last year seemed to have doomed the project. As first reported in the New York Times, Mayor Bill de Blasio has struck a deal with the project’s original developers, and 1,100 units of affordable housing are now set to rise on the parcel. First announced in 2011 under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, the original Willets Point project would have repurposed 23 acres on the site of the former Shea Stadium in Flushing-Corona. Queens Development Group, a city collaboration with developers Sterling Equities and The Related Companies, would have built out 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development with 2,500 units of housing, 500,000 square feet of office space, 900,000 square feet of retail. The most contentious portion of the original redevelopment was Willets West, a one-million-square-foot-plus mega-mall that would have pulled land from the nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park. After a state court ruled in 2015 that the city couldn’t legally parcel up the park, Willets Point seemed dead in the water. With the announcement of a new plan for the Iron Triangle (as the neighborhood is known for the high number of auto repair shops), de Blasio has skirted around the state’s concerns by dropping the mall entirely. Instead, the Queens Development Group will now build 1,100 affordable housing units on the six acres that the city already owns, in addition to a 450-seat elementary school and front-facing neighborhood retail. 100 apartments will be set-aside for formerly homeless families, and another 220 will go to seniors. Other than the increased number of affordable units, 1,100 units versus the original 875, the city will retain control of the land instead of selling it to the developers as originally promised. Related and Sterling will also be responsible for remediating beneath the project site before construction on the residential buildings can begin; Willets Point has been used for manufacturing for a century. Most of the immigrant-owned auto shops and scrap yards are now gone, after the city seized the land under eminent domain in preparation for the redevelopment. The site clean up is expected to finish in 2020, with 500 of the 1,100 units to be completed in 2022. The plan for the remaining 17 acres is up in the air at this point, and Mayor de Blasio has convened a task force with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Council Member Francisco Moya to come up with further development plans. “Willets Point has been 12 years of bad politics and broken promises. With this deal, we can look to providing some great housing relief for a lot of people who need it. By securing school seats, deep affordability, and senior housing we have accomplished something none of the previous iterations have been able to,” said Moya.
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Countermapping

Interactive project maps the impact of mid-century urban renewal
Developed by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and released in December 2017, Renewing Inequality is an interactive, online project that maps the demographic profiles and footprints of thousands of urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1966. Using such resources as the federal government’s Urban Renewal Project Characteristics, Renewing Inequality reveals the sweeping scope of urban renewal, which razed entire neighborhoods during the era, as well as the disproportionate impact they had on the country’s African-American communities. Renewing Inequality follows an earlier project released by the Digital Scholarship Lab in 2016, called Mapping Inequality, which details neighborhoods deemed too risky for investment and set on a course of institutionalized neglect and decay. Actively fueling the process of decay was the policy of redlining, which in effect barred communities of color from seeking mortgages or financing to repair their properties. With a cycle of decay institutionalized, these same neighborhoods were prime targets for urban renewal. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal government actively reshaped American cities through urban renewal, based on then-contemporary priorities in use zoning, residential density, automobile usage and highway construction. Equipped with billions of dollars in federal funding, local governments applied eminent domain to displace hundreds of thousands of families across the country, deeming long-standing neighborhoods as “blighted” land unfit for habitation. Ostensibly, relocation assistance and public housing were meant to follow "slum clearance" but in many circumstances, relocation funding or housing never materialized. Not only were homeowners forced into becoming renters, but much of the compensation given in exchange for eminent domain seizure was based on undervaluations of those properties. For example, the Digital Scholarship Lab highlights Cincinnati’s Kenyon-Barr/Queensgate as the largest urban renewal project in national history, displacing approximately 5,000 families. The map highlights that approximately 97 percent of those displaced were people of color, and also reveals that this predominantly minority community was adjacent to Cincinnati’s Central Business District, a focal point for white, suburban office workers–a trend in the displacement taking place in a number of American cities. As noted by the Digital Scholarship Lab, the land seized from many of the impacted African American neighborhoods "was re-purposed for commercial or industrial development or to make way for highways,” an act of “intergenerational wealth theft that helped shape today’s profound inequality” along racial lines. While the wholesale demolition of inner-city neighborhoods is much more uncommon today, large swaths of historic housing stock are currently being razed under the guise of alleviating housing pressure. However, as noted by CityLab, urban areas of older, mid-size housing boast greater affordability and employment opportunities than their modern counterparts, limited as they are by contemporary zoning and uses. It seems we still have a lot to learn from the lessons of urban renewal.
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Train Talk

Here are key takeaways for architects from Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State address
If everything goes according to the governor's plan, New York City could get a new subway line to Brooklyn, and a new park in Jamaica Bay. Today New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined plans for 2018 and beyond in his State of the State address. Over the course of 92 minutes, the 56th governor of New York unspooled a long list of major projects and new investments, many of which could shape the cities we live in, change how commuters get to work, and add to what we see when we step away from the city outdoors. Citing the Red Hook waterfront's "untapped potential," the governor wants to study the possibility of a subway from Red Hook, Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. Red Hook, a low-slung, low-lying, largely low-income waterside neighborhood, still hosts shipping operations, but in the past two decades, artists and other creative types have flocked to the area and opened up restaurants, galleries, and interesting shops—with chains like IKEA and Fairway fronting the harbor. Despite the influx of new residents and businesses, the neighborhood has remained relatively sedate, in part because it's so hard to get to by public transportation. To spur growth, Governor Cuomo is asking the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to improve transit access by relocating the shipping industry industry. The move, Cuomo said, will revert the waterfront to "more productive community uses" that could enable the MTA to add an underwater subway tunnel to lower Manhattan. The Port Authority would have to move the 80-acre Red Hook Container Terminal about two miles south to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In 2012, the port handled only 110,000 containers annually, a paltry load compared to the three million containers processed by nearby ports. While the terminal provides roughly 100 jobs, it has been operating at a loss since the mid-1990s. As recently as last year, though, the Port Authority said it did not have plans to develop or sell the site. Politico noted the Red Hook plans bear strong resemblance to a study AECOM produced on South Brooklyn that proposed a 1 train extension to Red Hook. AECOM executive Chris Ward was the Port Authority executive director, but quit in 2011 due in part to his fraught relationship with Cuomo, who was sworn in that year.

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The new subway tunnel wasn't the only one on the governor's mind. Cuomo floated a tunnel for vehicles under the Long Island Sound to connect Long Island with Westchester County or Connecticut. He also pledged to accelerate the L.I.R.R. modernization project, announcing the state would kick $6.6 billion towards adding new rail lines and fixing up stations up and down Nassau and Suffolk counties. All of those L.I.R.R. trains terminate at the beleaguered Penn Station. The governor didn't hesitate to fire shots at the busiest—and arguably most miserable—transit depot in the U.S. "I call it the seven levels of catacombs," he said. Cuomo emphasized the need to rebuild Penn Station, citing ongoing construction on the conversion of the James A. Farley Post Office into the Moynihan Train Hall as one way to relieve capacity on the overburdened station, which receives trains from New Jersey and Long Island. He even invoked the state's ability to seize land for public projects via eminent domain, a veiled shot at Madison Square Garden, the arena and venue across from Penn Station that some experts say should be converted to transit uses only. The subways were another hot spot in the speech. The governor proclaimed funding to fix the broken-down subway system must be provided "this session." His comments on funding follow a New York Times investigation on the subways' performance that revealed political indifference at the state and local level prompted overspending on splashy new projects at the expense of routine maintenance. "We can't leave our riders stranded anymore, period," he said.

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The governor also touched on another controversial project only a few blocks away. Late last year, stakeholders reached a compromise on the lawsuit-plagued Thomas Heatherwick–designed Pier 55 in Hudson River Park on Manhattan's West Side, and plans for the development are moving forward. Cuomo said a full completion plan for Hudson River Park, which will stretch from West 59th Street to Battery Park City, will roll out this year. Cuomo also unveiled the third round of investments in the New York State downtowns. First introduced in 2016, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative gives select cities and towns all over the state and gives them $10 million apiece to invest in their core commercial districts. This latest round allocates $100 million for development, and the Regional Economic Development Councils will select the cities. There were some curveballs, too. The governor revealed plans for a new, 407-acre state park on Jamaica Bay, a wetland estuary which sits between Brooklyn and Queens. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reached out to the governor's office for comment on the park but has not yet heard back.
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Superfudge

Gowanus Canal superfund cleanup might derail historic district designation
As New York City’s federally mandated cleanup of the toxic Gowanus Canal continues to ramp up, efforts to install sewage tanks at the head of the canal could end up destroying several buildings that would help the neighborhood qualify for a national historic district designation. The decision to buy out three private parcels along the canal comes after local community pushback canceled the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) initial plans to install the 8-million-gallon detention tank under the nearby Double D Pool and Thomas Greene Park. Instead, the DEP will now buy out the three parcels for a cost of up to $70 million. If the owners refuse to sell their land, the city will begin a lengthy eminent domain process to seize them. Apart from the monetary costs, leveling the existing buildings at 234 Butler Street, 242 Nevins Street and 270 Nevins St. for use as a staging area during the construction could damage the neighborhood’s standing in the eyes of the National Register of Historic Places. If local officials were to submit Gowanus’s low-lying, historically industrial waterfront for preservation, it’s likely that the construction of the tank would affect the area’s eligibility. The 100-year-old 234 Butler St. in particular stands out for its terra cotta and brick façade, with the Gowanus name emblazoned in brick on the building’s cornice. Residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood rallied to protect the former Gowanus Station upon learning that the EPA and DEP would be tearing it down. In a press release to the borough president, Linda Mariano of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, said, "Its design and sculptural elements tie directly into the history of the Gowanus neighborhood's relationship with water. It can and should be saved." In a letter to the EPA, Olivia Brazee, Historic Site Restoration Coordinator with State Historic Preservation Office, wrote that “Its demolition would adversely affect both the building and the National Register eligible Gowanus Canal Historic District.” While an attempt was made to have the neighborhood officially realized as a state and national historic place in 2014, community intervention ultimately led to the plan being shelved. The DEP and EPA will need to come to an agreement on the location of the detention tank before the canal’s dredging finishes in 2027, but if installed, would reduce wastewater runoff into the canal by up to 91 percent.
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Border Dispute

Cards Against Humanity buys land to block Trump’s border wall
It’s that time of year again. Cards Against Humanity (CAH), the slightly obscene Chicago-based card game makers, are running their winter “promotion.” With a penchant for deadpan pranks, the company has found a way of raising large amounts of money for seemingly useless or unwanted rewards. In the past, the company has raised the price of its eponymous game on Black Friday as an anti-sale, sold boxes of manure, and sold nothing for $5. In 2016, it dug a “Holiday Hole” with the help of customers's donations, which was literally just a hole in the ground. This year’s promotion is aiming a bit higher, though, as the company has purchased land along the U.S.–Mexico border in order to undermine President Trump’s border wall plan. Already sold out, CAH's promotion offered a set of six surprise gifts throughout December for a $15 donation to the campaign. The money raised will, presumably, go towards the efforts of the company to combat “injustice, lies, racism, the whole enchilada.” According to the campaign’s dedicated website, the border land has already been purchased, and a law firm specializing in eminent domain has been retained to make the process of building the border wall “as time-consuming and expensive as possible.” Not mincing words, the site reads, “It’s 2017, and the government is being run by a toilet.” Elaborating further, it says, “Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion-dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing.” Recently released documents show the Army Corps of Engineers’ assessment of the plan to build the wall in South Texas. The report outlines plans to place the wall through wildlife habitats and RV parks, and anticipates costly legal battles for privately-held land. If Cards Against Humanity has anything to say about it, those legal battles are going to be long and drawn out. As part of the proportion of the campaign, CAH produced a short mockumentary which takes place in the not-to-distant future, outlining its accomplishments in saving America.