Appellate Division Affirms $4.3 Million Award in Metro North Brewster Station Taking

Last Wednesday the Appellate Division, Second Department decided Matter of Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Etc. v. Longridge Associates, LP (Index No. 1877/03) and affirmed the lower court’s judgment, with costs. The lower court (LaCava, J.) rendered a decision on December 4, 2012 awarding Claimants $4,375,000.

The subject property consisted of 52 acres of vacant land in Putnam County New York. The property was taken by the MTA as part of the Metro North Railroad’s (MNRR) Brewster North Station and Commuter Parking Lot Expansion Project. More specifically, the acquisition was intended for the expansion of commuter parking facilities and construction of an inter modal transportation center, improved access to state, and related projects. Title vested in the MTA on Dec. 23, 2003.

The lower court’s decision noted that access to the property was available from two locations: from the west, one could drive over an easement roadway extending across the Metro North Railroad tracks; from the South, the property could be entered via north Main Street. At trial, Claimant presented expert proof of the feasibility of obtaining a special permit to allow for development of a retail project on the parcel. Inter alia, Claimant presented evidence with respect to municipal zoning code requirements,  that the wetland areas allowed for sufficient room for development of the parcel as planned, that access to the property existed via a mandated grade crossing and an alternative route, and that there was a reasonable probability that it was economically feasible to build on the subject property. The court credited this evidence.

The Condemnor MTA, on the other hand, failed to present expert proof that a permit for development would not be issued. The Condemnor also asserted that access to the subject property did not exist. Condemnor’s appraiser opined that there was not an operational road over the tracks. The lower court noted that this belief was “irreconcilable not only with the testimony of claimant’s planning expert [] but also with that of Condemnor’s own witness.” It continued, “Indeed, such access included not only a grade crossing with rubberized matting, but also switches, flashing lights, guard arms and signs, which had been installed by order of a State Administrative law Judge.” Furthermore the court noted that access via Independent Way was verified on official maps which were contained within the Condemnor Appraiser’s own file, “along with the Metro North’s letter conceding that the Town held an easement for the grade crossing and that MNRR would reopen the roadway and reactivate the automatic protective devices upon receipt of a request from the Town.” Thus, in arriving at his highest and best use determination for the property, Condemnor’s appraiser relied on two criteria (encroachment by wetlands and lack of access) that were “inconsistent with the actual facts of the case.”

Thus, having accepted the Claimant’s valuation analysis and methodology, the lower court awarded Longridge Associates a total of $4,375,000, with interest from the date of taking, less any amount previously paid, together with costs and allowances as provided by law.

The Condemnor MTA appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, stating in relevant part:

The Supreme Court properly rejected the appraisal submitted by the condemnor, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (hereinafter MTA), since the evidence demonstrated that the highest and best use of the property was as a retail development, as the claimant’s expert concluded, and not as vacant land, as the MTA’s expert opined (see Matter of City of New York [Broadway Cary Corp.], 34 NY2d 535; Matter of Village of Haverstraw [AAA Electricians, Inc.], 114 AD3d at 956-957; Chester Indus. Park Assoc., L.P. v State of New York, 103 AD3d 827Gyrodyne Co. of Am., Inc. v State of New York, 89 AD3d 988, 989).

Having rejected the appraisal set forth by the MTA, the Supreme Court was bound either to accept the claimant’s appraisal or explain the basis for any departure (see Matter of City of New York [Reiss], 55 NY2d 885, 886; Matter of Village of Haverstraw [AAA Electricians, Inc.], 114 AD3d at 957; Gyrodyne Co. of Am., Inc. v State of New York, 89 AD3d at 990). The Supreme Court properly accepted the claimant’s appraisal. The claimant’s appraiser sufficiently and credibly explained the basis for his selection of comparable properties and relevant adjustments made to the valuation of these properties. Although the court made certain changes to the final results presented in the claimant’s appraisal, it adequately explained its reasons for making those changes (see Chester Indus. Park Assoc., L.P. v State of New York, 103 AD3d at 828). The court’s determination was therefore within the range of expert testimony and adequately supported by the record (see Matter of Village of Haverstraw [AAA Electricians, Inc.], 114 AD3d at 957; Chester Indus. Park Assoc., L.P. v State of New York,103 AD3d at 828; Matter of Board of Commr. of Great Neck Park Dist. of Town of N. Hempstead v Kings Point Hgts., LLC, 74 AD3d at 805-806). Accordingly, the court’s determination is entitled to deference and we find no basis to disturb it (see Matter of Village of Haverstraw [AAA Electricians, Inc.],114 AD3d at 957; Matter of Metropolitan Transp. Auth. [Washed Aggregate Resources, Inc.], 102 AD3d at 791; Matter of Board of Commr. of Great Neck Park Dist. of Town of N. Hempstead v Kings Point Hgts., LLC, 74 AD3d at 806).

 

The full decision can be read by clicking here.

Posted in Eminent Domain, Highest and Best Use, New York, Recent cases, Wetlands
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