Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 4, 2019

NY Appellate Court Dismisses Public Hearing and Environmental Review Challenges to Transit Center Condemnation

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.
A New York appellate court ruled that the use of eminent domain for a bus transit center was lawful and constitutional, with no procedural defects in the public hearing or environmental review process that would require the condemnation to be annulled.
The Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) wanted to build a bus transit center in the City of Troy adjacent to a parking garage that was owned by Uncle Sam Garages. After negotiations to purchase or lease the property fell through, the CDTA issued a determination and findings that authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire a sufficient portion of the property to construct of the bus terminal and facilitate the staging and movement of bus traffic.
In reviewing the determination authorizing the use eminent domain, the court noted that it was limited to reviewing “whether the proceeding was constitutional, whether the acquisition was within the condemnor’s statutory authority, whether the determination was made in accordance with the statutory procedures and whether a public use, benefit or purpose will be served by the proposed acquisition.” Uncle Sam Garages, as the petitioner, bore the burden of proving that the determination was illegal or unconstitutional. It didn’t challenge the determination itself or whether the taking had a sufficient public use, however, but instead argued that the condemnation was illegal due to defects in the environmental review and public hearing process.
The court recognized at the outset that public hearing procedures are mandated under New York’s condemnation statutes in order “to ensure that an appropriate public purpose underlies any condemnation.” It found that the CDTA had sufficiently complied with these procedures, however, noting that a hearing was held and that the attendees, including a representative from Uncle Sam Garages, were provided with an outline of the project and given a reasonable opportunity to present comments or submit other relevant documentation.
The court also rejected the complaint that a quorum of the CDTA board wasn’t present at the public hearing, a circumstance that Uncle Sam Garages saw as undermining the purposes of the public hearing requirement altogether. As the court pointed out, the public hearing operated to provide a record of evidence that the board would consider in making its determination and findings regarding the transit center project, but the public hearing itself wasn’t a meeting of the CDTA’s board at which deliberations or other official actions could actually be conducted. Nor did the court agree more generally with Uncle Sam Garages that the CDTA’s board “defeated the purpose of requiring a public hearing by ignoring the information collected at it.” On this point, the court credited documentation and a sworn affidavit provided by the CDTA that disputed the allegation that its board members ignored or were unaware of the public hearing record when they voted to adopt the determination. In sum, the court found that the evidence was simply insufficient to prove that the board “made no independent appraisal and reached no independent conclusion” based on the information gathered at the public hearing.
With respect to the CDTA’s compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the court noted that the transit center project would involve replacing but not expanding existing pavement surfaces, minor work within the parking garage, and the construction of a new nonresidential structure with a floor area of less than 4,000 square feet. Under these circumstances, and based on the applicable environmental review regulations, the court held that it was reasonable for the CDTA to determine that the project was a Type II action that would presumptively have no significant environmental impacts. As a result, the preparation and circulation of an environmental impact statement was unnecessary, and the court accordingly dismissed the claim that the CDTA’s environmental review was defective or otherwise arbitrary or capricious.
Matter of Uncle Sam Garages, LLC v Capital Dist. Transp. Auth., 2019 NY Slip Op 02592 (3 Dept. 4/4/2019).


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