Outside Counsel

Public Benefits and the Public Trust Doctrine in 'Avella v. City of New York'

, New York Law Journal


Edward W. De Barbieri writes: The recent Court of Appeals decision in 'Avella v. City of New York' prevents a major economic development project in northern Queens from moving ahead. Known as the "Valley of Ashes" in The Great Gatsby, the site of the project includes a polluted brownfield where small auto repair shops have repaired vehicles for decades. Those same business owners, primarily immigrant entrepreneurs, have thrived without passable streets, sewers, sidewalks, and other infrastructure. For decades government has tried unsuccessfully to redevelop Willets Point.

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What's being said

  • John Low-Beer

    As the attorney who represented the petitioners in Avella v. City, I disagree with the suggestion of this article that the litigation was "of benefit to no one." The decision affirmed the principle that parkland may not be alienated without the specific consent of the Legislature. The parking lot at issue is only occasionally used as such, and at other times is used for recreational purposes. But if, as the now-defeated project suggests, it is no longer needed for parking, it should be returned to nature. The developers‘ argument that the proposed shopping mall would have contributed to the development of housing in Willets Point was a fairytale, not supported by any provision in the deal between them and the City. This was recognized by the Mayor when he briefly withdrew his support for the project in 2015, saying it would result only in a shopping mall on parkland, and nothing more. I agree with Mr. DeBarbieri, however, that the City‘s conduct with respect to the existing small businesses was shameful. The City did very little to support this synergistic collection of auto repair shops that employed close to 2,000 people and served a low and moderate income clientele. Are CBAs the answer? I don‘t think so, because they are not enforceable.

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