Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Eminent domain hearing: Seven oppose, one backs Village of Pelham plan for Julianne’s park; school district, Pelham Manor reps speak

The Village of Pelham is seeking to install an underground reservoir and a pump station in the area of the tennis courts at Julianne’s Playground. (Source: Google Maps)

During a public hearing required under state eminent domain law, the Village of Pelham Board of Trustees heard Tuesday from seven community members opposed to condemning parts of the school district’s Julianne’s Playground for a sewer project and one who backed the move. An attorney representing the Pelham school district reiterated the district’s objections to the village’s plan to take the park land to build an underground reservoir and an above ground pump station.

Village of Pelham Manor Manager Lindsey Luft also spoke.

About 20 people were present at village hall for the hearing and at least 20 attended via Zoom, though only 10 in total spoke. The nearly 40-minute-long proceedings were run by Jennifer Polovetsky, a lawyer from Duane Morris, the firm counseling the Village of Pelham.

James Castro-Blanco, an attorney from Murtagh, Cossu, Venditti & Castro-Blanco representing the school district, presented a letter from the board of education opposing the use of eminent domain on multiple grounds, including that “the construction will render the site unusable for any future district facilities” and “the potential liabilities” that would be imposed upon the district and its taxpayers after completion of the underground tank and pump house.

“Potential liabilities include, but are not limited to, personal injury, property damage and environmental contamination that will necessarily follow the construction and ownership of the site, including but not limited to, danger posed by significant storage of diesel fuel on site,” Castro-Blanco said. “In short, the school board certainly supports flood mitigation, but expects that these concerns outlined in this letter will be taken into account.”

In her remarks, Luft did not comment directly on the project but said that Pelham Manor would consider submitting a statement based on the hearing’s proceedings. To date, Pelham Manor Mayor Jennifer Monachino Lapey and the four Manor trustees have not made public statements on their neighboring municipality’s plans for a $39 million overhaul of its stormwater sewers designed to reduce serious flooding in the north Pelham and Highbrook Avenue neighborhoods.

Flooding on Seventh Avenue during a storm in September.

If the Pelham Manor government’s interest was new, Castro-Blanco’s appearance was no surprise as, according to the public notice for the hearing, any entity wishing to challenge in the courts the taking of the property may only do so “on the basis of issues, facts and objections raised at the public hearing.” The school board has previously said it will fight the condemnation.

Eric Wessman, who lives on Pelhamdale Avenue in the Village of Pelham, told the hearing that while he understands there is a flooding problem, he can’t support the use of eminent domain to move ahead with the project. He also highlighted the fact taxpayers in his village will be paying for both sides of the dispute.

I am concerned that the village and the school board, or the school, cannot work things out without the process of eminent domain,” said Wessman. “It just seems like it’s a waste of taxpayer money. We’re stakeholders in the village and we’re stakeholders in the school system, so that means we’re paying taxes in both directions here to have this thing done. And I would request that you make another attempt to negotiate without this legal procedure.” 

Pelham Manor resident Tracy Shekane also encouraged both the village trustees and school board to continue to negotiate a deal for the property.

“Who will be responsible for the safety and the protection of our children when they are at the playground once this project is completed?” said Shekane. “I think both sides need to go back to the drawing board and work something out that is beneficial to all people in the villages because there’s no way the school can do anything with the property once this project is finished.”

Negotiations between the school system and the village ended in late April, when Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen said his municipality rejected the district’s only offer, a swap of Julianne’s Playground for some portion of the village’s Wolfs Lane Park. Before the failed negotiations, the board of education denied the village’s request for an easement to undertake the project, citing some of the same reasons stated by Castro-Blanco: liability, management demands on the district and the fact the property would not be useable for future school facilities.

Maureen Borsella, a resident of Third Avenue in the Village of Pelham and the mother of the late Julianne Borsella, after whom the park is named, said, “To have a playground that was in honor of a girl who died of cancer and to put these monstrosity pumps that possibly cause cancer is just not a good thing for any of us. Also, in the plan, they want to put bathrooms there. The immediate neighbors know what it’s like. We fought to get it locked at night. That is just going to draw homeless people to it. There is no plan in place to clean them.”

However, Gary Hyer of Fourth Avenue in the Village of Pelham called for the condemnation to go ahead. “This is the first time we’ve actually gotten a viable plan that addressed the flooding,” he said. “There is both a personal and economic impact that this will have upon this village if we do not complete this project. I don’t think people realize what it’s like to have six feet of water in your basement.”

The north Pelham portion of the storm-sewer project is designed to abate flooding that occurs in the area area west of Glenwood Lake between Fourth and Seventh avenues. The village’s notice for the public hearing specified for the first time the land and rights it is seeking via the eminent domain process: “a permanent property interest in fee simple absolute consisting of approximately 5,663 square feet or .13 acres… a permanent subterranean easement of approximately 30,492 square feet or .70 acres and a temporary easement consisting of approximately 74,488 square feet or 1.71 acres.”

Pelham Manor resident Cindy Courtien of Clay Avenue said an online petition against the condemnaton had garnered 500-plus signatures since its creation earlier that day. “This petition has come about in the last couple of hours opposing the eminent domain process,” Courtien said. “Not only is this action an abuse of power by the mayor, it completely undermines democracy and the personal and emotional values we, the people of Pelham, attach to Julianne Borsella’s playground.”

Rendering of proposed pump house (left) next to the tennis courts at Julianne’s Playground.

Polovetsky, the attorney running the hearing, said a record would be kept “including written statements which are submitted. Copies of the record, as well as a transcribed record of this hearing, will be available to the public for examination without cost.” The transcript will be accessible at the office of the village clerk, the office of the Westchester County clerk and digitally on the Village of Pelham website.

The hearing will remain open until June 28. Written comments can be mailed to Jennifer Polovetsky at Duane Morris LLP, 1540 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10036.

To move ahead with the condemnation, the next step for the Village of Pelham will be to “make its determination and findings concerning the proposed public project” within 90 days of the hearing, according to a presentation on eminent domain by the law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King.

If the village takes that step, a request for judicial review must be brought within 30 days of the determination. That case would go straight to the appellate division of state court, which must handle the review “as expeditiously as possible and with lawful preference over other matters,” said the presentation. Bond, Schoeneck & King said grounds for court review of a public taking of land are limited to whether:

  • The eminent domain proceeding conformed with the federal and state constitutions.
  • The acquisition of the property is within the condemning authority’s statutory jurisdiction or authority.
  • The condemning authority’s determination and findings were made in accordance with procedures set forth in state environmental law.
  • A public use, benefit or purpose will be served by the proposed acquisition.


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About the Contributors
Gillian Ho, Deputy Managing Editor
Gillian Ho is a senior at the Horace Mann School. She has been a Pelham resident since 2016 and has written for the Pelham Examiner since its start in 2018. In school, Gillian writes for her school's newspaper and actively participates in public forum debate. She hopes to pursue journalism in college. During her free time, she fences in and out of school.
Ava Paolucci, Senior Editor

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  • J

    Jane Mansfield Bouv9ierJun 20, 2024 at 6:40 pm

    I lived in North Pelham at the top of the hill on Third Avenue during the end of the depression and World War II into the 50’s. There was a spirit of neighborliness then and sacrifice for others…rationing, families going to war. Sadly , I’m not seeing this now in my hometown. If the objections are based on harm to the children using the playground after the proposed changes, why offer to bargain with land on Wolf’s Lane owned by North Pelham? Would the dangers then disappear if the village were willing to bargain? We used to play in Chester Park, and on the playgrounds at Hutchinson school in the olden days. If neighbors are losing their homes to flooding, what lessons are the children learning about concern for others? It’s sad to read about this in my old hometown, remembered by me as a neighborly place.

  • N

    Natali WindJun 20, 2024 at 6:22 pm

    “the personal and emotional values we, the people of Pelham, attach to Julianne Borsella’s playground.” What about “the personal and emotional values we, the people of Pelham, attach to” our homes?!