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Queens Chronicle

Owner, state don’t bridge gap just yet

Lawyer says NYS sat on payment; DOT says paperwork not filed

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 2:20 pm, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

A Maspeth landowner and the state’s Department of Transportation are at odds over the length of time it has taken to settle a claim for property taken to make way for the new Kosciuszko Bridge.

And while both sides agree that Sass Sheena could be receiving a payment of $2.4 million within the next several weeks, a resolution over possible additional payments could well be in court by early 2013.

Sheena owned a parcel on 43rd Street in Maspeth. The state acquired it under eminent domain in June 2011, one of numerous properties the state purchased to clear the way for construction on the new bridge. The Kosciuszko spans Newtown Creek between Queens and Brooklyn.

The state had assessed the property at $2.8 million. Sheena contested the amount, as is his right under state law, believing that the land is worth more.

Sheena’s attorney, Michael Rikon, said that instead of giving Sheena the $2.8 million and letting the courts figure out the rest, the DOT placed the money in a special account operated by the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Sheena once ran a business on the site and then collected rent from tenants.

“My client is upset,” Rikon said. “He has had to borrow money from family and friends. He has no income.”

What happened last month is as contested as the price of the land. Both Rikon and Adam Levine, spokesman for the DOT’s Queens office, say Sheena should be receiving the money within the next few weeks.

Rikon said Monday that Judge Alan Marin of the New York State Court of Claims ordered the state to release $2.4 million to Sheena, while retaining $400,000 until the court decides on claims made by a bank involved in the transaction that may have been impacted by the delay.

“The bank didn’t get paid because of the state action,” Rikon said.

Levine said the state takes a decidedly different view.

“The money has always been available provided the appropriate paperwork has been provided and submitted, and that was not the case here,” Levine said in a telephone interview Monday. “Every other landowner has submitted the paperwork. Some have been paid and others are in the process of being paid.”

Rikon has contended that the money could have been paid much earlier had his client not challenged the state’s assessment.

He also said a trial over the disputed value of the property could begin late this year or in early 2013 if there is no settlement.

The Kosciuszko Bridge, built in 1939, is slated for replacement beginning in mid-2013, following an initiative announced by Gov. Cuomo in April to fast-track the project.

Construction will take place alongside the existing span and is expected to take about five years. to complete The venerable but deteriorating span then will be torn down.

The city already is accepting bid and design proposals from contractors. Previous plans have proposed both a single bridge and separate north- and southbound spans.

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