Letter: Larchmont Could Lead with a New Twist on Eminent Domain

Print

Empty former Wells Fargo Bank on Palmer Ave in Larchmont

 

To the Editor:

I am happy to see my letter of February 26  prompted some healthy discussion, and I thank those who wrote comments.  I totally realize some of my notions were not 100% ‘gelled’ and it is a good thing to point out bits that might/ might not work well, or were not well thought out.  But I would like to return to the discussion here and add a few more thoughts.       

1)    I agree that if  the Village opens the way to force landlords to accommodate certain non-profit/ arts or education groups to get short-term free use of space, of course these groups should pay for electricity they use, and heat if needed.   A lot of my entire premise with my proposal  is that the goal should be a benefit to the community, and not necessarily a financial cost to a landlord at all.   A landlord who is getting zero for his/her commercial space should be indifferent if there is no financial cost to hosting a group of some kind …. or even earning some money from a short-term for-profit “pop-up” store etc .    Zero is still zero.   Anything above zero should be a win for the landlord.  This is also important because it can avert a “taking” argument should anyone wish to litigate.   Where is the economic harm if a landlord is not generating revenue anyway?     The landlord can continue to show the space and offer it to prospective long-term tenants even if it is being used by a short-term occupant.                        

2)   Someone mentioned it takes time to fit out a retail space for new use, and landlords should not be penalized if this is the case.   Yes, of course.   Nothing should be forced into an empty retail space if the landlord has a committed tenant and work is going on to fit out the premises.   And sometimes delays are the results of a municipal government’s license/ permitting processes. Provisions can be made for this kind of scenario.    But a municipality zoning an area for retail commercial space is in some ways a granting of an exploitable economic ‘resource,’ and it should be in the scope of a municipality’s legal framework to be able to intervene and assume control if the ‘resource’ is not being properly exploited by the grantee.   It’s obviously imperfect to compare leasing space for retail stores to the mining or oil industry, but there are many legal frameworks around the world where a party given a license to exploit an oil field or mineral deposit loses that right after a time if they have made no moves of any kind to exploit the resource.    That could be a precedent to apply here.       

3)   Every municipality retains broad theoretical powers of eminent domain to change use or even ownership of private property for purposes that benefit the public.  Taking land or structures to develop highways, hospitals, community centers , public housing projects etc. are traditional typical uses of these powers.   In more controversial instances, municipalities have gotten involved in “re-development”  projects that involve seizing and tearing down buildings and replacing them with new types of private property with supposedly “better” uses.  I personally oppose government use of eminent domain that displaces people from homes and viable businesses just to bring in some other type of larger residential or business project.   But we’re not talking about tearing  down buildings or homes here.  Rather the opposite: The idea is to use the existing buildings as they should be used. 

We can debate why it is  exactly that the commercial area on/around Palmer Ave in Larchmont has had so many empty storefronts so often the last 10-15 years, and for such long stretches of time.   Of course the entire US retail space has changed, and many things that used to work in retail don’t work anymore.  But it’s also obvious that there is a unique affliction at work in Larchmont.    The ostensibly similar communities of Scarsdale, Bronxville, and Rye have not had the blight of so  many empty storefronts for prolonged periods the way Larchmont has.   “Blight” is often a legal trigger-word that can draw eminent domain into play.   Of course it is often misused or abused.  But Larchmont could lead the way with a new twist on eminent domain.  Let the owners keep their buildings.  Do things in a way where they suffer no economic loss compared to the current situation.  Let them keep lease income when there is lease income. Let them continue to control the  shop spaces that are occupied, and residential units on higher floors.  We want landlords to make money.   But if for whatever reason they are not properly exploiting the right the Village has granted them to rent out storefronts to small retail businesses and restaurants etc, then they are contributing to “suburban blight.”    The Village could apply a “lease condemnation” and insert a public-private partnership entity as temporary manager of unexploited storefronts until such time as landlords find longer-term tenants that satisfy their private objectives.       

Christopher Bourdain
Larchmont NY 

sponsored by

5 thoughts on “Letter: Larchmont Could Lead with a New Twist on Eminent Domain

  1. It feels that the entire point is being missed here.

    First of all, reading the first thread of the letter from the Mayor: We are not San Francisco. We should not be comparing ourselves to a city that smells like human feces because of their failed socialist movement. This is Larchmont and we are still living in United States. Property owners are already losing due to the fact that the market has shifted and there are less consumers who shop in stores (hence the lack of interest from prospective tenants). You CANNOT make the property owner act as the Welfare agent. The responsibility of the town is NOT to punish the owners for the shift in the market but to take the lead and create an environment and incentives for shop owners to come to Larchmont. How about we shift our thinking in that direction? That is why we pay taxes. This is the agenda when failed politicians like to point fingers at others for not effectively doing their job.

    Secondly, to respond to Mr Bourdain: How do you expect that there is not an inherent expense to making the property owner the welfare agent for the town? It’s easy to sit on the other side and make socialist claims that everyone should get everything for free but there is always someone on the other side holding the bag. There is an inherit expense and loss factor for short-term rentals or else property owners would be doing it to make income. Here are a list of expenses: hiring an attorney and the time to draw up a lease; expense of travel to the space for the owner/agent to prepare and rent the space. The loss of rent for the space being occupied and not in vanilla shape (the reason why owners spend so much money to make a space into vanilla space is because statistically the space shows better and can achieve a more attractive tenant); the fact that tenant may not be cooperative (i.e. will not provide access, not leave when required, damages the space, use it in such a manor that will make the space unattractive, use of utilities not paid, etc). The tenant may not pay rent and not vacate the space and expose the owner to further expenses. Would the Mayor’s office cover all these costs? Would the Mayor’s office cover the loss rent factor for hindering the Owner?

    I think the Mayor’s office should focus on making Larchmont more attractive and prosperous to storefronts. Maybe we can learn from other towns and their elected officials who are doing things right? We do not pay taxes for elected officials to come up with socialist programs to hinder or hurt the very owners who have a stake in the town doing well.

  2. A response to Michael Keating’s post of Feb 29: Part of my notion here is that the allowance for short-term use would be limited to month-to-month agreements. Anyone given the opportunity to use a space for a month would understand going in they have no assurance at all of being able to stay longer and would have to sign agreements to vacate once notified of a space being committed for longer by a landlord. So landlords would not need to fret about being stuck with holdover users of their space. OF course if a space remained empty and the various parties involved agree to have them use the space for one more month, that could work out. In case of for example a pop-up commercial establishment testing the waters for a month, if they were to do well and a landlord is amenable to signing a long-term lease with them, so much the better.

  3. All very good news from someone who seems to know what he is talking about.

    Hopefully the new stores will sell goods or services locals want to buy, and, equally important, hopefully locals will patronize the new merchants and, if pleased, tell their friends and neighbors, even if not all local, to give these new merchants a try.

    Our empty storefronts are partially our fault. Remember that next time you automatically click on Amazon instead of buying locally, and even if you go to Home Depot for something you could have bought at Foley’s.

  4. I hear a lease is signed with former wells space, the other space across from Wells on Palmer is accounted for, and the space next to Citi has also been leased. So there is really one vacancy left, amd thats the other space next to Citi. The old wrapps has been vacant for a long time, but the spaces that don’t use a brokerage firm to market, stay vacant the longest and end up signing with financially weaker tenants. Otherwise, things are not as dire as they appear.
    Also, although I agree with your shorterm rental idea, Landlords are very nervous about hold over tenants and trying to het someone out once its leased. They also like to have a vanilla box option and show the space empty and clean. I’m proud to say that once I get involved in leasing vacant space, they are filled quickly – The former Macinspires space didn’t miss a beat and the same with the former Remedy Bar, both of which I filled. The key is strong marketing and a broad reach, all of which are not available to Landlords that do it themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.