A Williamsburg official is pushing a law that would let the city seize a building from its owner to save the embattled senior center inside.
Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Williamsburg) is planning to introduce a bill to allow the government to yank private property from its owners using eminent domain without the normal review process. The proposal is a bid to keep open the Swinging Sixties Senior Center, which is fighting an eviction notice it received on Christmas Eve. The pol said he understands why people would hesitate to give officials that kind of power, but said in this case it is justified.
“There are reasons for the city to shy away from eminient domain, but this is one they should embrace,” said Lentol. “It is not raining on anyone’s parade. It might hurt the individual people who were offered it for sale, but they should have known that it was always intended for public use.”
The 40-year-old community hub, which serves hundreds of seniors and also houses a daycare, is in a fight for its life because its father-and-son owners, Victor and Harry Einhorn, want everybody out by the end of January.
Lentol said he tailored the bill so narrowly that it could not be abused. The law would only apply to facilities built with public funds that have been used for public programs for more than 25 years.
The city canceled the previous owner’s lease held in 2012, at the same time that it briefly de-funded both the senior and childcare programs, but then caved to community pressure and reinstated the funding.
The Einhorns purchased the three-story Ainslie Street building in November and raised the rent by a third the following month, prompting outcry from regulars and neighbors. Then came the harshly-timed eviction notice.
Lawyers for the center are planning to sue to keep it open on a number of grounds, including claims that the city illegal nullified a lease that was supposed to end in 2015, that the programs at the center were third-party beneficiaries of the lease and should have had a say before it was cancelled, and that the old landlord should have given the city first dibs on buying the building.
“Even if the assembly bill is a slow boat to China, it is symbolic and indicative that the conversation is turning,” said Jan Peterson, a neighborhood activist who helped organize the Swinging Sixties Center in the 1970s. “People are starting to understand that all of this greed is not helping the common good.”
©2014 Community News Group
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