387 F.Supp. 1044 (S.D.N.Y. 1974), 71 Civ. 4315, Trinity Episcopal School Corp. v. Romney

Docket Nº:71 Civ. 4315 (IBC).
Citation:387 F.Supp. 1044
Party Name:TRINITY EPISCOPAL SCHOOL CORPORATION and Trinity Housing Company, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. George ROMNEY, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,et al., Defendants, v. STRYCKER'S BAY NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL, INC., InterveningDefendant, v. Roland H. KARLEN et al., Intervening Plaintiffs.
Case Date:November 15, 1974
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Southern District of New York
 
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Page 1044

387 F.Supp. 1044 (S.D.N.Y. 1974)

TRINITY EPISCOPAL SCHOOL CORPORATION and Trinity Housing Company, Inc., Plaintiffs,

v.

George ROMNEY, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,et al., Defendants, v. STRYCKER'S BAY NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL, INC., InterveningDefendant, v. Roland H. KARLEN et al., Intervening Plaintiffs.

No. 71 Civ. 4315 (IBC).

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

Nov. 15, 1974

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Demov, Morris, Levin & Shein, New York City, for plaintiffs; Eugene J. Morris, Martin Stuart Baker, New York City, of counsel.

Paul J. Curran, U.S. Atty. for the Southern District of New York, New York City, for defendants; David P. Land, Asst. U.S. Atty., of counsel.

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Adrian P. Burke, Corp. Counsel for the City of New York, New York City, for City of New York; Hadley W. Gold, New York City, Robert F. Liner, Albertson, N.Y., Asst. Corp. Counsels, of counsel.

Marttie L. Thompson, Community Action for Legal Services, Inc., New York City, for intervening defendant; John de P. Douw, New York City, of counsel.

Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen., State of New York, New York City, for State of New York; Thomas R. McLoughlin, Asst. Atty. Gen., of counsel.

OPINION

IRVING BEN COOPER, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This is a case directly affecting the future of a 20 square block community and its more than 35,000 current and former residents. The area is the West Side Urban Renewal Area ('Area') in Manhattan, New York City, north between 87th and 97th Streets, west between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue. 1 The West Side Urban Renewal Plan ('Plan' or 'Final Plan') governs housing construction in the Area and was intended to bring about the rehabilitation and renewal of the Area; certain changes in the Plan would permit the construction of more low income housing and the admission of more low income occupants into existing buildings in the area. The action before us is to enjoin these changes, 2 and plaintiffs seek an order directing that future development proceed in a manner consistent with the Plan.

Plaintiffs are a private school within the Area and a group of middle income residents, primarily brownstone home owners; they claim that these changes would violate the Plan upon which they relied in choosing their homes, and, further, that such changes would cause the Area to deteriorate and become a ghetto. Defendants are the United States Government, the State of New York, the City of New York, and a community group of Area residents; their position is that these changes are necessary to provide sufficient housing to former Area residents who were displaced by the impact of urban renewal and who therefore have a right of return to the site of their homes. Defendants further contend that the proposed changes would not adversely affect the Area. 3

The jurisdiction of this Court is invoked under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 2201.

It has been clear from the outset that the parties to this controversy represent not only themselves but also the interests of thousands of citizens from divergent economic and racial backgrounds with inevitably conflicting needs and demands.

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In large measure our decision herein is our effort to find a just resolution of these conflicts.

ISSUES

The four issues agreed to by counsel at trial 4 (Tr. 48-52) are as follows:

(1) Whether there has been a breach of contract between Trinity, as sponsor of Site 24, and the City by reason of changes in the Area after execution of their contract and the manner in which the City has proceeded with execution of the Plan; 5

(2) Whether the City was required to secure the written consent of plaintiffs Karlen and Hudgins as residents of the Pilot Project Area and based upon their contracts with the City to any proposed change in the Plan and particularly to the conversion of Site 30 from middle income to public housing;

(3) Whether construction of a public housing project on Site 30 would cause the Area to 'tip' within the meaning of Otero v. New York City Housing Authority, 484 F.2d 1122 (2d Cir. 1973) ('Otero');

(4) Whether the Department of Housing and Urban Development ('HUD') has complied with the National Environmental Protection Act ('NEPA'), 42 U.S.C.§§ 4321-4347, regarding its study approving construction of the public housing project on Site 30.

Finally, plaintiffs raised in their post-trial memoranda an additional issue as to whether the approval by the City of the conversion of Sites 4 and 30 from middle income to public housing was in compliance with the statutory procedures.

A motion for a preliminary injunction was made on July 18, 1973; on September 19, 1973, it was referred to this Court for an evidentiary hearing. During the course of the hearing the motion for a preliminary injunction was withdrawn and the hearing converted to full trial on the merits. Trial proceeded on that basis with a long interruption from October 11, 1973 to April 22, 1974 devoted to a series of conference looking to a settlement embracing a formula acceptable to all parties. There were periods of great expectation accompanied sometimes by sudden, hopeful ascents only to be followed ultimately by a sharp decline clearly pointing to a trial as the only course for the resolution of a perplexing situation fraught with perilous overtones. After 30 full trial days, the trial was concluded on May 20, 1974. Final supplemental post-trial memoranda were received on July 19, 1974.

I. HISTORY OF THE PLAN

Underlying the allegations of the parties is a conflicting understanding of the Plan, its purpose, and the scope of its commitments. We therefore undertake to set forth in considerable detail the history of the Plan's development and execution.

A. Background

Under the National Housing Act of 1949, 1949 U.S.Code Cong.Serv., p. 408, urban renewal was characterized predominantly by slum clearance programs. These involved the total demolition and clearance of badly deteriorated target areas, frequently resulting in massive relocation of hundreds of families to substandard housing elsewhere in New York City. Entirely new communities were then built on the cleared sites in accordance with the predetermined urban renewal plan.

Growing national dissatisfaction with slum clearance led to changes in the concept of urban renewal and was reflected in the federal legislation. The provisions of the National Housing Act were amended in 1954 to expand the scope of

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urban renewal to include, for the first time, those areas which had degenerated but had not yet fully deteriorated. The 1954 amendments provided for redevelopment of these areas on the basis of conservation and rehabilitation of sound properties, and demolition and new construction only of those properties which had fully deteriorated.

The legislation also provided special funds for 'demonstration studies' aimed at developing techniques needed in this new approach. In 1956 the City applied for, and received, federal grant funds for a demonstration study of the 20 square blocks which eventually became the West Side Urban Renewal Area.

The study was organized to determine whether realistic and meaningful proposals for renewal of the Area could be developed. James Felt, Chairman of the City Planning Commission, conducted this study (Ex. A) and published it in April, 1958. He concluded that renewal, rather than demolition, was 'desirable, practicable and economically feasible.' (Ex. A, p. 4). Moreover, Commissioner Felt found that the Area, though deteriorating, had a number of residual strengths. Its proximity to public transportation and to Central and Riverside Parks as well as to many cultural and business centers had always made it a desirable residential area. In addition, much good housing stock remained, particularly along Central Park West and the numerous brownstones on the side streets.

The study also determined that the Area was maintaining a more favorable racial and economic level than was commonly achieved at the time. From 1950 to 1956, though the Area's Puerto Rican population increased almost eight-fold and the total white non-Puerto Rican population decreased by roughly a quarter, nonetheless white families constituted more than half of all families who moved in during the period. Moreover, the median income in the Area increased by more than one-third which indicates that the white families and individuals who moved into the Area must have had above-average incomes to compensate for the low incomes of the newly arriving black and Puerto Rican families. (Ex. A, pp. 10-11).

The study demonstrated that, though the Area was threatened by obsolescence, it had nevertheless retained the foundations of a formerly sound residential area, and that it was suited for rehabilitation rather than demolition and clearance. The objective of the renewal program envisaged by the study was not to create a new community but rather to preserve and improve the existing community so as to continue to accommodate the varied needs of its population. 6

B. The Preliminary Plan

In accordance with the Felt study's recommendation that an agency be created to draft plans for the Area, the Urban Renewal Board ('Board') was appointed by Mayor Wagner and then designated as the agency responsible for carrying out renewal of the Area. On May 28, 1959, the Board submitted its Preliminary Plan for the Area. (Ex. 5). The Preliminary Plan recommended as a goal that approximately 7,400 dwelling units of new private rental and co-operative housing be constructed. Approximately one-third of these units would be in the moderate rental range, requiring some degree of tax abatement; the remaining two-thirds would be fully tax-paying. One site, Site 29, would be designated for low income public housing,...

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