In re Acquisition of Real Prop. By the Cnty. of Warren. Forest Enters. Mgmt., Inc.

Decision Date09 April 2020
Docket Number527673
Citation122 N.Y.S.3d 403,182 A.D.3d 729
Parties In the MATTER OF the ACQUISITION OF REAL PROPERTY BY the COUNTY OF WARREN. Forest Enterprises Management, Inc., Appellant; County of Warren, Respondent.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy LLP, Latham (Patrick L. Seely Jr., of counsel), for appellant.

Mary Elizabeth Kissane, County Attorney, Lake George (Ryan J. Dickey of counsel), for respondent.

Before: Clark, J.P., Mulvey, Aarons, Pritzker and Reynolds Fitzgerald, JJ.


Pritzker, J. Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court (Muller, J.), entered August 16, 2018 in Warren County, which, in a proceeding pursuant to EDPL article 5, determined the compensation due claimant as a result of the acquisition of real property.

Claimant is a land development company that owns a parcel of undeveloped real property located in the Town of Queensbury, Warren County. The property is located near the junction of Quaker Road and Quaker Ridge Boulevard and is just south of the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport. The property is divided into various tax parcels – 12.9 acres of which are south of a National Grid overhead power line that traverses the property (hereinafter the southern parcel) and 84.58 acres of which are north of the power line (hereinafter the northern parcel) – the total acreage of which is 97.48 acres. Claimant has a 200–foot right-of-way below the power line. The southern parcel fronts onto Quaker Road and the northern parcel is accessed by Quaker Ridge Boulevard, a street that ends at a retained right-of-way that goes over and through a parcel sold by claimant to Walmart (hereinafter the Walmart parcel). After receiving a grant to develop a technological park in 2006, claimant entered into discussions about developing the property and undertook various studies in preparation to do so. In 2012, before the property was developed, respondent appropriated approximately 3.86 acres of the northern parcel via eminent domain in order to preserve the airport's runway protection zone. Additionally, respondent established an avigation easement over the remaining 80.72 acres of the northern parcel. The easement does not extend to the southern parcel. Pursuant to an April 2015 stipulation and order, respondent paid claimant $327,200 as just compensation for the property acquired.1 Claimant reserved its right to file a claim for damages.

In September 2015, claimant commenced this proceeding pursuant to EDPL article 5 by filing a verified claim to recover further damages. Experts for both claimant and respondent conducted separate appraisals of the property to determine its unencumbered value and the diminution of value caused by both the taking and the easement; respondent's appraiser also prepared a rebuttal to claimant's appraisal. As relevant to this appeal, claimant's expert appraised the entire 97.48 acres of the property under the theory that the entire property was affected by the taking and easement. By contrast, respondent's expert only appraised the northern parcel, omitting the 12.9–acre southern parcel. Following a trial, during which Supreme Court dismissed claimant's expert testimony in its entirety, the court set damages in the amount of $297,000, solely relying on the testimony of respondent's expert. Claimant appeals.

"When private property is appropriated for public use, just compensation must be paid, which requires that the owner be placed in the financial position that he or she would have occupied had the property not been taken" ( Matter of State of New York [KKS Props., LLC], 119 A.D.3d 1033, 1034, 990 N.Y.S.2d 105 [2014] [citations omitted]; see Matter of Eagle Cr. Land Resources, LLC [Woodstone Lake Dev., LLC], 149 A.D.3d 1324, 1325, 52 N.Y.S.3d 160 [2017], lv denied 29 N.Y.3d 916, 2017 WL 3908596 [2017] ). "Upon a partial taking of real property, an owner is not only entitled to the value of the land taken – i.e., direct damages – but also to consequential damages, which consist of the diminution in value of the owner's remaining land as a result of the taking or the use of the property taken" ( Matter of State of New York [KKS Props., LLC], 119 A.D.3d at 1034, 990 N.Y.S.2d 105 [citations omitted]; see Matter of Eagle Cr. Land Resources, LLC [Woodstone Lake Dev., LLC], 149 A.D.3d at 1326, 52 N.Y.S.3d 160 ). "Damages must be measured based upon the fair market value of the property as if it were being put to its highest and best use on the date of the appropriation, whether or not the property was being used in such manner at that time" ( Matter of State of New York [KKS Props., LLC], 119 A.D.3d at 1034, 990 N.Y.S.2d 105 [citations omitted]; see Matter of Eagle Cr. Land Resources, LLC [Woodstone Lake Dev., LLC], 149 A.D.3d at 1325–1326, 52 N.Y.S.3d 160 ).

We turn first to claimant's contention that Supreme Court erred by failing to consider all 97.48 acres of the property as a single parcel. We agree. "In order to treat different parcels ... as one tract for the purpose of assessing severance damages incident to an appropriation, there must be (1) contiguity, (2) unity of use and (3) unity of title or ownership" ( Erly Realty Dev. v. State of New York, 43 A.D.2d 301, 303–304, 351 N.Y.S.2d 457 [1974] [citation omitted], lv denied 34 N.Y.2d 515, 357 N.Y.S.2d 1025, 313 N.E.2d 796 [1974] ; see Matter of County of Suffolk [C.J. Van Bourgondien, Inc.], 47 N.Y.2d 507, 514, 419 N.Y.S.2d 52, 392 N.E.2d 1236 [1979] ; Tehan's Catalog Showrooms, Inc. v. State of New York , 118 A.D.3d 1497, 1497–1498, 988 N.Y.S.2d 823 [2014], lv denied 24 N.Y.3d 913, 2015 WL 97335 [2015] ). Here, respondent concedes that the element of unity of ownership is not at issue; therefore we need only examine contiguity and unity of use. Contiguity will be found between parcels when they are "adjacent and lack[ ] any physical boundary ... [and are] capable of being traversed" ( Erly Realty Dev. v. State of New York, 43 A.D.2d at 304, 351 N.Y.S.2d 457 ). "A public highway actually traveled ... running through a large tract devoted to one purpose does not necessarily divide it into independent parcels, provided the owner has the legal right to cross the intervening strip of land" ( id. [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of City of New York, 55 A.D.2d 615, 616–617, 389 N.Y.S.2d 404 [1976], affd 44 N.Y.2d 965, 408 N.Y.S.2d 327, 380 N.E.2d 158 [1978] ). Given the adjacent nature of the parcels and that claimant has a 200–foot right-of-way to cross the power line fee,2 we find that the parcels meet the element of contiguity (see Matter of City of New York, 55 A.D.2d at 616–617, 389 N.Y.S.2d 404 ; Erly Realty Dev. v. State of New York, 43 A.D.2d at 304, 351 N.Y.S.2d 457 ).

Unity of use will be found when there is "testimony that [the] claimant[ ] intended to develop the entire tract for commercial purposes and that it had been assessed on the tax rolls in one entry solely in the name of the corporation ... [, rather than] a situation where unrelated uses were going on side by side on contiguous parcels" ( Erly Realty Dev. v. State of New York, 43 A.D.2d at 304, 351 N.Y.S.2d 457 ). Unity of use will also be found if the record contains evidence that negotiations were culminating towards development of the whole property before the taking, or when the record shows that engineers have evaluated the entire site for development rather than constituent parcels (see Matter of Village of Port Chester [Bologna], 95 A.D.3d 895, 896–897, 943 N.Y.S.2d 575 [2012], lv denied 20 N.Y.3d 852, 2012 WL 5845649 [2012] ; 90 Front St. Assoc., LLC v. State of New York, 79 A.D.3d 708, 710, 912 N.Y.S.2d 294 [2010] ). To find unity of use, there must be a "reasonable probability that its asserted use could or would have been made within the reasonably near future; and a use which is no more than a speculative or hypothetical arrangement in the mind of the claimant may not be accepted as the basis for an award" ( Matter of City of New York [Broadway Cary Corp.], 34 N.Y.2d 535, 536, 354 N.Y.S.2d 100, 309 N.E.2d 870 [1974] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted] ).

At trial, Victor Macri, the former president and chief operating officer of claimant, described the property, explaining that when it was acquired by a company that preceded respondent, it was part of a roughly 800–acre parcel. Although parts of the entire property had been alienated and sold prior to this proceeding – the Walmart parcel, for example – Macri described the entire property as a contiguous piece of property. Macri testified that "[t]he unique thing about this property was [its large] contiguous acreage that could support an industrial development" and repeatedly referred to the property as "contiguous" throughout his testimony. He explained that the plan for the property was to have a "mixed-use development ... [w]here an employee can go and have all of the services they need and never have to leave the campus." To accomplish that, the southern parcel would be retail/commercial development and the northern parcel would be light industrial development, both of which were permissible uses. Claimant's expert, Kenneth Gardner, a professional real estate appraiser who has experience in airport and avigation easements, testified that, in appraising the property, he initially focused on the northern parcel, but, as negotiations for development went on, it became apparent that the entire property was involved in a large development plan. Certain plans and proposals for the development of the property were "campus concept" featuring "multiple access roads across the transmission line easement." As such, Gardner testified that he valuated the entire property as one parcel.

Respondent's expert, Todd Thurston, a professional real estate appraiser who also has experience in avigation easements, testified regarding his appraisal of the...

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