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MTA Inches Forward on Plan to Grab Property for Second Avenue Subway

“This is our home. But we know we’ll eventually be replaced by the subway, said Claribel Rivera, an official at II Macedonian Pentecostal Church on Second Avenue.
“This is our home. But we know we’ll eventually be replaced by the subway, said Claribel Rivera, an official at II Macedonian Pentecostal Church on Second Avenue.
Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The MTA is still moving to someday stretch the Second Avenue Subway into East Harlem — but the pandemic-spurred economic crisis has put the project back on the local track.

The agency has started taking steps mandated by state law toward eventually securing buildings and land along the proposed route of the Q line’s extension from 96th Street to 125th Street — with eminent domain a last resort.

At its July board meeting, the MTA said it has begun the process of acquiring over a dozen properties along Second Avenue and 125th Street through “negotiated voluntary agreements,” according to agency records.

If agreements can’t be reached “in a timely manner,” documents show, the MTA must take preliminary steps under the state’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law to lessen the potential for future delays to the project.

The properties are projected to be needed for eventually extending the line north from Second Avenue and 96th Street and building new stations at 106th, 116th and 125th streets.

“That’s progress,” said Robert Bernard, 65, who lives near an East 124th Street block with multiple buildings sought by the MTA for what the agency calls “permanent full taking.”

Bernard added, “And when there is progress, people and places get moved out of the way.”

The approval to start the process for land-taking includes just a portion of the more than 40 addresses that MTA has previously said it will need to complete the next phase of the line.

Pandemic Put Plans on Hold

The eminent domain plan has been in the works for years, putting hundreds of tenants in its path in a prolonged limbo, THE CITY reported in April 2019. The state’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law gives government and public authorities like the MTA the right to take private property at fair market value for a public purpose.

But some who were anxious last year about the idea of being moved from their homes or businesses feel they may be given a reprieve by the MTA’s financial crisis.

The MTA has rung the alarm repeatedly over fiscal troubles worsened by the pandemic — and warned of “draconian” cuts to subway and bus service, thousands of layoffs and delays to system long-planned system upgrades without $12 billion in emergency aid from the federal government.

The transit agency is also banking on federal funding that has yet to materialize for the next phase of the Second Avenue line. The MTA’s not-yet-funded five-year, $51 billion capital plan — which includes the subway extension to East Harlem — has been put on hold due to financial fallout from the pandemic.

“Absent clarity from the federal government, we can’t move forward with the next phase of the Second Avenue subway project,” Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, told NY1 last week.

Tenants along Second Avenue say they’ve known for some time their buildings are in the path of the eventual subway expansion, informed through letters sent by the MTA. Some are counting on delays.

“It won’t be any time soon because of how the economy is right now,” said Claribel Rivera, 59, an official at the Second Macedonian Pentecostal Church. “But we do know they’re going to keep planning for whenever they can build the next section of the subway.”

The building that houses the storefront church near East 120the Street sits atop a 10-block stretch of subway tunnel built in the 1970s, when the city’s brush with bankruptcy put an end to the project. The MTA has said the tunnel will be used once the next phase of the Second Avenue line is built.

“This is our place for 40 years here in El Barrio, where we have given people hope and faith,” Rivera said. “But we know we will someday be replaced by a subway.”

Some in the Dark

Other properties on the list recently approved for taking by the MTA are three large development sites on East 125th Street — the former Pathmark supermarket site owned by Extell Development on the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue, and two sites owned by the Durst Organization on each side of Park Avenue.

A Durst spokesperson said the group is currently in negotiations with the MTA to grant an easement at one of the sites, 1800 Park Ave., that would allow the transit agency to use a part of an as-yet-unbuilt tower for subway ventilation. Representatives of the real estate group presented details of that plan at Manhattan’s Community Board 11 in June.

Also on the list: A string of buildings on Second Avenue between East 119th and 120th Street — which includes the Second Macedonian Pentecostal Church — and properties on 125th Street.

The MTA said buildings on Second Avenue between 120 and 119 streets needed to acquire for the eventual construction of the 2nd Avenue Subway, Sept. 16, 2020.
The MTA says properties on Second Avenue between 120 and 119 streets are needed for the eventual construction of the 2nd Avenue Subway.
Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The buildings along 125th Street are slated to eventually be ventilation plants as well as major entrances to the connection between the Lexington Avenue and Second Avenue lines.

Meanwhile, property owners elsewhere on the train’s proposed route are still in the dark about their future.

Carlos Hernandez, whom THE CITY spoke with last year, said he has not been given an update about when, or how, eminent domain proceedings may affect his family’s brick multi-family home on Second Avenue near East 109th Street.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he told THE CITY on Wednesday. “All I hear is the MTA is behind on money, so I figured nothing’s going to happen anytime soon.”

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