NYRA and the state were involved in a long dispute over who owned the properties, which was resolved last year under a franchise agreement that extended NYRA’s franchise for 25 years in exchange for the state taking undisputed title to NYRA’s three racetracks, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. NYRA retained title to the vacant land surrounding Aqueduct.
The properties, touted by the auctioneer as “prime development” opportunities, are located on 17.5 acres of land between the Belt Parkway and Aqueduct Racetrack and range from 2,000 to 75,000 square feet. The lots can be purchased separately or in groups, according the auctioneer’s website www.maltzauctions.com
The lots are zoned R-4, which allows for detached, semi-detached, and attached housing, including row houses and multiple-unit buildings.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo said he was determined to seek as much information as possible for the community from NYRA and Governor David Paterson’s office regarding the pending sale of vacant land around the racetrack.
He added that it is important to deal now with the land sale situation carefully, since the residents of the surrounding community will have to live with whatever is built there.
NYRA Chief Administrative Officer Jack Ryan said the association has been interested in selling these properties for several years. He added that the Ozone Howard Little League field in Centerville would not be included in the sale.
In March of 2008, as NYRA emerged from bankruptcy, Judge James Peck said the horse racing association may hold auctions to individually sell 64 parcels of land that have a total worth, according to media reports, in the range of $15 to $20 million.
The funds are expected to be put toward paying NYRA’s creditors, including back New York State taxes of $1.4 million and an Internal Revenue Service debt estimated to be just under $25 million.
News of the auction came as a complete surprise to the residents of the Ozone Park community where the vacant land is located.
Residents whose homes abut the empty lots said they first became aware of the upcoming sale when they received a letter dated March 25 from Richard B. Maltz, vice president of the Real Estate Auction Division of David R. Maltz & Co., Inc.
Maltz’s letter began, “As you may be aware, NYRA Inc. owns the vacant land that adjoins your property. At this time we must inform you that NYRA has decided to liquidate certain assets that are not part of its core business strategy. Every parcel must go!”
The letter also advised the homeowners that if they had any structures, fences, or pools on the property, or if they were using the property for storage, they must immediately remove any items.
“You are welcome and encouraged to participate in the auction and to purchase the property,” Maltz concluded, advising the homeowners that any questions regarding the purchase of the property should be directed to his office at (516) 349-7022.
A resident of Huron Street in Centerville, who gave his name only as George, said that he and his neighbors were concerned that a developer would purchase the land and build row houses on it.
He added that the area was already congested with traffic and has no sewers, so it floods when it rains. He said that construction of these additional homes would just create more problems for the residents. George felt that he should be given preference in bidding for the vacant land adjacent to his home, or that in the alternative it should be turned into a community garden.
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, whose district includes Aqueduct Racetrack, has vowed to closely monitor NYRA’s public auction of its properties located outside the racetrack.
In a statement released on Monday, Pheffer said that she, along with other local officials, will be meeting shortly with NYRA and the auction company representatives to clarify the details of the June sale.
“It is important that the process be conducted in an open manner, whereby local residents know exactly what to expect,” said Pheffer.
Pheffer noted that the Bankruptcy Court’s order mandates that the first $9 million of the land sales profit will go to pay the Internal Revenue Service then will be utilized to provide needed capital improvements at Aqueduct, with the remainder paying off NYRA’s debt to New York State.
Pheffer said all of the properties are subject to existing zoning restrictions, meaning that any new building must be similar to surrounding homes.