The award, given by Carol La Grasse, the organization’s president, recognized Avella’s “unwavering leadership” in a lawsuit that has halted the building of a proposed mega-mall. La Grasse thanked Avella for his leadership and courage to stand up when all other elected officials “all fell by the wayside.”
She also condemned the city for trying to use eminent domain to take private property away from residents for the project.
“The way you treat small, thriving communities, which is the heart of New York City, shows the real motivation of the city government at that time,” she said. “Let’s hope it can’t ever be that bad again.”
The Property Rights Foundation, a national organization based in upstate New York, filed an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief, against eminent domain in the legal dispute over property in Willets Point.
A civil engineer by trade, La Grasse, who has roots in nearby College Point, said eminent domain should only be used for things like highways, bridges and hospitals that serve the public.
She said it shouldn’t be used to take away property from people who have viable businesses to sell or give away to developers.
“You can’t just take parkland and make it into a mega-mall,” she said. “You can’t betray the public trust with such a fundamental part of government.”
Avella said he was happy to work with business owners and people who care about individual rights. He said the government can't take property without due cause, and Willets Point was a perfect example of that.
“That, to me, is so undemocratic and so un-American,” he said.
Avella said the lawsuit is currently being considered at the state’s highest court. Avella and his supporters, who fought against the city’s use of eminent domain, won unanimously at the Appellate Division, which led to the city dropping out of the suit.
Related Companies and Sterling Equities appealed the appellate court’s decision. So far, they have just submitted written arguments and attorneys are preparing responses, Avella said. No court date has been announced yet.
“We feel very good,” Avella said. “The fact that we won unanimously at the Appellate Division is a very strong statement.”