Pols rally around East Harlem man who lost dry cleaning biz

 

State politicians and community activists vowed on Friday to stand by an East Harlem businessman who lost his family dry cleaning company to eminent domain.

Last spring the city took deeds to three lots owned by Damon Bae's family — including the one that houses Fancy Cleaners on 126th and Third Ave. in East Harlem.

In return, the city offered the Bae family roughly 30 cents on the dollar for its land, thw 42-year-old Bae said.

That translated into a $3.5 million offer for Bae's largest lot, the 6,000-square-foot property that holds Fancy Cleaners.

But the nearest comparable property Bae could buy costs $11 million, he noted.

"It is disgraceful that the city is trying its best to help developers at the expense of a small business owner but sadly I'm not surprised," said State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens).

"I'm proud to say that when I was in the City Council I voted against this robbery and will continue to fight this shameful overreach by the city. Although we're standing with Mr. Bae today, this problem extends across the five boroughs and across communities," the Queens politician added.

Joined by Bae, Assembly members Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem) and Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and Korean-American activists as well as community leaders, the senator questioned why the city had been unable to find room to keep Fancy Cleaner within the massive, two-block development footprint that will include new affordable housing.

"It's so un-American to take private property away from the owner to give it to a private developer," said Avella. "It's not what eminent domain was intended to do."

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New York State Sen. Tony Avella (from l.) business owner Damon Bae, Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez and Assemblyman Ron Kim call on city to offer a fair deal in the eminent domain issue.

(Howard Simmons/New York Daily News)

Community activist Derrick Taitt, who was part of the local planning committee that tried to fight the Bloomberg administration when the East Harlem project was first conceived in 2005, said that there had been many chances along the way for the city to find a way to incorporate the dry cleaning business, rather than force it to close, which is what Bae says is likely to happen.

"We've been fighting to have Damon's business stay here for years and nobody has listened," he said. "Yet the city's changed and adapted many things in the original plan — they could have found a way to include Damon, too."

Assembly members Rodriguez and Kim said they are open to discussing legislative fixes on the state level to New York's eminent domain law to force the city to pay true market value and not lowball owners.

The state politicians also said they will be reaching out to the Economic Development Council, the quasi-autonomous city agency that is handling Bae's eminent domain buyout.

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"It is disgraceful that the city is trying its best to help developers at the expense of a small business owner but sadly I'm not surprised," said State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens).

(Howard Simmons/New York Daily News)

Bae told the Daily News his decade-long legal battle to try and save the property and business created by his parents, who came to the U.S. from Korea in 1981, has cost him hundreds of thousands.

"I want to thank everyone who has tried to help," said Bae Friday, as he told reporters he may wind up closing his shop for good.

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east harlem
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