Volume 17 • Issue 4 | June 18 - 24, 2004

City approves newsstand construction, then blocks opening

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Downtown Express photo by Melanie Wallis

The Dept. of Consumer Affairs allowed this newsstand on John St. to be built, but officials are no longer sure it is on city property so they have not allowed it to open.

When New Yorker Monali Patel applied for her father Kanti to open a new Downtown newsstand two years ago, little did she know the complicated legal battle that would ensue — only the second time in the city’s history such a dispute has occurred, according to the city Department of Consumer Affairs.

Patel got permission from the city to build the stand in March 2004. But in May, owners of the building adjacent to the now fully constructed newsstand on the northeast corner of John and Water Sts. informed Consumer Affairs that they believed they owned the sidewalk surrounding their building, Seaport Plaza at 199 Water St. The owners, Resnick Seaport L.L.C., asked the agency to reconsider the application.

“The site of the proposed stand is private property owned by [Resnick Seaport L.L.C.], who objects to the installation and operation of any newsstand on that property,” said the company’s attorney, Albert Fredericks of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis and Frankel L.L.P., in a letter posted on the newsstand wall and addressed to Consumer Affairs.

Fredericks, building manager John Provone, and owner Scott Resnick, who is also looking to build an apartment tower at Site 5C in Tribeca, did not return repeated phone calls.

The Patels first heard of a possible problem with their stand in May 2004, when a building representative approached Kanti as he supervised construction of the stand and told him that the spot was private property. Building representatives then contacted Consumer Affairs, which is now working to determine whether or not the site is in fact privately owned.

“It’s still a mystery as to how we got this far,” said Monali, who said she has spent $30,000 and over two years of her time planning for the stand. “The D.C.A. is really in a pickle now. We’re at final stages of them granting us a license and they never picked up on anything. I’m hoping the building property owners are wrong and we’ll be able to stay because this is a good location.”

Soon after the building representative visited her father, Monali said she received a letter from Fredericks informing her that if she did not remove the stand she would be held liable for any damage done to the property. “The owner went around the D.C.A. by sending me that letter — they shouldn’t have personally contacted me.”

Consumer Affairs spokesperson Dina Improta called the property dispute a “complicated and rare” public access issue and said the department has not yet issued a license to Patel to operate the stand. “The newsstand owner followed the appropriate process and had permission to begin building,” Improta said. “In the meantime this issue came up and we’re working through it.”

Improta did not comment on whether the city would reimburse the Patels if they are not allowed to open. She said that because newsstand applicants are required to contact the building owner, it is almost unheard of to have an ownership question arise after a stand is built. Patel said she did inform the building owners about the stand. Jonathan Mintz, the deputy commissioner of Consumer Affairs, the Patels and Resnick representatives met last Friday to discuss the issue, but have yet to resolve the dispute. During their talks, Monali said, Resnick representatives suggested that the stand obstructs the view of patrons at the adjacent Europa Cafe, and may block the view of drivers trying to exit the nearby parking garage.

“There could be some underlying reasons as to why they don’t want [the stand] there,” Monali said, adding that owners may worry that her newsstand could take business away from a stand inside the Resnick building.

Many questions still remain unanswered for the Patels, such as why the site appeared as a viable spot in the agency’s database of available locations. “The biggest question I have is, what classifies something as available in their database?” Monali said. “I think the whole process is very loose and there’s a lot of room for error.”

Kanti decided to open a newsstand after losing a similar store he owned on 200 Water St. following increased rent after Sept. 11, 2001. “My dad wants to have this newsstand open and operating,” Monali said. “He just wants to be working again.”

No proposal for, or opposition to, the stand came before the local community board, according to Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1. But in general, she said, the board hardly ever recommends approving newsstands. “In Manhattan the streets are just too congested and narrow,” she said.

Some building employees think the stand would be a positive addition to the neighborhood and said they are confused as to why it has not yet opened. “It’s actually good because there are a lot of apartments around here, and people could go there to buy their newspaper,” said Eduardo Sanchez, who works in the Europa Cafe.

Others are indifferent. “It doesn’t matter to me because I don’t buy my newspaper here anyway,” said Orlando Rosario, who works for Legal Aid. “I usually buy my paper on Fulton St. when I’m coming from the train, or from the concession stand in the building.”

Consumer Affairs is currently working with the Resnicks and Patels to resolve the matter, Improta said, and hopes to soon reach a resolution acceptable to all involved. One possible solution discussed last week, said Monali, is relocating the stand to another location, but the Patels worry that all good sites are already occupied. “And who’s to say that the next building owner won’t say the same thing?” she said.

“The D.C.A. has been really good about trying to figure this out,” Monali said. “But I may run out of time and patience. You’re talking about a big case here — it might go a year, it might go two. But in the end, someone is going to have to take accountability, and there could be a lot of fingerpointing.”

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