Monday, March 9, 2009


New York Landlords United for Better Land Uses
The New York Chapter of LUBLU, an International Brotherhood of Property Owners

March 9, 2009

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

As you know, LUBLU has a long history in New York. As committed landlords, we care about the city. Like no other location in the United States, New York offers exceptional opportunity for profitable real estate development. We do not like to see good properties go to waste, and neither should you. When land is productive, it pays more property taxes. Additionally, when land is productive, the economy improves, people get jobs, tenants are happy and landlords make money. In short, when we use land properly, everybody wins. LUBLU is committed to maximizing good property uses in New York. We know you share our enthusiasm for prudent land use, because prudent land use makes New York a better place for everyone.

We write today concerning a property located at 135 West 23rd Street in Manhattan. It is a large lot, occupying approximately 20% of the block between 6th and 7th Avenues. The current occupant is “Visions Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired of New York.” This tenant occupies a 15-story brick building on the above-mentioned lot. The building is located in a bustling commercial and residential neighborhood in which property values and rents have risen sharply in recent years. Numerous commercial establishment and rental apartment buildings surround the property. They bring in plentiful rents and taxes: An 850-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood yields up to $4700 per month, while a major retail outlet yields up to $100,000 per month. That translates to large tax bills at year’s end.

Yet the property at 135 West 23rd brings in no rent. Instead, blind, deaf, mute and handicapped welfare recipients live there rent-free. They pay no fees, taxes or rents. In fact, they actually cost the city money. They loiter outside the building all day, disturbing passers-by, residents, tourists and shoppers. They also look very shabby and they smell. The mutes and deaf people also utter bothersome, monosyllabic sounds that anger residents. Within the building, these people receive free medical care for eye, ear, mouth, nose and brain disorders. The building is filthy and poorly maintained. Quite simply, it is a disgrace to the neighborhood. It has no place on a block that can fetch $4700 per month for a small apartment. LUBLU believes that the building should be demolished and replaced with a high-end apartment building, condominiums or a Whole Foods® market. Those would be much better land uses from which both private enterprise and the city could benefit.

We think you will agree that a not-for-profit institute providing free services to blind people is not a good land use. New York is a city on the rise. There is no space in Manhattan for clinics, Good Samaritan Centers, cheap housing or free health care for destitute blind people. This may sound cruel. But investors and landlords have a right to use land in a way most suited to satisfy their needs. Frankly, a free service center for blind people does not satisfy an investor’s needs. An investor wants a healthy annual return, not the inward pleasure of knowing a mentally deranged, blind mother of ten has a place to sleep at night. She can sleep in the park or in Brooklyn; land in Manhattan is too precious to waste on worthless uses. International apartment-hunters, venture capitalists, contractors, retailers, merchants, financiers and real estate developers are all waiting for their chance to improve prime Manhattan properties. Can we in good conscience keep them waiting by withholding such a superior location from the market?

We must free 135 West 23rd Street for profitable development. This city—indeed, this country—grew on the idea that land must be used effectively. Land should not lay fallow or dilapidated; it should be improved, refined and put up for sale. In Manhattan, the private real estate market is booming. If a low-end apartment in this neighborhood can fetch $4700, imagine how much a higher-end building could produce on the 135 West 23rd site. As landlords, we are excited by the idea that we could make a healthy profit on this plot. We refuse to let it lay fallow any longer. Whenever a good landlord walks past the site, he says to himself: “Why are they wasting this perfect land on hobos, retards, deaf mutes and blind amputees? I could get $5,000,000 a month from this baby.” This is prudent economic thinking. Landlords do not give; we take. As landlords, we consider what is best for the economy. And when we improve the economy, the city improves, too.

We urge you and the City Council to invoke your eminent domain powers to condemn 135 West 23rd Street. By State statute, you and the Council have the power to seize private property for public use as long as you provide “just compensation” to the former owners. You even have the power to seize property without paying compensation if you declare it a “public health hazard” under your police authority. We argue that 135 West 23rd is a “public health hazard” because it subjects the public to unsightly filth, smells and deaf-mute mutterings. It also endangers the public interest in a vigorous private real estate market, which in turn reduces tax revenues and city services for all. Although the United States Constitution prohibits you from directly delivering 135 West 23rd Street into our hands, you can avoid that stricture by drawing up a contract by which you compel us to build the property with a view to “public economic development.” Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). No matter what legislative path you pursue, we are confident that you will do the right thing.

Poor land uses harm everyone. They also insult the great spirit of hard work and prudent development that created this Nation. No one likes barren properties. And no one likes barren properties in the country’s most vibrant and profitable neighborhoods. The fact that 135 West 23rd Street looks bad and shelters stinky homeless blind people only strengthens our case that it should be condemned. While we sympathize with Vision Services’ purpose to help the sick, we cannot agree that they are properly using their land. There are better places in which to perform charitable services, such as the South Bronx or East New York. In those neighborhoods, poor land uses would fit right in with the overall impoverished character of the surrounding area. Yet it insults private enterprise to tolerate a poor land use in a neighborhood bustling with strong commerce. Put simply, the contrast is too striking to bear. People who pay $5500 in rent every month should not be forced to hear deaf-mutes moaning outside their door every day.

We must also point out that land use does become “good” simply because people perform charitable work on the property. Rather, land use becomes “good” when viable commercial activity on the property results in profitability, no matter what sort of business occurs there. In other words, a Best Buy® store is a “better land use” than Moe’s Charity Soup Kitchen because it brings in $100,000 in rent per month, while the soup kitchen may only bring in $500 per month. Although the soup kitchen arguably has a “better purpose” than a Best Buy Store (i.e, serving free meals to the hungry is nobler than hawking plasma screen televisions for fair market value on credit), that does not make it “better.” Instead, land uses are “better” only when they are more profitable. Motivation has nothing to do with it. It is all about the rent receipts.

We are confident that you will apply our reasoning in this case. No one benefits from a Vision Center at 135 West 23rd Street except a motley bunch of welfare-sucking deaf-mutes. This is not prudent land use; this is pure waste. The city receives no taxes from the property. Meanwhile, private developers twiddle their thumbs waiting for the spot to clear. In this economy, we should cultivate every opportunity to provide jobs; new construction projects will certainly further that goal. To that end, let us join together to serve both private enterprise and the public. By converting 135 West 23rd Street into a fair market property dedicated to residential and commercial interests, we will provide work to contractors, business opportunities to banks, homes to renters and taxes to the city. Just as our ancestors could not bear to watch Native Americans let immensely fertile land lay fallow, so too do we recoil when we see 135 West 23rd Street. This land is a gem; and it is going to waste. It is finally time to let the market dictate property uses, not philanthropic impulses.

We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter. If you require a contribution of any kind—or if you would like us to pay the “just compensation” fee to the Vision Center upon condemnation—please do not hesitate to contact our offices.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Charles G. Stack

Associate Director of New Projects
Silver Cup Portfolio Holder

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