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No sleep at 752 Pacific: ESDC tries to take possession by cutting lock; Weinstein replies in kind; then tenants and subtenants show up

It's been a wild and woolly few days at 752 Pacific Street in Prospect Heights, where, not long after property owner Henry Weinstein got his tenants and subtenants evicted on April 15, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) tried to take control of the property that night and those tenants also returned today.

(Photos by Tracy Collins)

A changed lock

Late on the night of April 15, Weinstein told me, he passed by the building and was surprised to see half the lights on the sixth floor illuminated. He'd shut off the circuit breakers, so he thought a timer might be at work.

The locks were secure. The next day, however, he couldn't get into the building.

"Unbeknowsnt to me, someone had cut off my lock and replaced it," Weinstein said. That was the ESDC, whose counsel told him that the agency, not Weinstein owned the building.

On Saturday, April 17, Weinstein spoke with an employee of Grubb Ellis, the managing agent, who told him that a guard and been hired and, if he wanted to get into the building, he could get a key when the workweek began.

Weinstein said no, that he had legal possession of the building. So, on Sunday, he cut off the new locks and installed his own--after first showing the 77th Precinct the paperwork that indicated he had possession.

Who's got possession?

Weinstein said he recognized that the ESDC had, via eminent domain, taken title to the property, but the process isn't finished, nor had he been paid. So, he said, his counsel had advised him that the ESDC isn't entitled to possession--an effort, he thinks would further diminish his right to recover fair compensation.

Is Weinstein right? I'm no condemnation lawyer, but I'll point out that, in a legal affirmation in support of eviction papers, the ESDC seeks "to obtain possession" of many other properties it acquired via eminent domain.

Because the eviction of his tenants and subtenants had been delayed, Weinstein didn't have possession of the property he owned as of Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges's 3/1/10 decision.

Meanwhile, in a bit of a Catch-22, the ESDC's relocation consultant did not even offer relocation assistance--as required for other property owners and tenants--because he didn't have possession of the building at the time.

ESDC position

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell told me, "It is our position that ESDC was within its rights to have the locks changed at 752 Pacific on April 16th as ESDC became the owner of the property as of March 1st. Yesterday Mr. Weinstein broke the lock at 752 Pacific Street and replaced it with his own. For the time being ESDC will not seek to change the locks again. ESDC's motion for a writ of assistance as to 752 Pacific Street, among other properties, will be heard this Wednesday before Justice Gerges. We will apprise Justice Gerges at that time of what has recently transpired with respect to the property."

The ESDC wants Gerges to set May 17 as a final date to compel condemnees to leave the footprint, though a few, including Weinstein, are expected to oppose it.

A tense day

Late this morning, Weinstein was sitting in the building's lobby, waiting for a few employees to show up, and planning to manage his property business from the building for the time being.

Then representatives of his tenants and subtenants showed up.

So did the police.

There were some heated discussions, but it went no further, and the status quo, at least for now, prevailed.