Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New York City's Strangest Vacant Lots

A super-fun article in the New York Times looks at a catalogue of near-useless slivers of land that the city is trying to unload:

The origins of odd lot shapes — like awkward triangles, long slivers and rectangles with sizable bites taken out — are usually a mystery to city administrators, though they are assumed to come from old surveying errors or ancient easements, which allow one to use another’s property.

[T]he city once owned thousands of formerly private properties, taken over from owners who neglected to pay their taxes. Many buildings accumulated during the city’s economic crisis of the 1970s have since been sold off, but the city is still working through the backlog; some of the land may have been on the city’s books since the 19th century. Each property must be appraised, no matter how tiny or evidently useless, and submitted to a lengthy review process, so progress is not swift.

Most of the properties the city sells end up at auction, but if a lot is appraised and found to be essentially worthless, it enters the city program for “slivers, access ways and interior lots,” perhaps too eagerly called the SAIL Away program. In these cases, the city approaches neighboring owners and tries to sell them the properties for a nominal amount of money, maybe $5 per square foot, Ms. Koch said, or even $1 per square foot.

Steve Clowney


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