Officials from Long Island and New York City are pressing the State Legislature to repeal legislation passed earlier this year that they say expands the power of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop property regardless of local control.
Several Long Island mayors said they fear that the MTA could build on land it controls — or lease land to a private developer — without obeying zoning codes or paying property taxes.
“If they were to come in and build something, it would drain our resources and not contribute any money to our tax revenues,” said Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy.
MTA spokesman Stephen Morello said yesterday that the language at issue — part of the state budget passed earlier this year — represented just “a small change, which may make some transactions easier for us.”
Morello said the MTA “operates in a political environment,” and that the authority’s governing structure “ensures representation of all of the localities that we serve.”
At issue is an expanded definition of what counts as “transportation purposes” — a threshold that, when met, can exempt development from virtually all direct local control.
Officials in the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio say the legislation allows the MTA to ignore local laws for any purpose indirectly benefiting the MTA’s mission.
The effort to undo the budget language is being led by the New York Conference of Mayors — although with the legislative session scheduled to end this week there is little time left to repeal the provision.
Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola) is sponsoring the repeal in the Senate; Democrat James Brennan of Brooklyn is the Assembly sponsor.
Mayor’s conference executive director Peter Baynes said the MTA’s ability to develop its land “is limitless under that new language. It could be a cell tower, it could be housing units, it could be an industrial use, it could be any kind of use that’s inconsistent with the zoning for that area.”
Morello said the MTA is “happy to sit down and talk about what our motives were on this legislative change.” Morello said that on Long Island, the language could affect properties such as rights of way, rail yards, “ancillary operational facilities” and parking lots.
“It’s really inconceivable to us that, given the MTA’s tradition of collaboration with local governments, that people would jump to the conclusion that this is a sort of covert power grab,” Morello said.