Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In response to complaints about some apparent sweetheart land deals, the New York State Canal Corp. and Thruway Authority have announced stricter land management regulations. Critics of the agencies, however, are already complaining that the new strictures won't be sufficient to prevent abuses.
The deal that drew the most heat came with the sale of development rights along 45 miles of Erie Canal waterfront to Richard Hutchens, a Buffalo businessman, for $30,000. Hutchens had been the only person to answer a small classified ad announcing the opportunity ["N.Y. Sells Its Erie Canal for a Song," January 2004].
New appraisals were ordered after the state comptroller rejected the $10,000 sale of a Waterford parcel to a developer. A Syracuse development deal was blocked after lobbyists allegedly attempted to improperly influence canal authorities.
Under the new rules, there will be more internal auditing of all land transactions and a requirement for appraisals of all proposed canal uses. Outside appraisals will be required for properties valued at more than $25,000, while two such appraisals will be required for land worth more than $150,000.
Richard Brodsky, chairman of a state Assembly committee leading an investigation into more than 500 canal land deals, says that changes in law are still needed. "Voluntary guidelines can be thrown out the window the week they take place," he says. "Until we get the legislation, we're flying on a wing and a prayer."