The city’s West Harlem redevelopment plan aims to pump up the economy with thousands of new jobs—but one local gas station owner, with his business in the line of demolition, is suing to keep his pumps alive.
Carmie Elmore bought the BP service station on 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard from the city in 1996. But after the city approached him with plans to acquire and redevelop the property, he filed a lawsuit in August.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation claims it has the right to reacquire the lot for the purpose of economic development, and issued a request for expressions of interest to developers in June.
Elmore says differently. He acknowledged that his contract allowed the city to buy back his gas station for urban renewal purposes, but he said that urban renewal plan expired in 2008—and as a result, he and his partners fully own the property.
The city offered Elmore the original purchase price of the property plus the cost of improvements he has made since then, rather than its current market price, he said.
“We think that we own the station outright now,” said Elmore, who has been a partner at the gas station since 1986. “The city doesn’t have any rights to it whatsoever.”
While the EDC has yet to respond to the lawsuit formally, a law department spokesperson said in a statement, “The City and EDC strongly dispute the version of events outlined in this lawsuit. We will be responding in court.”
The EDC said in a statement that it hopes to redevelop what it considers “underutilized” space by “providing quality jobs for local residents and maximizing the benefit to the community” through affordable housing and community and retail space.
“The redevelopment of this site could offer a unique opportunity to enhance the surrounding community while also increasing economic activity throughout the entire area,” EDC President Seth W. Pinsky said in the statement.
Elmore said he is concerned about the impact the station’s closing would have on both himself and his employees, which include students and war veterans.
“I’ve been here 26 years, so it’s very valuable to me. It’s the place where I made my living, I sent my boys to college, put food on the table.” Elmore said. “We have between 19 and 21 adults working here who all have families and children.”
Youssef Sylla, a student at City College who has worked at the gas station for seven years, said, “That’s the only place that is open 24 hours in the neighborhood,” calling it “the only place to stop by whenever you want.”
Being in the same site for so long means that Elmore recognizes many familiar faces. “I’ve seen children grow up from toddlers to young adults,” he said, adding that his customers have largely supported him in the lawsuit.
Amar Serigne, a part-time cab driver, said the gas station’s removal would inconvenience customers—especially cab drivers.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Serigne, who comes to the station five nights a week. He added that there are “very few gas stations around” and that New Yorkers and cab drivers would have to go out of their way to get gas. “It’s not a good thing to do,” he said.
“A service station is one of those types of businesses that can allow the community to be a community,” Elmore said. “What if you took all the restaurants out of a community? That would be a hardship. Or what if you took all the barbershops out of a community? That would be a hardship. If you took a gas station out, it would be a hardship.”