The answer is: Yes.*
Meet General Cities Law Sec. 20:
§ 20. Grant of specific powers Subject to the constitution and general laws of this state, every city is empowered:
1. To contract and be contracted with and to institute, maintain and defend any action or proceeding in any court.
2. To take, purchase, hold and lease real and personal property within and without the limits of the city; to acquire pursuant to the provisions of the eminent domain procedure law, real property within or without the limits of the city for the construction, maintenance and operation of a sewage disposal plant, together with necessary rights of way for extending its sewage system to, and connecting the same with such disposal plant, to acquire or purchase real property and/or personal property within or without the limits of the city necessary for the construction, maintenance and operation of a water supply system for such city together with necessary rights of way for extending its water supply system to and connecting the same with a source or sources of water supply; to acquire by purchase, if the city is able to agree with the owners on the terms thereof, and otherwise in the manner provided by the eminent domain procedure law, real property within or without the limits of the city for the construction, maintenance and operation of drainage channels and structures for the purpose of flood control, when plans for such purpose have been approved by the state department of environmental conservation, together with necessary rights of way for extending such channels and structures; and also to acquire real and personal property within the limits of the city, for any public or municipal purpose, and to sell and convey the same, but the rights of a city in and to its water front, ferries, bridges, wharf property, land under water, public landings, wharves, docks, streets, avenues, parks, and all other public places, are hereby declared to be inalienable, except in the cases provided for by subdivision seven of this section.
What the hell does that mean?
Perhaps an example would help. A few years back, a municipality and a private citizen entered into a contract for the sale of just over half an acre of waterfront property.
In an action against a city for specific performance of a contract to convey waterfront property, summary judgment dismissing the complaint was properly granted where legislative approval permitting the city to sell said property was not obtained, since General City Law Sec. 20(2)divests the city of the power to convey publicly owned waterfront property except by special act of the Legislature. Although plaintiff submits that the statute does not bar specific performance of the contract since the subject property was neither acquired nor dedicated for public use, that contention is not only contrary to the unambiguous language of the statute, but overlooks the unique nature of water property which has been expressly declared to be inalienable, and is entitled to special protection by virtue of its geographical location rather than by virtue of its use. The Legislature did not see fit to include a public-use limitation in the statute, and none shall be engrafted by the court. Nothing in the contract imposed an obligation on the city to seek legislative approval, which in any event, is a purely discretionary act which cannot be compelled. Accordingly, nullification of the contract was required inasmuch as municipal contracts which violate express statutory provisions are invalid.- Gladsky v. Glen Cove, 164 A.D.2d 567
The Court goes on to state why such property is treated in this manner:
...waterfront property, as we have noted, is entitled to special protection by virtue of its geographical location rather than by virtue of its use. Unlike a public playground, which may cease to be a playground if its use is altered, waterfront property is intrinsically unique. That the discontinuance exception does not, and should not, apply to waterfront property becomes all the more compelling given the significant ecological, scenic, and aesthetic qualities inherent in it. Accordingly, the plaintiff's reliance on General City Law § 20 (7) is misplaced.
Under the Surplus Property provisions of the Code, the City can divide property. Perhaps the administration will attempt to retain a portion of the property immediately adjacent to the river. The State may have something to say about that. We'll leave all that to the lawyers.
One bothersome thing is the fact that none of these potential issues were discussed at the public hearing. We were all supposed to swallow Harry's "To good to be true....but it is," assurances.
That's not to say roadblocks can't be removed. Any project of this magnitude is bound to potential problems. Why not be up front about those problems and inform the citizens how those problems will be addressed? Why wasn't a representative from the appropriate State Agency/Department invited to speak at the hearing?
Finally, why did the local media hype the announcement of the 'sale' and not delve a bit deeper into the possible problems with the scheme? Harry gets front page headlines for an announcement but the real life, nuts and bolts issues raised by that announcement gets page 2, 3, 4 treatment.... if it's treated at all. We're not singling out The Record. Only Fred LeBrun looked at this in-depth and even he missed the larger, potential problems of the deal.
*Our thanks to a number of Capital District attorneys who weighed-in with their thoughts and aided us with this post.