Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proposal to Permit Pelham to Tax New York City Land in Pelham Bay Park in 1888

New York City's annexation of much of the Town of Pelham in 1895 was the culmination of a tumultuous and traumatic decade during which New York City used eminent domain to take Pelham lands to form Pelham Bay Park.  Initially, most Pelhamites favored the initiative to create a giant park that would buffer the Town from the massive metropolis sprawling toward its border with Pelham.  

In the early 1880s, however, a judicial decision released by the New York Court of Appeals was construed as barring Pelham from levying property taxes against New York City for the lands it acquired within the Town of Pelham to form Pelham Bay Park.  Suddenly, everything changed.  Pelham taxpayers faced a burdensome and major increase in their property taxes.

The land bought by New York City for its new park remained within the Town of Pelham.  That meant that the Town of Pelham remained responsible for maintenance of the pre-existing roads and bridges in the area and the provision of services such as police protection, schools, and the like for the entire area owned by New York City.  

However, with new landowner New York City freed from paying property taxes on the land, that meant that suddenly 1,700 acres of the 3,000 acres that then comprised Pelham would be removed from the tax assessment rolls and no property taxes would any longer be paid to the Town on those 1,700 acres.  Consequently, the property tax rate for the remaining owners of Pelham property not owned by New York City would skyrocket to six percent of its assessed value annually.  

All of Pelham mobilized to fight for the right to levy property taxes against New York City for the lands it was acquiring within the Town.  Pelhamites issued letters to the New York City Mayor and to the editors of local newspapers.  They also pursued an initiative to have the State Legislature enact a statute to compel New York City to pay property taxes on its land in Pelham to the Town.  

I have written before about Pelham's efforts to fight the threatened tax burdens its citizens would face if New York City were permitted to avoid Pelham property taxes.  See, e.g.:  

Thu., Dec. 29, 2016:  Even New York City Didn't Want to Pay Pelham Taxes.

Fri., Jun. 13, 2014:  1887 Letter to Editor Details Tax Burdens Pelham Bore Due to the Creation of Pelham Bay Park.

Thu., Jun. 05, 2014:  Pelham Fights City Hall: Pelham Fights Creation of Pelham Bay Park During the 1880s

Tue., Jan. 19, 2010:  Pelham to New York City in 1888: "You Should Pay Taxes"! 

Fri., Feb. 06, 2009:  More on Pelham's Displeasure with the Loss of Pelham Bay Park Lands from the Tax Rolls in the 19th Century

Thu., Feb. 05, 2009:  New York City Corporation Counsel to Pelham in 1887:  We Told You So! 

Wed., Feb. 04, 2009:  Pelham Has Second Thoughts in 1887 About the Proposal To Create Pelham Bay Park

Mon., Jan. 21, 2008:  Litigation Over Compensation for Pelham Property Owners Whose Lands Were Taken by New York City for the New Pelham Bay Park

Fri., Sep. 23, 2005:  Pelham Tries To Kill the Plan to Create Pelham Bay Park:  1887

Fri., May 20, 2005:  1888 - Pelham Fears Bankruptcy Due to the Creation of Pelham Bay Park.

Today's Historic Pelham article reproduces the text of an article that appeared in the February 5, 1888 issue of the New-York Tribune detailing the bill to alleviate Pelham's tax burden that was under consideration by the New York Assembly's Committee on Cities at the time.  The article is important because it details the City's objections to paying Pelham property taxes as well as Pelham's rationale for forcing New York City to pay.  The text of the article appears immediately below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

1905 Map of Pelham Bay Park. Source: Office of the President of
the Borough of the Bronx Topographical Bureau, Topographical
Survey Sheets of the Borough of the Bronx Easterly of the Bronx
River, Sheet 29 "Map of Pelham Bay Park City of New York
Forming Sheet 29 of the Topographcial Atlas of the Territory East
of the Bronx River" (1905) (Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map
Division, The New York Public Library). NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *


There is a bill now under consideration before the Assembly Committee on Cities, the object of which is to compel the city of New-York to pay taxes on the Pelham Bay Park property in the town of Pelham, Westchester County, taken by the city for park purposes.  The Commissioners of Appraisal, George W. Quintard, Luther R. Marsh and J. Seaver Page, have finished taking testimony, but have not yet made their report on the awards to be made the owners of the value of the property taken.  Mayor Hewitt, when asked what he thought of the bill to compel the city to pay taxes on the park property, said:

'This bill will be discussed, among others, when the heads of departments meet with me on Monday.  It would be manifestly improper for me to discuss it now.  This I can say, however, that last year I protested against the city being compelled to take this property for a park.  It is outside the city boundaries and too far away for the purpose for which it is intended.  Such a thing as taxing public property is entirely unknown.  Hence the introduction of this bill.  If it passes, it will leave the city, so far as this park is concerned, at the mercy of the town authorities of Pelham.  They can place on the park almost any valuation they please, and a consequent high tax, and the city would be powerless to prevent it.  The entire scheme of the Pelham Bay Park, from first to last, is wrong.'


President Coleman, of the Tax Department, said:  'The idea of taxing this city for a public park is entirely novel and, of course, wrong.  The park was forced on the city, in the first place, against the protest of the city authorities.  There is no necessity for a park there for twenty years to come, and probably not at that time.  No park belonging to the city should be outside the city limits.  All the city authorities protested against the scheme of a park at Pelham Bay, and an endeavor was made to exclude it from the new parks scheme.  If this new bill passes, New-York City will be compelled to pay the greater part of the taxes of the town of Pelham.  That much is certain.  If it could be done, it would be much better to allow the land to revert to the original owners, and pay them for any damage they may have sustained by reason of their lands having been taken for the new park.'

'Could not the city sell enough of the land acquired by it to reduce largely the park area and in good part reimburse itself for the outlay up to that time?'

'To enable the city to do so would need a special act, and would probably be resisted by the adjacent land owners whose property might be depreciated in value in consequence of the reduced area.  The better way, if it can be done, is to abandon the Pelham Bay Park scheme altogether and pay the property owners for the small amount of damage they received.  This is better than to go on and spend millions of dollar for a park that will only benefit Westchester County.'


A well-known citizen of the town of Pelham has sent a letter to Mayor Hewitt calling his attention to the fact that the town of Pelham has a total area of about 3,000 acres, assessed at $1,200,000.  Of this area, 1,700 acres, assessed at $500,000 are located within the limits of Pelham Bay Park.  Under the present law this park property will, as soon as acquired by the city, be exempt from taxation.  The taxable property of the town will be reduced to 1,300 acres, valued at $700,000, and the tax rate increased to nearly 6 per cent.  This means bankruptcy for the town.  It will be obliged to maintain many miles of expensive highway through the park without the right to tax the latter.  The town will be obliged to maintain the same schools as now without the right to tax many hundred acres now contributing to their support.  With the largely increased excursion travel, the town will have to increase the police force and this will add to the expense.  The entire burden of the bonded indebtedness of the town will be thrown on less than one-half of its territory.  The letter asserts that the great majority of the citizens of the town were opposed to the park.  It is proposed that the city continue to pay taxes on the land to the town of Pelham until the town is annexed to the city.  If the bill is passed it will increase the taxes of the city only 1-800 of 1 per cent on its assessed valuation and it will save the town of Pelham from bankruptcy."


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