In November 1914, former New York Supreme Court Justice Charles MacLean, who believed his 35 acres in the BRPR were worth more than the $55,000 stipulated by the BPC, insisted that the real value of his property was $215,000. As a result of the disagreement, MacLean filed a writ of mandamus against the BPC to compel it to begin condemnation proceedings for his land. MacLean contended that the BPC had abused its power and was causing unnecessary delays in completing the parkway through its policy of relying on purchasing land directly from owners. He charged that the delays in the BPC land acquisition were hurting owners because they could neither receive a fair price from the commission nor dispose of disputed properties to other potential buyers. The BPC continued to maintain that its policy of direct purchase saved taxpayers millions of dollars. In December, MacLean’s counsel agreed to accept a price comparable to what neighbors had received for their land. The BPC was willing to continue negotiations with MacLean, but its personal inspection of his property indicated that it was not as valuable as his neighbors’. The commissioners noted that MacLean’s land had fewer improvements and that portions of the property were low-lying and marshy. McLean only had 14' of road frontage, moreover, while his neighbors had a greater portion of more valuable frontage land. BPC special counsel Howard Taylor questioned MacLean’s credibility and accused him of intentionally hampering the BPC’s work. Taylor also charged that McLean was holding land in a dummy ownership. In mid December, New York Supreme Court Justice Newburger upheld the BPC’s arguments, stating that MacLean had failed to show that the commission had abused its power or failed to act in an appropriate manner.(102)
In the aftermath of the court decision, MacLean made official charges that Niles had failed to release certain commission reports. Special Counsel Saxe recommended dismissing these charges, but censured Niles for his "arbitrary refusal" to allow MacLean to examine early BPC records. While he acknowledged that Niles had violated the law, Saxe ruled that the incident was not serious enough to warrant the commissioner’s removal from the BPC. MacLean finally gave up his cause after losing his appeal in the appellate court.(103) Niles’ concealment of records contradicted the BPC’s assertions that it maintained a policy of making all land acquisition documents available for examination.
The BPC began preparing for condemnation proceedings in June 1915. In September, the BPC and its legal counsel discussed how to implement the proceedings. Approximately two-thirds of the parkway lands had been acquired or secured by contract, and negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily for the acquisition of more than one hundred additional properties belonging to the New York Central Railroad Company, but this appeared to be about the limit of what could be acquired through the direct purchase approach. The commissioners noted that their exhaustive efforts to deal directly with property owners were no longer bringing substantial results. A significant number of the remaining parcels had defective or complicated titles that would require condemnation proceedings to clear up in any event. There were also twenty-two parcels for which owners had not yet been located. The BPC concluded that negotiations for land acquisition had reached the state whereby no substantial progress could be expected. Unless condemnation proceedings were started, there would be additional delays in taking possession of the land needed for the parkway.(104)
Parkway Commission, Report, 1916, 91-92; Bronx Parkway Commission,
Minutes, November 11, 1914, 370-378; December 12, 1914, 405; December
11, 1914, 413-416; December 15, 1914, 419-425; "Parkway Land Holdup
Charged to Ex-Justice," New York Sun, December 3, 1914;
"Realty Owner Accused of Plan to ‘Bleed’ N.Y.,"
New York American, December 3, 1914; "Supreme Court Upholds
the Bronx Parkway Commission," Yonkers Herald, December
16, 1914; "Parkway Commission Upheld," New York Tribune,
December 15, 1914.