CBS2 Exclusive: Woman Asks NYC To Buy Back City Street That Was Sold To Her As ‘Vacant Lot’

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A woman in the middle of a bizarre municipal mix-up says she isn’t getting much sympathy from the city.

“I wanted a lot,” Norma Parnell told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.

But what she got was a street.

“I didn’t want a street!” she said.

It’s paved, marked and maintained by New York City. But William Court in Far Rockaway — with almost a dozen homes — is owned by Parnell.

Aiello: “If you decided to gate off your property, how would these people get home?”

Parnell: “There would be no way for them to come into their property.”

Aiello: “Because you own this street?”

Parnell: “Yes.”

It started in 2001 when she went to an auction of city owned properties, and there was a listing for a “vacant lot.”

“This lot happened to be in my neighborhood,” she said.

The map showed a long, skinny piece of property. Sight unseen, Parnell bid $30,000 and won. She figured she’d sell pieces to adjoining homeowners, Aiello reported.

Months later, she learned what the city sold as a “vacant lot” was actually William Court, a 280 foot long street – technically a “privately owned access way.”

Parnell told Aiello she’s willing to sell it back to the city. She said in 2010 the city offered to refund her $30,000, but she declined, because on her tax bill the city lists the property as “vacant land, zoned residential,” valued at $257,000.

“I would like the City of New York to pay me back the value of what the land is worth,” she said. “Not what they sold me for.”

On Friday, a city spokesperson told CBS2 “the city has made numerous attempts to offer her a full refund… she refused.” Even though the city values the property at $257,000, paying Parnell that much “was not an appropriate use of taxpayer money.”

“It’s been like hell, because I felt so stupid,” Parnell said.

It’s an old lesson: Let the buyer beware, especially when the seller is the city, Aiello reported.

Parnell can’t build on the land, even thought it is taxed as “vacant land, zoned residential.” The taxes are about $1,000 per year.

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