A Staten Island businessman is fighting the MTA for a piece of property he used and maintained as his own for the past 30 years. NY1's Bree Driscoll filed the following report.
Ettore Mazzei has been in buisness along a strip of Bay Street for three decades.
"In 1986, I rented Edgewater Hall, the first floor for Chez Vous Catering, and we catered events," Mazzei said. In 1998, through hard work and diligence, we bought the building. We expanded the business. We opened Dock Street Bar and Grill."
He continued to expand, renting to Gatsby's on the Bay and adding a building next door where he lives.
But everything changed last fall.
"In November, I received a phone call from the MTA saying that the lot that I use for parking, that I have been using for 30 years, belongs to them, and they wanted it back," Mazzei said.
Mazzei uses that disputed eighth of an acre for storage as well as parking. He's maintained it all those years, even planting trees to improve drainage.
The MTA owns the property next door, behind a fence, land that is unused and cluttered with debris and trash.
After attempting to negotiate with the MTA to rent or buy the property, Mazzei went to court, citing a centuries-old legal doctrine known as Adverse Possession.
"Adverse possession is where someone takes tenancy of piece of property that they don't own," said attorney Mario Gallucci.
Basically, if you treat a property as your own for 10 years, continually using it without a challenge by the owner, it can be yours.
Some argue it doesn't apply to government property. Gallucci disagrees.
"The MTA, you would assume, would inspect the property routinely and know that there was something there and somebody there, so they should have moved to vacate that person. If they didn't. they may have a problem," Gallucci said.
So far, the legal system doesn't see it that way. A Staten Island judge on Thursday granted the MTA's motion to dismiss the case.
Mazzei says he is going to appeal.
"They should support small business," he said. "We are the heart of America."
The MTA declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.