Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Three articles on Eminent Domain

Date: Wed, 03 May 2006 06:01:25 -0400
From: "Kitchen"
Subject: Three articles on Eminent Domain

Publication: The New York Sun; Date: May 3,
2006; Section: Editorial & Opinion; Page:10

Columbia�s Domain

While Mayor Bloomberg, speaking from Father Duffy Square, was offering another discourse on the importance of eminent domain as a tool in private development,a not so little eminent domain drama was unfolding uptown, where Columbia University is seeking to expand into West Harlem and is being resisted by a business owner, Nicholas Sprayregen.

He recently sent each of the university�s trustees another letter asking them to respect his property rights.

The latest word was that the letters were received Monday, but as of yet there has been no response. If Mr. Sprayregen�s past experience is any guide � he�s been down this road three times already � the silence will grow only more deafening. Columbia wants a site roughly between Broadway and 12th Avenue from 125th Street to 133rd Street, and it expresses willingness to seek the aid of the state.

Mr. Sprayregen fears that they will get it.

Columbia has assembled deeds to about 70% of the properties in the proposed footprint for its new West Harlem campus, which it calls Manhattanville. Of the remaining 30% of the
properties, Mr. Sprayregen owns the largest chunk of any private property owner.Most of it is
devoted to his family�s self-storage business.

Mr. Sprayregen professes no interest in selling out, hoping instead to pass the business on to his

He worries that relocation is not a feasible option since the success of his self-storage operation depends on physical proximity to his customers. He worries about the impact of closing the business on those customers, not to mention his 25 to 30 employees and his commercial tenants, which include a supermarket and a hair salon.

The university makes some compelling arguments.

Columbia is certainly an important institution for the city. It has been here since New York was a colony. Its proposed expansion at Manhattanville would, it says, bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the city�s economy, while giving a new face to a neighborhood that hasn�t always been in the best shape. Administrators claim that assembling a contiguous campus is key to its educational mission by enabling better cooperation between scholars in different departments that might otherwise be scattered around the city.

Ordinarily, the market would sort all this out, but New York�s eminent domain laws make this a far from ordinary situation. Because the university reserves the right to ask the state to seize Mr.Sprayregen�s land in the name of �economic development,� the situation has become anything but a normal business negotiation. The deck is stacked in favor of Columbia getting all and Mr. Sprayregen getting scant compensation. Even if Columbia doesn�t need to get the state to invoke eminent domain in the end � and that process is invariably more expensive and time-consuming than a private purchase � the threat encourages landowners like Mr. Sprayregen to sell out sooner than they ordinarily would.

Not only is this bad for property owners, but it can be bad for the surrounding communities.

Such, at least, has been the observation of none other than a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia, Mindy Fullilove.

In a recent book, �Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It,� Dr. Fullilove describes her experiences touring cities that were transformed by urban renewal projects. When we spoke to her this week, she faulted Columbia for not understanding the damaging effects a project of this sort can have on the surrounding community. She suggests that Columbia has not been effective enough at communicating with the neighbors. With the possibility of eminent domain in the cards, we�d posit, it doesn�t need to.

As it stands, almost two years ago, the deputy general counsel of Columbia, Howard Jacobson, executed a letter with the Empire State Development Corporation in which the school and the ESDC agreed to consider condemning some of the properties on the site.

The university now claims that it is not proceeding with efforts to get the state to invoke eminent domain, but even if it is not � Mr. Sprayregen points to the 2004 letter as evidence that it is � the school refuses to close the door on the possibility. No doubt all of this is being watched in Washington, where the Senate is in a knot over a bill that passed the House overwhelmingly and would put a stop to eminent domain abuse.

This is a time for advocates of the use of eminent domain to use that power very gingerly.


Publication: The New York Sun; Date:May 3, 2006;
Section:Front Page; Page:1

Seeks To Block Restrictions
Staff Reporter of the Sun

Mayor Bloomberg is stepping up his campaign to prevent lawmakers in Albany and Washington from restricting the city�s power to seize private property for redevelopment.

In recent weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has traveled to Washington to meet with members of Congress on the issue. He also convened a group of 100 Manhattan-based political donors for a lunch at which he handed out a wallet card of priorities, including �Eminent Domain � Oppose legislation that would cripple affordable housing and responsible re-development (like Times Square).�

Yesterday, he brought the campaign to an event in the Times Square neighborhood, which he argues couldn�t have been cleaned up without eminent domain power � a portrayal challenged by some critics.

Times Square really was the poster child for a seedy, dangerous, unattractive, porno-laced place,� the mayor said after announcing a renovation of Duffy Square at 47th Street. �Because of eminent domain and some forward-looking people in this city, they turned it into a place where 24 hours a day you�re safe on the street.�

Debate over the use of eminent domain has flared since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 that the city of New London, Conn., had the right to use eminent domain power to take property from homeowners and give it to a developer. The justices split on the case, Kelo v. New London, 5�4. Both Democrats and Republicans moved to protect private property rights after the Supreme Court�s decision.

Those who oppose the use of eminent domain for private development � as opposed to long-standing government uses � challenged the mayor�s portrayal of history. They said private property seizures were not the driving force behind the cleanup of Times Square and that the landmark site would have turned around without it.

A civil rights attorney, Norman Siegel, said new zoning laws and market forces were both crucial to the revitalization.

When people like the mayor engage in this kind of advocacy, it doesn�t represent the reality,� he said. �Times Square could have been completed without the use of eminent domain.�

Citing Columbia University�s expansion project and the Nets arena project in Brooklyn, Mr. Siegel said the use of eminent domain for private development has �run amok� in New York.

Others echoed that sentiment. A senior attorney at a libertarian law firm, the Institute for Justice, said it�s no surprise that city officials want to preserve their power to seize private property.

New York is one of the worst states in the country for using eminent domain for private development, and it has a history of using it for very wealthy and powerful private parties,� Dana Berliner said.

While Mr. Bloomberg has already made it known that he supports the use of eminent domain for private development when a neighborhood is �blighted,� his comments yesterday were his most forceful to date and signal that he is readying for a fight on eminent domain in much the same way he has entered national political debates on gun control and abortion.

He spoke yesterday against proposed legislation in Congress that would restrict the city�s use of federal money for projects that involve eminent domain.

The mayor has the support of some lawmakers. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents Manhattan�s West Side and parts of Brooklyn, said the bills being considered in Congress will �destroy the ability of this city and any other city to have economic development and revitalize itself.�

Mr. Nadler said protections against abuse are needed, but not by �the kind of draconian, one-sided legislation� that will hinder cities from improving so-called blighted neighborhoods.

Mr. Bloomberg�s comments come as lawmakers in Albany are finishing up the state budget and are expected to devote attention to eminent domain.

Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, said there are �misguided people� on both sides of the aisle in both the House and the Senate. �Yes, you want to protect individual property rights, but if we didn�t have this, the city would be like it was 100 years ago. It would have fallen apart.�

Most agree that the government should be allowed to use eminent domain to seize private property for public use. The Fifth Amendment to the federal Constitution provides, �nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.� Under current law in New York, eminent domain can be used for private development if the government proves that the neighborhood is �blighted.�

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat who represents Manhattan�s East Side, said yesterday that she supports the use of eminent domain only for public purposes. �If you�re going to built a road or a highway or a subway for public purpose, but I do not support it for a private developer for a private purpose. That draws the line for me,� she said.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said the issue has united �the right-wing property rights advocates and the leftwing neighborhood activists.�

Others took issue with the term �blight,� saying it�s too subjective. Mr. Brodsky said �blight is Yiddish for poor� and that it is unjust to use it on �125th Street but not on Park Avenue.�

The issue put Mr. Bloomberg in the center of yet another national debate. A professor of public policy at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, called Mr. Bloomberg the �mayoral Robert Moses� and said eminent domain is a powerful tool that the mayor doesn�t want to give up.

There are those of us who remember the carnage of Robert Moses�s slum clearance,� he said. �The question here is going to be who defines blight.�


May 3, 2006
NY Times

Bloomberg Says Power to Seize Private Land Is Vital to Cities

Wading into yet another contentious national debate, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg came out vigorously yesterday in support of the government's right to seize property by eminent domain, and said Congressional attempts to limit those powers would have dire consequences for the nation's cities.

His remarks come in the wake of a 2005 Supreme Court decision establishing the right of localities to seize properties for economic development projects. That ruling set off a firestorm that has spread across the country and in New York, where the potential use of eminent domain has drawn opposition in such projects as the proposed Atlantic Yards complex in Brooklyn.

"You would never build any big thing any place in any big city in this country if you didn't have the power of eminent domain," Mr. Bloomberg said, speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony in Times Square, which was redeveloped in part through government condemnation of private property.

"You wouldn't have a job, neither would anybody else standing here today. None of us would."

Of late, Mr. Bloomberg has ramped up efforts to influence a range of national policy issues including immigration and gun control. But on this issue he is taking a position that could be at odds with the feelings of New Yorkers wary of development or suspicious of government efforts to seize private property.

The mayor is most concerned that the pending legislation would cut off all federal economic development funds to state or local governments for up to two years if they use eminent domain in private development projects. Bloomberg administration officials warned that passage of the bill in Congress could, at a minimum, mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and almost 100,000 jobs for the city.

"There are some in Albany and Washington," Mr. Bloomberg said, who do not "appreciate the crucial importance of eminent domain to our ability to shape our own future. They mistakenly equate it with an abuse of government power, and ignore the benefits that come to us all from responsible development of formerly blighted areas."

The bill, passed last year by the House of Representatives and now pending in the Senate, is one of many federal and state measures aimed at constraining the government's power to seize private property that have been proposed or adopted in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Since the ruling, which upheld the authority of New London, Conn., to condemn homes to allow for private redevelopment, conservative and liberal members of Congress have joined together to fashion new federal limits on eminent domain seizures. At the same time, lawmakers in nearly every state have advanced bills and amendments, addressing an issue that is often emotionally fraught among their constituents.

"The vast, overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to using eminent domain," said Dana Berliner, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a leading advocate for curtailing its use.

"There's still in the United States a very strong ethic that you work hard so that some day you or your children can own a home," she said, adding that using eminent domain for private development makes a mockery of those aspirations."

The only people who are really supporting it are government, planners and the developers that take advantage of eminent domain," she said.

In New York, for example, the proposed use of eminent domain by the developer Forest City Ratner to bring a basketball arena and a swath of residential, office and commercial towers to the Atlantic Terminal area touched off fierce opposition, especially in surrounding neighborhoods.

The concept, though, proved unpopular elsewhere as well.

A New York Times poll in April 2004 found that only 18 percent of city residents favored the construction of a new basketball arena in Brooklyn it if it required the demolition of homes and businesses. (Forest City Ratner is the development partner of The New York Times Company in building its new Midtown headquarters, a project that itself involved government condemnation of private property.)

To the Bloomberg administration, however, the wheels of economic development would grind to a halt without the use of eminent domain. Low-cost housing developments like the Nehemiah homes in East New York, Brooklyn, and Melrose Commons in the Bronx would not have been built and Times Square would remain "the poster child for a seedy, dangerous, unattractive, porno-laced place," Mr. Bloomberg said.

City officials also argue that New York State law protects property owners from abusive uses of eminent domain because it requires property to be designated as a blight before it can be seized for private development and because people have access to the courts. But many critics dismiss that argument.

"New York's blight designation is a joke," Ms. Berliner said. "You can call anything in the state blighted under New York's definition."

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