Subject: From Today's Post
Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2007 13:12:55 -0400
EVICTIONS MADE (TOO) EASY
By TOM ELLIOTT
September 19, 2007 -- To realize its planned expansion in Man hattanville, Columbia University will need the power of eminent domain - that is, the ability to force property owners to sell at a "fair" price, below what they'd otherwise hold out for. The prospect of such takings has probably caused more resentment than any other part of the school's plan.
Technically, the power would be exercised by the state-run Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) - which must first reach a formal finding that the area is "blighted."
But the ESDC has subcontracted the study that will make that determination to the consulting firm of AKRF - which Columbia itself has already hired to help sell its overall plan to city officials.
This arrangement inspired locals like Nick Sprayregen to sue - demanding the ESDC produce its communications with AKRF to see if the consulting firm is truly acting as an independent arbiter.
A judge agreed: "While acting for Columbia, AKRF has an interest of its own in the outcome of [ESDC's] action, as AKRF, presumably, seeks to succeed in securing an outcome that its client, Columbia, would favor." But ESDC's appeal of that ruling won't be heard until December, so everything's going ahead for now.
Complicating matters is the fact that AKRF, which specializes in environmental-impact statements, has been the government's go-to consultant for just about every major development over the last six years.
Thus, Forest City Ratner earlier hired AKRF to do consulting work for its Atlantic Yards arena - yet the firm still wrote the ESDC's environmental-impact statement on that project, and also made the "blight" declaration that green-lighted eminent-domain condemnations there.
Asked if there was a single major project where AKRF didn't find in favor of the governing body that hired it, the company declined to comment.