Eminent domain abuse is alive and well in New York State.

On December 4, 2009, I posted here: “Someone Beats City Hall.” Well…

From Bloomberg News/BusinessWeek:

Columbia Expansion Backed by New York’s Top Court
June 24, 2010, 4:38 PM EDT
By Karen Freifeld

June 24 (Bloomberg) — Columbia University won a ruling by New York’s highest court that allows it to proceed with a $6.3 billion expansion of its campus through use of the state’s eminent domain power to acquire property.

The New York Court of Appeals in Albany today held that the Empire State Development Corp.’s findings of “blight” and its determination that the property could be condemned to promote land use improvement were rationally based. The court also found the Columbia project met a “civic purpose” that lets the state exercise eminent domain.

In its unanimous decision, New York’s top court reversed a lower court ruling that stopped the state from taking property from the owners of commercial establishments in the 17-acre area without their consent. The judges cited their decision last year to allow seizure by eminent domain of property to make way for developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which includes a basketball arena.
(…)
Commercial property owners affected include gas stations and storage facilities.

“We strongly and categorically disagree with the ruling of the court and we are giving serious consideration to asking the United States Supreme Court to review the decision,” Nicholas Sprayregen, owner of self-storage company Tuck-It-Away Inc., a business in the case, said in an e-mailed statement. “It is truly a sad day for anyone who cares about the sanctity of private property rights.”
(…)
Norman Siegel, an attorney for Tuck-It-Away, confirmed in an interview he would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. He has 90 days to do so, he said.

“This is the first time ever that a private education institution can constitute a civic project,” Siegel said.

The simple facts are that Columbia University wants to expand to Manhattanville (West Harlem) and has been using the threat of eminent domain–and the state’s power of eminent domain–to buy up all the properties, even from owners who didn’t want to sell. Columbia University is a private educational institution, not owned by New York City or by New York State, yet the state’s eminent domain powers were used to help it acquire land.

This should be encouraging to every college and university in the country. Can’t buy a property because of a pesky landowner? You’re a powerful educational institution–just buy the politicians! They’ll use eminent domain and give you the land on the cheap!

Eminent domain was intended for an important civic purpose, such as the construction of a road or a bridge. It was never intended to put one private property owner (with enormous political power) over another.

From Business Insider:

Why Columbia University Gets To Demolish This BP Gas Station
Gus Lubin | Jun. 25, 2010, 9:40 AM
One thing to be happy about in Columbia University’s eminent domain court ruling is the demolition of everyone’s least favorite gas station: BP.

Actually it’s just a franchised gas station owned by Gurnam Singh. He is one of many small businessmen and locals getting bought out by the Ivy League university, after an appeals court deemed the neighborhood “blighted.”

A gas station is blight? It’s a gas station! It serves a function. It’s what the owner of the property wants. Who the hell is New York to say that it should be Columbia college dorm?

The determination of “blight” is made by the Empire State Development Corporation, a crony-infested political enterprise. It was found that the company the ESDC hired to make a “blight” evaluation also worked for Columbia!

The gas station and the storage facility owners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills, and for what? So they can keep their own property?

From the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog;

June 24, 2010, 6:06 PM ET
New York Court of Appeals Backs Eminent Domain Use in Columbia Expansion
(…)
The state’s attempt to exercise its power of eminent domain had encountered stiff resistance from some property owners in the zone who refused to sell their property to the university and who sued to block the condemnation, the Times reports.

Last year, a lower court ruled that the area in question was not sufficiently blighted to justify an exercise of eminent domain by the state. Furthermore, the lower court ruled, the true beneficiary of the state’s proposed taking of property was not the supposedly blighted community, but the “private elite” Columbia University.

But today’s decision wiped out the earlier ruling. New York’s high court held that judges must give deference to the state in its judgment that the expansion area was blighted, reports the Times.

A comment (“UDC” is the urban branch of “ESDC”):

10:27 am June 25, 2010
Not A Columbia Grad wrote:
New York State’s UDC is as corrupt an agency as you will ever find. By this decision, the Court of Appeals shows itself to be staffed by incompetent and spineless toadies who mostly roll over for the rich and well-connected. This same UDC jump started Donald Trump’s career by allowing him to kick out tenants in the Hotel Commodore on 42nd Street some 35 years ago, the UDC declaring the hotel blighted. Blighted? Every commercial space in the Commodore was rented. The use of eminent domain is no more than government sanctioned thievery, real “honest services” fraud. But New York State judges are the best judges money can buy, so Columbia will get its way.

Need I tell you that the Court of Appeals (NY’s highest court) has liberal judges? That its chief judge is pals with Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker and the most powerful politician in the state? (A Democrat, of course.)

Does one politician in Manhattan come to the aid of these property owners? No. Not one politician.

In my previous post, I said that the case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, and I wondered what a wise Latina would do.

The appeal could cost the property owners thousands more.

It’s clear that if you own property in New York City, and a basketball team (“Brooklyn Nets”) or a private university (Columbia University) wants what you own, that you have to give it to them.

Yes, we still have a Constitution.

But don’t expect a politician or a judge to read it.