Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is Eminent Domain Abuse Government Abuse

Spurred by deep concern over the use of eminent domain across New York state to advance real estate development, St. Senator Bill Perkins (30 S.D.), chair of Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions held a community meeting December 19, 2009 at Manhattan Pentecostal Church. He brought together attorneys and representatives of communities facing disruption, namely Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), Willett Point United and the Kaurs, owners of two gas stations in West Harlem.

Senator Perkins called for reforming New York State’s eminent domain laws, which give the terms under which private property may be taken for a public use. Perkins described the current process as “lacking transparency, accountability and meaningful public participation.” Attorney Michael Rikon, who specializes in this area asserted, “New York State is guilty of the most abusive use of eminent domain.” Property may be deemed in need of improvement because, “Your property is never more valuable than when a Costco is built upon it.” This meeting falls on the heels of the December 15 court ruling in Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) wherein it found unconstitutional the taking of property by UDC d/b/a/Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) for the benefit of Columbia University (Columbia).

Columbia has had longstanding expansion plans within Harlem. In 1968, the community opposed the construction of a university gym and Columbia students took over campus buildings.

Amangit Kaur spoke about the eight-year struggle with Columbia by her family to keep their property and two gas stations on them. Kaur asked the audience to “never lose hope” and “be assured that when the Harlem community stands together, nothing can stop us from winning.”

Attorney Norman Siegel for the community in the Columbia case uncovered that ESDC used the same consultants hired by Columbia to find West Harlem suffering from blight and, therefore, had an independent study performed. Siegel submitted to the court the 500-page No Blight Study, which resulted in the Kaur’s victory.
Siegel asserts that when the courts get documents finding eminent domain abuse, they do rule to reject applying it. Should UDC appeal the decision, Siegel said he looks forward to taking the case to Albany and if necessary, going to Washington. He believes each graduation in appeal expands the precedent from state to national impact.

A community deemed blighted is Willetts Point in Queens. Richard Lipsky said Willets Point doesn’t have sewers or sidewalks. After snowstorms, the residents secure a bulldozer to clear the streets. Lipsky believes the lack of infrastructure and city services is designed to position the community as a blighted area.
Governor David Paterson was in Harlem the same day of the meeting. When asked about improper eminent domain use in Harlem and UDC’s intention to appeal the decision, the Governor said he thought ESDC/Columbia were in compliance with Land Use and thought the Court of Appeals review appropriate.

DDDB’s Dan Goldstein reported Atlantic Yards/FCR will file papers December 23 or 24 to the State to take Goldstein and other properties within the site. The state’s master closing document isn’t available for public view until one week after all entities have signed. Goldstein remarked there are many legal means for FCR to partially complete the arena/housing/commercial development project and own the 22 acres. DDDB lost its case in the appellate court and requested that Governor Paterson stop eminent domain and the land transfer closing.

Newly-formed Brooklyn Arena LDC (BALDC) sold $511 million worth of tax exempt bonds to finance Atlantic Yards/FCR, on December 15, 2009. Amy Lavine, staff attorney at Albany Law School Government Law Center, asserts BALDC was established to circumvent approval by the State Comptroller and Public Authorities Control Board that would be required has ESDC directly initiated the bond issue. “The LDC is not a public entity and is responsible for paying property taxes. BALDC can’t legally finance the project using the applied finance method; so the bond issue is illegal,” summed Lavine.

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