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December 20, 2007

Columbia Pulls a Kelo

The NY Sun, Opinion
By Michael White

Atlantic Yards and Columbia University's land grabs are the prime examples of NY's "eminent domain industry":

In a City Council hearing this week I pointed out something our politicians already know: New York has an eminent domain industry and it's thriving.
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In New York, eminent domain can be conducted by obscure agencies where accountability isn't transparent. Too few citizens understand Governor Spitzer's responsibility for the persisting political purchase Atlantic Yards has had on its peculiar life. Most know little about the Urban Development Corporation, doing business as the Empire State Development Corporation, which frequently operates through the creation of lesser-known subsidiaries.

Most don't know that a private owner who covets the property of another can, outside the scrutiny of the public eye, start the condemnation process by writing a check to the self-funding government agency — to finance costs, including government staff salaries — so that agency will put together materials advancing the condemnation. In that vein, Columbia University, interested in acquiring a swath of West Harlem, wrote a $300,000 starter check to ESDC in 2004, years before any public hearings.
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One reason eminent domain is now being manipulated by powerful private entities such Columbia University and Forest City Enterprises, run by developer Bruce Ratner, is that they feel confident that when they initiate the process, they will be the recipient of property taken. That is because bids or effective bidding is not being required.
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Neither the Columbia expansion nor Atlantic Yards would be proceeding as planned if local community boards were listened to.

Nothing as staggering as Columbia's takeover of West Harlem would be allowed were it another institution in another neighborhood, just as nothing comparable to Atlantic Yards would have been accepted in a Manhattan neighborhood like Greenwich Village.

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Posted by lumi at December 20, 2007 5:24 AM