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May 22, 2009

In Columbia eminent domain case, some skeptical judges, AY echoes, and signs of emerging strategy for community resistance

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder turns his attention to another case of eminent domain abuse.

Lawyers representing two property owners resisting the use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion maintained a passionate argument in appellate court yesterday, calling the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) actions in bad faith and seeing an ESDC lawyer clearly on the defensive before two clearly skeptical judges.

“Nobody’s opposed to Columbia expanding. They’re opposed to eminent domain,” attorney Norman Siegel said in his closing remarks before a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department. “The [skeptical] questions [from the Court] I hope will reflect the decision.”

Harlem State Senator Bill Perkins, speaking after the hearing on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, at 25th Street and Madison Avenue, was blunt: “It looks like Columbia’s going to lose.”

That’s unclear, given that three judges were largely quiet and ESDC lawyer John Casolaro, despite facing some withering skepticism from Justice James Catterson, reminded the court that the condemnor had a structural advantage. Their job, he told the judges, is to decide whether ESDC has some foundation for its decision. If they decide that the ESDC “had a reasonable basis or a basis, the inquiry is at its end.”

(Should two judges dissent, an appeal would be automatic.)


The argument came just a day after Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson saluted the Public Authority Control Board’s final approval of the General Project Plan for the Columbia University expansion into West Harlem, aka Manhattanville.

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NoLandGrab: Perkins, who has opposed Columbia's land-grab plan, will chair a State Senate inquiry into Atlantic Yards one week from today.

Posted by eric at May 22, 2009 10:23 AM