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June 25, 2010

NY's Highest Court Upholds Columbia University Expansion Plan

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

The state's highest court has unanimously rejected a lawsuit by two West Harlem businesses that challenged Columbia University's $6.3 billion expansion plan. The university controls the overwhelming majority of the 17 acres where it wants to build a third campus, and has already begun digging sewage trenches and demolishing buildings. The Court of Appeals decision will allow the university to proceed more confidently while also putting to rest a decision from an appeals court that sided in favor of the property owners.

Nick Sprayregen, the owner of a self-storage company that was one of the two plaintiffs, said he is considering taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "It means that entities such as Columbia or a developer can bring on their own blight into a neighborhood and then benefit from it," Sprayregen said. "It really has far-reaching consequences and none of it is positive."


Additional coverage...

Joshing Politics, NY Top Court Fails On Eminent Domain Yet Again

Allowing a wealthy developer to take the homes of a neighborhood to profit from condos and a basketball arena under the guise of community development was bad enough. Now New York's top court, the Court of Appeals, is bending for the will of an economic giant and against small businesses that stand in their way. We are talking of course, about the private Columbia University, the largest land owner in Uptown Manhattan versus the few business owners that stand in their way of a major campus expansion.

To be clear, nothing is standing in the way of Columbia's major campus expansion. The properties owned by the Singhs and Nick Sprayregen stand only in the way of a contiguous expansion.

Instead of claiming the arguments shown above, the Court should come clean, and admit to what's really behind all this. When push comes to shove, the rich are given deference over those that are not. Campaign donations from those that can afford it are used to unfairly sway those that are elected to serve the people. Ultimately, the judges fall in line and make flimsy excuses for allowing this shameful practice to continue.

AP, NY's top court upholds Columbia expansion plan

Three businesses in the project zone sued. They claimed collusion between the school and state agency, arguing that findings of blight were based on vermin, garbage and mold in buildings Columbia owned. Attorney Normal Siegel argued the university should not be rewarded for that with the forced sale of others' property.

Siegel said he expects his clients to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We respectfully disagree with the reasons, the analysis and the conclusion," he said. "At minimum this should be a wakeup call for the people in New York regarding the abuse of eminent domain. It calls out for major legislative reform."

Crain's NY Business, Columbia wins key legal battle on expansion

The Singh and Sprayregen families, who combined own about 9% of the area Columbia wants to redevelop, sued the ESDC to block it from condemning their property. Columbia owns the lion's share of the rest of the land, although the city also owns a portion. The families had alleged, among other charges, that there was no evidence of blight in the neighborhood until Columbia started buying up buildings and letting them fall into disrepair. A finding of blight is necessary for the use of eminent domain. The families also alleged that there was collusion between Columbia and the ESDC, and that they acted in bad faith.

Gotham Gazette, Seizure Power

The ruling is the latest victory for the state and city as they have declared property blighted so that another private owner can develop it for another, purportedly better use. In earlier rulings, the courts also upheld the state’s use of eminent domain in clearing the way for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards complex in downtown Brooklyn.

Faced with such decisions, some advocates have called for legislation to change the eminent domain law. For more on the issue, see Eminent Domain Changes Seek to Limit State’s Power to Seize Property.

GlobeSt.com, High Court Upholds Columbia Expansion

The business owners, represented by civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, argued that there were no findings of blight in the area before Columbia acquired property there. “Despite the objective data in the record to the contrary, the Appellate Division plurality agreed, stating that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever that Manhattanville was blighted prior to Columbia gaining control over the vast majority of property therein,’” wrote Judge Ciparick. “This argument is unsupported by the record.”

The state’s highest court ruled that the lower court had disregarded the results of a 2003 study conducted by consulting firm Urbitran Associates at the request of the New York City Economic Development Corp., when the university had just begun acquiring property in the area. “Indeed, the Urbitran study unequivocally concluded that there was ‘ample evidence of deterioration of the building stock in the study area’ and that ‘substandard and unsanitary conditions were detected in the area,’” according to Judge Ciparick’s opinion.

NoLandGrab: Let's just be clear that nothing is as "unsupported by the record" as a study commissioned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Posted by eric at June 25, 2010 10:00 AM