September 19, 2012

Whatever Happened to the [In]famous Atlantic Yards Redevelopment Project?

Gideon's Trumpet

We just came across an admittedly partisan but revealing post by the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn folks ([DDDB] 9/12) which informs its readers that the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards redevelopment project — the one that was judicially approved in Goldstein v. Pataki – is having problems. In a nutshell, these folks tell us that apart from the basketball arena, nothing much is being built there. In their words:

“After $300 million of taxpayer dollars, and nearly $1.6 billion in special breaks, government favors and below market public land sales, and two and one half years after the arena groundbreaking, not a single one of the promised 2,250 taxpayer subsidized, “affordable” housing units is under construction, and of the 10,000 “permanent” jobs promised, the developer has announced only 105 full time jobs and 1,900 non-living wage jobs. There is no groundbreaking scheduled for the first of 15 planned residential towers, and the office tower that was to provide space for those 10,000 jobs is unlikely to be constructed in this generation, if ever.”

Sounds like Kelo all over again, doesn’t it?

link

NoLandGrab: Sure it's partisan. It's also true.

Posted by eric at 12:22 PM

September 2, 2012

San Bernardino Eminent Domain Fight Closely Watched By Other Struggling Communities

Huffington Post
By Ben Hallman

Eminent Domain was used by New York State to get home- and business-owners to leave a Prospect Heights site so that it could be turned over to a billionaire developer and Russian oligarch for the Atlantic Yards project. Here's a proposal to use Eminent Domain to keep people in their homes.

Gregory Devereaux is the chief executive of San Bernardino County and its 2 million residents. At his urging, local authorities are considering a proposal that would allow local governments to exercise their power to seize private property without landowners' consent in a dramatic -- some say radical -- new way.

Governments usually use this power, known as eminent domain, to acquire private land for public purposes, such as roads or utility lines. But this plan, proposed by a San Francisco-based venture fund Mortgage Resolution Partners, calls for government authorities to seize the mortgages of underwater borrowers, paying the investors that own them a fraction of what they are owed, using money borrowed from the fund. Homeowners could then refinance with a federal loan at a much lower rate, based on what their home is actually worth instead of what they owe.

link

Posted by steve at 3:22 PM

August 23, 2012

Oil and Gas Companies Can Take Your Land

No Person Shall Be Deprived of Life, Liberty or Property… Unless the Oil and Gas Industry Says So.

ReaderSupportedNews.org
by Alison K. Grass

Eminent domain, the government's right to condemn (or take) private land for "public use," has at times been a highly contentious topic because it can displace people from their homes to make way for construction of different projects, like highways or roads, civic buildings and other types of public infrastructure. However, what some may not realize is that several states have granted eminent domain authority to certain private entities, including oil and gas companies. These companies are using it as a tool to seize private land, which increases profits and benefits their wallets.
...

Meanwhile in Texas, TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, is trying to grab private property from a small town, claiming they have eminent domain rights-and some residents are outraged.

The Kelo case broadened the interpretation of the "public use." The city of New London took land from a private property owner so that they could give it to a private entity in the name of "economic development." Unfortunately, oil and gas companies will now have this card to play when justifying land grabs.

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NoLandGrab: In Brooklyn, of course, the State of New York used eminent domain to seize land for an arena to house a basketball team owned by a Russian oligarch. Now they're just cutting out the middleman.

Posted by eric at 5:45 PM

July 30, 2012

Zigun wants Shore Theater taken away from owner through eminent domain

The Brooklyn Paper
by Will Bredderman

The city should use its power of eminent domain to seize the Shore Theater from its disgraceful owner — who has sat on the property for nearly two decades without doing anything to it — and turn it into the palace it once was, the unofficial mayor of Coney Island decreed on Thursday.

Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said Horace Bullard has allowed the building where Jerry Lewis once performed to crumble, and doesn’t deserve the choice property at Surf and Stillwell avenues.

“Whether it’s through the Landmarks Commission or eminent domain, this must be done by any means necessary,” Zigun said during annual State of Coney Island Address. “The Shore Theater must be occupied.”

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NoLandGrab: Since the city was seduced by the dark side of the power of eminent domain, it's highly unlikely that they'd use it for good.

Posted by eric at 12:04 PM

July 25, 2012

Downtown evictees: The city is booting us from Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
by Natalie O'Neill

Tenants at one of Downtown’s last rent-stabilized buildings say they aren’t just getting evicted — they’re getting kicked out of Brooklyn.

Low-income residents of a brick tenement on Albee Square between Willoughby and Fulton streets claim they received city-stamped letters reneging on a promise to provide nearby housing after the city made plans to demolish their home and build a small park and a parking lot in its place.

Dozens of tenants found out the city will place them into far-away areas of the Bronx and Manhattan — even though the Department of Housing Preservation and Development agreed to give them “comparable housing,” after it acquired the five-story building using eminent domain, activists and residents say.

The agency has not provided any living options in the neighborhood, let alone the borough, said Carlos Barrera, who has lived there for decades.

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Posted by eric at 2:47 PM

July 10, 2012

Slope bar cry: Freddy’s hosts ‘last call’ for pre-renovation O’Connor’s

The Brooklyn Paper

We're still calling him Donald O'Finn!

A Prohibition-era dive bar that got booted to make room for the Atlantic Yards mega-project will toast a rival pub that’s at risk of losing its old-time-y charm as it undergoes a makeover to prep for Barclays Center crowds.

David O’Finn, the owner of the newly relocated Freddy’s Bar, is organizing a “last call” for O’Connor’s, a Fifth Avenue Irish pub in the midst of a major renovation its owner has said will “modernize it a bit.”

He says the July 11 shindig, which starts at 8 pm and goes until closing time, will be a chance for regulars and former employees of O’Connor’s to celebrate the bar’s past iteration now that it’s shuttered for rehab work in the months before the Brooklyn Nets play their first home game just blocks away.

“You do a last call,” said O’Finn, who once worked as a bartender at O’Connor’s before finding a gig at Freddy’s. “I was sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

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Posted by eric at 3:24 PM

Berman’s Children

n+1
by Andrew Jacobs

An interesting piece exploring the common threads tying together the historic preservation movement, eminent domain, and Atlantic Yards.

Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Historic District comprises over 850 buildings, mostly Neo-Grec, Romanesque, and Renaissance Revival rowhouses from the mid- to late 19th century. The District occupies the bulk of a parallelogram formed by Eastern Parkway and Atlantic, Flatbush, and Washington Avenues. Of the 102 historic districts in New York City’s five boroughs, only four are larger than the one in Prospects Heights.

At the northern edge of the District sits the construction site of Atlantic Yards. Infamously, the twenty-two acres of land were in part purchased by Forest City Ratner (FCR) and in part handed over by the state of New York through the exercise of eminent domain. Announced in 2003, Atlantic Yards was initially to contain a Frank Gehry–designed complex of residential towers and an arena for the Brooklyn (née New Jersey) Nets. Since then, largely economic troubles have led to a cost-conscious redesign — Gehry’s out, prefab’s in — and a de facto extension of the completion schedule from ten to twenty-five years.

Efforts to designate the Prospect Heights Historic District began in 2006 and came to fruition in the summer of 2009. The Yards, in some sense, created the District.

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Posted by eric at 11:30 AM

June 26, 2012

From n+1, "Berman's Children": how a key Supreme Court case furthered both the eminent domain that enabled Atlantic Yards and the landmarking that shaped the neighborhoods nearby

Atlantic Yards Report

In the latest issue of n+1, attorney Andrew Jacobs offers an intriguing take on Atlantic Yards, titled "Berman’s Children" (subscribers only), explaining how the legal doctrine that enabled the state power of eminent domain--and the not-so-transparent agency overseeing the project--also brought us the Prospect Heights Historic District, and, of course, the earlier historic districts in the radius of the development site, thus creating enduring tensions from an expansion of state power.

"Efforts to designate the Prospect Heights Historic District began in 2006 and came to fruition in the summer of 2009," Jacobs writes. "The Yards, in some sense, created the District."

Jacobs finds a thread of connection in Suleiman Osman's The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, who explains how postwar, post-industrial New York faced both "urban modernism and antimodern, romantic urbanism."

The former, including eminent domain, relied on experts "without electoral accountability to build the modern city." The latter, at least at the beginning, was outside the system:

As Osman writes, “The historic landscape was born in the wake of the modern projects. One could not exist without the other.”
Osman’s book is full of sentences like these, connecting the phenomena of early gentrification with a common sense of paradox. The brownstoners’ aversion to suburbia “mixed an anticorporatist critique of ‘tickytacky’ tract homes . . . with a veiled disdain for their provincial denizens.” ... To Osman, our ambivalence about how Brooklyn and places like it have changed in the last sixty years is not a failure of nerve. Rather, it is a reflection of the shape-shifting motivations and actions that wrought that change. Today, Prospect Heights’ struggle against Atlantic Yards is a sort of sequel to Brooklyn Heights’ against Cadman Plaza.

Yes, but I'd add that the struggle has been much more than Prospect Heights. Organizations from equally storied neighborhoods like Park Slope and Fort Greene, notably including longstanding residents, also have struggled against Atlantic Yards. And the failure of the public sector to deliver benefits like jobs and subsidized housing has left room for private companies to proclaim public goals.

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Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

June 21, 2012

Why do we care about Willets Point again?

Cap'n Transit Rides Again

For years I've been reading about various plans to redevelop the Willets Point area, each worse than the last. Each time I wonder why everyone's so convinced that Something Must Be Done. It's not a slum where people live in close quarters and can die of diphtheria or something. On its own terms, it's a successful business district. Why do people care about this forlorn corner of the borough? And why the urgency?
...

So why is Willets Point so urgent? It's not like it's the only industrial area in the city with crappy streets. After thinking and thinking, I believe I've finally figured it out: you can see it from Citifield. It's even closer and more visible than it was from Shea Stadium. It's right across the street, staring you in the face: junkyards! unpaved streets! grimy brown people in work clothes!

I'm guessing that someone has a box seat in Citifield with a grand view of the junkyards behind the field, and the Wilpons look out at the thing every day. They got ahold of the politicians and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and there you go.

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Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

June 18, 2012

WILLETS POINT BRINGS RETAIL REVELRY, PUTS HOUSING ON BACK BURNER

A/N Blog
by Tom Stoelker

Mayor Bloomberg evoked Fitzgerald today when he announced the deal between Sterling Equities and Related Companies to revamp Willets Point. “Today the ‘valley of ashes’ is well on its way to becoming the site of historic private investment,” the mayor said in a statement, referring to the gritty midpoint between Gatsby’s West Egg manse and Manhattan. The plan pegs its success to a mega entertainment/retail hub just west of the stadium, that sounds very much a part of a trend in projects that used to be called malls, but are now called retail/entertainment attractions.

More like distractions.

That the housing comes so late in the game has got more than few politians up up in arms. The Daily News reported early this week that City Coucilmember Karen Koslowitz was not pleased. It’s a pretty sensitive topic that was initially raises in The Wall Street Journal last month, which cited Willets Point and Atlantic Yards as examples of where housing was used to win favor with the locals but ends up being the last component of the project scheduled for completion.

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Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

June 15, 2012

Willets Point land a shameful steal of a deal for Mets

City is on the way to paying $500 million for tract and gifts 23 acres to Wilpons and partners for retail, entertainment and hotel complex by Citi Field

NY Daily News
by Juan Gonzalez

Wow. Who knew Bruce Ratner got stiffed on his Atlantic Yards land grab — at least compared to the Wilponzis of WIllets Point.

ONLY in Michael Bloomberg’s New York are we asked to believe that giving away huge swaths of city-owned land to millionaires is a wonderful deal.

The mayor announced Wednesday that the city had selected the Wilpons, of the Mets and Sterling Equities, and Steve Ross of The Related Companies, to develop 23 acres of land in the Willets Point redevelopment area in Queens.

The Wilpon-Ross partnership, Queens Development Group, will be handed this land completely free of charge, so it can build its own new retail, entertainment and hotel complex adjacent to the Mets’ Citi Field.

Yes, free land, even though the city is on track to spend nearly $500 million buying that very land from scores of industries and auto repair firms that operated there for decades, putting in new sewer lines, and erecting new Long Island Expressway ramps.

Free land, even though Queens Development has committed to developing only one-third of the entire 60-acre Willet Points project City Council approved back in 2008.

Queens Development won’t even have to begin construction on a single unit of residential housing — part of the original lure of the project — until 2025.

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Posted by eric at 6:21 PM

June 11, 2012

RPTInvestors, Mortgage Firm, Pressuring States To Use Eminent Domain To Solve Housing Crisis

Reuters via The Huffington Post
by Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

Eminent domain taketh away, and now these financiers want it to giveth back.

Here's a controversial but intriguing approach to the U.S. housing crisis: keep cash-strapped residents in their homes by condemning their mortgages.

A mortgage firm backed by a number of prominent West Coast financiers is pushing local politicians in California and a handful of other states hardest hit by the housing crisis to use eminent domain to restructure mortgages that borrowers owe more money on than their homes are actually worth.

San Francisco-based Mortgage Resolution Partners, in a presentation reviewed by Reuters, says condemning so-called underwater mortgages and taking them out of the hands of private lenders and bondholders is "the only practical way to modify mortgages on a large enough scale to solve the housing crisis."
...

Over the years, governments have used eminent domain authority to clear urban slums or seize land to build highways and bridges.

And also to take a perfectly fine neighborhood and give it to Bruce Ratner to build a much-need basketball arena.

Under the ambitious proposal, Mortgage Resolution Partners would work with local governments to find institutional investors willing to provide tens of billions of dollars to finance the condemnation process to avoid using taxpayer dollars to acquire millions of distressed mortgages.

A local government entity takes title to the loans and pays the original mortgage owner the fair value with the money provided by institutional investors.

Mortgage Resolution Partners works to restructure the loans, enabling stressed homeowners to reduce their monthly mortgage payments. The restructured loans could then be sold to hedge funds, pension funds and other institutional investors with the proceeds paying back the outside financiers.

And now for the money shot:

Mortgage Resolution Partners, which up until now has tried to keep private its discussions with local politicians and the two investment banks it is working closely with, would collect a negotiated fee on every loan that is condemned and restructured.

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Posted by eric at 11:26 AM

May 31, 2012

Legal Implications Surrounding the Brooklyn Nets’ Move to the Barclays Center

Ruling Sports
by Richard Braun

These guys are a little late to the party...

Whenever a new stadium is approved to be built or remodeled for a team, such as what has recently been approved in Minneapolis for the Vikings and in San Francisco for the Warriors, the controversy typically revolves around how these facilities are financed. The Brooklyn Nets, however, face a different series of legal issues as they prepare to move into their new home, the Barclay’s Center.

That should be faced, not face.

Back in 2003, real estate developer Forest City Ratner proposed the Atlantic Yards project – a multi-billion dollar plan to develop the Vanderbilt Yard and Prospect Heights, a neighborhood just outside downtown Brooklyn. Headed by then-Nets owner Bruce Ratner, the plan would come to include the future home of the Nets, the Barclays Center. About half of the proposed area was already owned by the city, but various private parties owned the remaining half. To acquire control of the remaining half, the state declared the area blighted and seized the property using eminent domain.

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Posted by eric at 12:34 PM

May 10, 2012

Does Barbra Streisand Know How Barclays Arena Came to Be?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Eminent domain for private gain? Discuss.

So Barbra Streisand is booked at Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov's Barclays Center in Brooklyn. We're supposed to get schpilkas or something?

Here's what's making us verklempt. Barbra, polymath that she is, has previously posted an article on her website which expresses opposition to eminent domain for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would cut across the US. The column her site featured doesn't look kindly on "...the fact that this foreign-owned corporation would use the autocratic power of eminent domain to take land from unwilling sellers along the 2,000 mile route..."

Good on her.

But we wonder, then, how she justifies lending her name and bright shining star power of a rare live show to the early opening days of the House that Eminent Domain Built aka Barclays Center. Is it that she is a liberal do-gooder in the mold of Frank Gehry and Bruce Ratner?

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Posted by eric at 12:06 PM

May 3, 2012

Zoning Slows Mayor’s Plan to Remake Willets Point

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli

Title this one Slow Land Grab.

The Bloomberg administration has spent more than $130 million in recent years trying to speed up the redevelopment of a pockmarked, 13-block stretch of auto repair shops near Citi Field in Queens.

But even as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce a deal with a developer for the site this month, the project at the area known as Willets Point suffered another setback, which will delay construction for as much as two years.

The proposal for a mix of retail space and housing on 12.75 acres, the first phase of the project, does not conform to existing zoning regulations and will require a new environmental review, public hearings and a journey through New York City’s often treacherous review process.

“This slows them down a lot,” said Michael B. Gerrard, a lawyer who is representing landowners opposed to the redevelopment plan.
...

The problems came to light on Wednesday morning, when city officials notified the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court that a hearing next week on the project was no longer necessary. Local landowners who are opposing the city’s use of eminent domain to gain control of the site have appealed a lower court decision in favor of the Bloomberg administration.

The city said it was withdrawing the bulk of the legal findings on which it based its case for eminent domain. It plans to submit a new set of findings, after the environmental review and the public review. Those, in turn, will almost certainly generate a new lawsuit opposing the project.

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Related coverage...

Queens TimesLedger, City drops bid to condemn property at Willets Point: Lawyer

Lawyers for the city have dropped their bid to use eminent domain to obtain property in Willets Point, according to a lawyer who was challenging the process.

Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property in the Iron Triangle to make way for the first phase of the $3 billion Willets Point Redevelopment Project, which would take the place of the auto shops and pockmarked streets in the neighborhood.

The city confirmed that it dropped its current court case to use eminent domain, but said the project was still moving ahead.
...

Rikon signed a document Wednesday indicating that the city would be dropping its bid, he said, therefore putting the project on hold unless property owners were to sell their land to the city so it could continue with the development. But the document stipulations did not prevent the city from attempting to use eminent domain on the property in the future, Rikon said. If a deal cannot be reached with property owners, the city can simply file another case to use eminent domain and go through the legal process again.

Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

March 26, 2012

Sochi 2014: Building Boom for Winter Olympics Leaves Some Behind

The World
by Julia Barrton

It sounds almost as if Bruce Ratner is in charge of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games — and Alexei Kravetz is the Russian Daniel Goldstein.

“A certain number of relocations have been necessary for the construction of Olympic venues, and Sochi 2014 and the government has assured us that people are being fairly compensated in line with Russian law,” the IOC said.

While the IOC said it has met with some of the displaced families in Sochi, it hasn’t spoken with one man there who’s been in a standoff with Russian authorities.

Alexei Kravets has been living in one room of his house on the Black Sea coast. He’s been without water, gas or electricity for five months, since the city demolished the rest of his neighborhood to make way for a new rail yard. His cinderblock house is surrounded by mud and rubble, and he’s painted slogans like “IOC help!” and “SOS!” in red on all the windows.

“In the evening, a backhoe comes up to the house and starts to scrape the concrete just to pressure me psychologically,” Kravets said. “If I left the place for, like, 15 minutes, they’d tear it down right away.”

Kravets said the backhoes have damaged the walls and he’s afraid the house could collapse on him. He’s refused the government’s offer of an apartment three miles from the coast. He’s a lawyer, and he’s appealed to Russian and European courts for help, but has gotten no ruling.

“We never asked anything from the state,” Kravets said. “We built the house all by ourselves, and now the state is taking it away from us.”

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Photo: Julia Barton

Posted by eric at 10:35 PM

March 23, 2012

Collapse Kills Worker

Two Others Injured While Razing Warehouse for Columbia University Expansion

The Wall Street Journal
by Pervaiz Shallwani

It's never the Lee Bollingers or the Bruce Ratners who are victimized by their own dirty work — it's the poor working stiffs who have to carry it out.

A nearly century-old warehouse that was being demolished to make way for Columbia University's expansion into Harlem collapsed on Thursday, killing a construction worker and injuring two others, the city's top buildings official said.

A preliminary city investigation found that workers cut a structural beam supporting the remains of what had been a two-story warehouse on West 131st Street. The section crumpled, burying the men in a cascade of steel beams, bricks and reinforced concrete.
...

The warehouse, built in 1915, was being razed for Columbia University's expansion into a 17-acre site just north of the main campus. The extension will include classrooms, research facilities and administrative offices. The City Council approved the project in 2007.

The project has riled some neighborhood residents and local business owners, who have been especially critical of the decision to seize private property for the expansion. Coincidentally, a protest against the project had been scheduled for Thursday night.
...

Juan Ruiz, 69 years old, was one of the first men to be rescued but later died at St. Luke's Hospital.

The two injured workers, King Range, 50, and Sakim Kirby, 30, were in serious condition at the hospital. All three had been conscious when they were taken from the site.

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NoLandGrab: Our condolences to Mr. Ruiz's family and friends, and hopes for speedy and full recovery for Mr. Range and Mr. Kirby.

Posted by eric at 11:40 AM

March 21, 2012

Fresh bid to crack domain rules

Real Estate Weekly
by Sarah Trefethen

Real Estate Weekly let's us know its POV right up front.

Omelets require broken eggs. And building big things in the big city can mean running up against resistance from smaller property owners.

From Lincoln Center to Atlantic Yards, eminent domain has been an essential tool in some of the city’s largest development projects.

Not everyone is so sanguine, however.

Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by voice vote, a bill that would prevent the use of eminent domain on property to be used for economic development in all but a list of specific cases, including the construction of a road, hospital, airport, or military base.

The bill has been referred to the Senate, where a similar proposal may be considered as an amendment to the larger Transportation Reauthorization bill, according to some observers.

The proposed law could have serious implications for development in New York. In the immediate term, it would bring development of Willet’s Point in Queens to a halt, according to Lisa Bova-Hiatt, deputy chief in Tax & Bankruptcy Litigation Division of the New York City Law Department, where she is in charge of condemnation and eminent domain.

“This bill would hurt urban cities like New York and Chicago and Atlanta the most, where the housing stock is old,” Bova-Hiatt said. “Eminent domain is a vital tool to acquire blighted property, especially when there are holdouts.”

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NoLandGrab: These homes demolished to make way for Atlantic Yards were "blighted" the same way property owners who had no interest in moving for a private real estate project are "holdouts."

Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

February 29, 2012

House Acts Against High Court On Eminent Domain

The Associated Press via NPR.org

The House has passed legislation to undercut a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that gives state and local governments eminent domain authority to seize private property for economic development projects.

Supporters of the bill say the 5-4 high court decision was an instance of overreach, and that the government should not be able to take away a private person's home or business for commercial purposes.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution says private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation, and eminent domain has traditionally been used to obtain land for public projects such as highways or airports.

The bill would withhold for two years all federal development aid to states or locales that take private property for economic development. It now goes to the Senate.

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NoLandGrab: You know what they say — put 435 monkeys in a room with a typewriter, and eventually they'll craft one halfway-decent piece of legislation.

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, House Passes Bill to Protect Against Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Abuses. Will Senate Even Vote On It?

In post-Kelo 2005 the House overwhelmingly passed the same punitive bill but the Senate didn't act. Rumor had it that it was New York's own Senator Schumer who led the Senate stonewalling on the bill to protect the real estate industry. There was also a full scale effort to block the bill by Mayor Bloomberg (blocking it was one of the items on Bloomberg's 2006 "Five Priorities" card.)

Let's see what happens this time.

Posted by eric at 9:59 PM

February 15, 2012

Betting on slow eminent domain and instant retail potential, investor buys Atlantic Avenue building destined for second phase of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

This is a bit of a head-scratcher: real estate investors apparently believe the second phase of Atlantic Yards--notably the element that involves construction over the Vanderbilt Yard and adjacent properties that bump into the railyard--is so far off that they're buying property slated for eventual condemnation.

In an article today headlined Brooklyn Arena Pulls More Retail, the Wall Street Journal reports:

A real-estate investment company has closed on the purchase of a 105-year-old industrial building near the site of the new Barclays Center sports arena in Brooklyn.

Waterbridge Capital is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot facility at 700 Atlantic Ave. into a retail center, a person familiar with the matter said. Waterbridge bought the property for about $7 million, this person said.

Retail rents in the area may double from the current $50-$60/sf when the arena opens.
...

The building is in the area indicated in blue on the map (from DDDB) above right.

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Related content...

The Wall Street Journal, Brooklyn Arena Pulls More Retail

The site is located within the second phase of Forest City Ratner Cos.' master plan for its larger Atlantic Yards development, which will include residential towers. Forest City eventually plans to build three apartment buildings on the block that includes 700 Atlantic Ave.

But Forest City hasn't begun any residential construction because of the financial downturn. The company expects residential work to begin on the first phase of the project by the end of the year. The second phase of construction, however, is still years away.

The Real Deal, Waterbridge Capital bets on Barclays Arena

“Up until a year ago, people didn’t know if they could finish” the arena, said Ofer Cohen, president of TerraCRG, who was not familiar with the Waterbridge transaction. “It’s going to unfold in the next couple of years… and people want to take advantage of it.”

Posted by eric at 4:14 PM

February 6, 2012

Cool Energy Savings images

AmericanEnergyCouncil.org

A blog post about energy-saving technologies provides a reminder about the sordid history of The New York Times Building.

The site for the building was obtained by the Empire State Development Corporation through eminent domain in 2001. With a mandate to acquire and redevelop blighted properties in Times Square, ten existing buildings were condemned by the EDC and purchased, behind court order, from owners who in some cases did not want to sell. Once the 80,000 square-foot site was assembled, it was leased to the New York Times Company and Forest City Ratner for below market value at .6 million over 99 years.

And this will come as no surprise to those even slightly familiar with Bruce Ratner's m.o. ...

The building is promoted as a "Green" structure, though it is not LEED certified.

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Posted by eric at 10:37 AM

January 30, 2012

Keystone will rely on Eminent Domain!?

The Daily KOS
by JL Finch

Why haven't I heard more about this before now?

Of course the Keystone XL pipeline will need to rely on Eminent Domain to site the pipeline along its alignment. Where the path crosses private land, if the landowner refuses to grant an easement, the easement will need to be taken (condemned) by eminent domain.

I thought those right-wing types HATED eminent domain! The taking of private property for a PRIVATE benefit - the benefit of TransCanada in this case, a FOREIGN corporation, and BigOil, who own the processing and shipping facilities in Houston.

In the Right's hierarchy of needs, fossil-fuel production trumps most everything else, including property rights.

Of course the project has now NOT received federal approval. And Boehner and the US Chamber are screaming bloody murder about it for the purpose of making political hay.

Nebraska, Texas - these ultra-conservative states are going to tolerate their private landowners being strong-armed by a FOREIGN corporation? They are going to tolerate private property being seized for corporate benefit?

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Related content...

The New York Times, Eminent Domain Fight Has a Canadian Twist

A Canadian company has been threatening to confiscate private land from South Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico, and is already suing many who have refused to allow the Keystone XL pipeline on their property even though the controversial project has yet to receive federal approval.

Randy Thompson, a cattle buyer in Nebraska, was informed that if he did not grant pipeline access to 80 of the 400 acres left to him by his mother along the Platte River, “Keystone will use eminent domain to acquire the easement.” Sue Kelso and her large extended family in Oklahoma were sued in the local district court by TransCanada, the pipeline company, after she and her siblings refused to allow the pipeline to cross their pasture.

“Their land agent told us the very first day she met with us, you either take the money or they’re going to condemn the land,” Mrs. Kelso said. By its own count, the company currently has 34 eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas and an additional 22 in South Dakota.

Posted by eric at 10:30 AM

January 23, 2012

Building New York: NYU 2031 Returns Controversy to Silver Towers

International Business Times
by Roland Li

NYU's Greenwich Village-eating development scheme has at least one thing going for it — it's not Atlantic Yards.

The opposition has been fierce. Local residents and preservation groups have long battled NYU's various development projects, which have involved demolition of existing buildings, including the former Palladium nightclub and St. Ann's Church. These new buildings, they argue, will overwhelm the neighborhood, first with noisy construction, and then by their sheer mass. They point out that the proposed 3 million square feet in new construction would be more mass than the Empire State Building. They call for the school to seek space in Lower Manhattan or elsewhere -- anywhere but the Village.

NYU has said that the plans will require no tenant displacement or eminent domain--in contrast to its northern neighbor Columbia's growth or the controversial genesis of Atlantic Yards, both of which led to various lawsuits.

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Posted by eric at 12:16 PM

January 12, 2012

Green Line Study: Good Timing for the Purple Line

Washington City Paper
by Lydia Depillis

This is novel: in Maryland, they're actually contemplating using eminent domain for something it's supposed to be used for.

Now, taking out 31 homes and 43 businesses is a different question entirely—that's what Montgomery County is saying will have to happen for the Purple Line to be built from New Carrollton to Bethesda. Losing your home is a lot worse than putting up with open pits for a few years. But the worse bad news, from the public at large's perspective, is how long it could take to get all of those property owners to move. Eminent domain is a nasty business, as a new documentary about a Brooklyn megadevelopment details, and litigation could hold the process up for years.

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Posted by eric at 11:58 PM

In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards

Jan. 18-29, $27-$30, Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St., 215-898-3900, annenbergcenter.org.

Philadelphia City Paper
by A.D. Amorosi

Yo, NoLandGrab readers in the City of Brotherly Love!

A love for labor drove American theater in the 1930s (a la playwright Clifford Odets) and the Brits of the 1950s (think John Osborne) with scripts devoted to hardball union discussions, social woes and wages. Making it musical is now the job of The Civilians, a self-described "investigative theater company" dedicated to documentary-style theater. In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, written and directed by Steven Cosson with songs by Chestnut Hill's Michael Friedman, looks at the history of the controversial Brooklyn railyards project and how it's continued to cause positive and negative reactions throughout that blue-collar area.

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NoLandGrab: Mostly negative. And it's hardly just a "railyards project."

Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

January 4, 2012

Hawaii Premiere Of "Battle for Brooklyn" - Oscar-Contending Docfilm Of Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Fight

Inverse Condemnation

Today was the Hawaii premiere of Battle For Brooklyn, the Oscar-shortlisted documentary film about the Atlantic Yards case. We're introducing the film and conducting a question-and-answer session after each showing.
...

Today's two screenings were followed by lively questions from the audience. Here are links to the key posts on the case, in the event you want to find out more...

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Posted by eric at 11:38 AM

December 15, 2011

Inside Wukan

Future of Capitali$m

The Telegraph has a story about a property rights revolt inside Communist China:

For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.

The last of Wukan's dozen party officials fled on Monday after thousands of people blocked armed police from retaking the village, standing firm against tear gas and water cannons....

Wukan's troubles began in September, when the villagers' collective patience snapped at an attempt to take away their land and sell it to property developers.

Sounds like Kelo or Atlantic Yards. Not to blur the distinction between Communist China and America. But property rights are a pretty core issue.

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NoLandGrab: The distinction is already pretty blurry.

Posted by eric at 11:58 AM

December 14, 2011

Baby steps to a biz-friendly New York

NY Post
by Raymond J. Keating

A Post op-ed columnist thinks one way to help businesses in New York is to stop letting bigger businesses grab their land. Among his top-five business-friendly moves:

Rein in eminent-domain abuse: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision in 2005, many states have reinforced private-property protections — but not New York, where governments routinely abuse eminent domain for private uses. Reform might upset large developers, but it would be a big plus for small business, not to mention being politically popular.

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Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

December 8, 2011

Queens judge reexamines lawsuit against city over Willets Point

Queens Times Ledger
by Joe Anuta

A State Supreme Court judge reopened a lawsuit Tuesday that could throw a wrench into the $3 billion redevelopment blueprint for Willets Point after the city broke down its original plans into three separate phases.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden originally ruled against a group of property owners who sued the city to stop the project, but she said in her Tuesday ruling that she would reopen the case after the city Economic Development Corp. made changes to its plans for the 62-acre, mixed-use development, which would replace the auto body shops and industrial businesses that currently populate the Iron Triangle.

According to the ruling, the city broke up the proposal into three phases without conducting a separate environmental study and also claimed that it did not need additional ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway to accommodate increased traffic.

In addition, the city earlier claimed that it would not proceed with condemning property in the triangle until the ramps were approved but did so anyway, the ruling said.

“As the city has now changed its position and is seeking to exercise its powers of eminent domain without approval of the ramps, in direct contradiction of its prior representations, and based on the significance of the ramps to the plan, I conclude that the integrity of the decision-making process has been impacted and sufficient reasons exist for me to consider vacating my prior judgment,” Madden said in her statement.

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Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

December 2, 2011

Sewer Project Expected To Launch Willets Point Redevelopment

NY1
by Josh Robin

Willets Point's beleaguered property owners are finally getting storm sewers — but only as a prelude to getting kicked out.

Whether with a shovel or a real pile driver, the redevelopment of Willets Point is moving forward.

The plan is to turn its pothole-covered streets and excess of auto body shops into a neighborhood of apartments, businesses and a convention center.

New sewer lines come first, however.

"We must reclaim these 62 acres and take the first steps towards installing the infrastructure that will keep Willets Point clean and sustainable for generations to come," said Bloomberg.

By "reclaim," the Mayor means "seize."

Business owners point out that it's not their fault the streets look rough. They paid taxes for years, and now they're the ones bearing the brunt of the city's neglect.

Jerry Antonacci's family has run a carting business for 35 years.

"It's gotta be over a million dollars over 30 years in taxes, and what do we get for it? We're getting kicked out. I mean, we didn't get no streets, we didn't get no sewers, we didn't get no sidewalks, no street signs, no stop signs, no snow plowing, nothing," said Antonacci.
...

The city can look with optimism at court approval of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which allowed the seizure of private property for a largely private development.

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NoLandGrab: "Largely private?" Which parts aren't private?

Related content...

Willets Point United, Bloomberg Sneaks into Willets Point Sewer

Willets Point property owners have a slightly more sober take.

Earlier today Mayor Bloomberg snuck into Willets Point in order to do a photo op at the site of the sewer construction project-that has yet to be permitted by the DEC! He was so proud of this opportunity that there was no notice of the event last night on his official schedule-and the event took place close to the Flushing River where Willets Point businesses were not likely to take notice.

Posted by eric at 9:42 AM

November 14, 2011

John Paul Stevens: Kelo Was No Big Deal

Reason Hit & Run
by Damon W. Root

In his new memoir Five Chiefs, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens comments on a variety of significant cases that came his way during his three decades on the Court. Noticeably absent from that list is Kelo v. City of New London, the notorious 2005 eminent domain ruling where Stevens upheld the bulldozing of a nice neighborhood so that the local government—working in cahoots with the Pfizer Corporation—could hand the land over to a private developer. Speaking to Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin last week, Stevens broke his silence about the controversial case, though his lame defense is unlikely to persuade many critics:

"It's the most unpopular opinion I ever wrote, no doubt about it," Justice Stevens said in an interview. He said he empathized with Ms. Kelo, "but the legal issue would have been exactly the same if it had been a gas station or a pool hall."

In other words, Stevens would let the government have the same free rein to use public power for private gain whether or not the unfortunate property owner happened to be a sympathetic victim. Duly noted.

As for the national backlash against his ruling, Stevens admits that it has put a slight damper on his social life:

"I had people at a bridge game stop me and ask, 'How could you have written that opinion? We thought you were a good judge, but we learned otherwise,' " he said.

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Posted by eric at 9:12 PM

November 10, 2011

Mississippi Voters Pass Eminent Domain Reform. New York One of Six States With No Post-Kelo Reform

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Is it any surprise that New York State, whose politics are overwhelmed by the real estate industry and is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to eminent domain abuse, is one of only six remaining states to take no steps towards legislative reform in the wake of the 2005 Supreme Court Kelo eminent domain ruling?

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Posted by eric at 6:34 PM

November 9, 2011

Mississippi Becomes the 44th State to Reject Kelo v. New London Ruling

Eminent Domain Reform Passes with 73 Percent of Vote

Castle Coalition

In a tremendous victory for property rights, 73 percent of Mississippians yesterday overwhelmingly rejected the infamous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London to become the 44th state to pass stronger protections for property owners against eminent domain abuse.

Initiative 31 amends the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit the government from seizing private property by eminent domain and handing it to other private entities. Government agencies that take private property by eminent domain for a public use must own and use that property for 10 years before selling or transferring it to a new, private owner. Restricting the transfer of the property the government acquires by eminent domain discourages the forced transfer of property from one private owner to another private owner under the guise of “economic development” and will protect the vast majority of property owners in Mississippi.

“Mississippians and their property are safer today—their homes, farms or businesses cannot be taken by eminent domain simply to be to be handed over to others for private profit,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.

Mississippi had been one of only seven states that have not yet enacted any type of eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision which took away the homes of seven New London, Conn., families for private development and sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain for private gain. IJ represented Susette Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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NoLandGrab: New York — perhaps the worst eminent domain abuser in the nation — is among the six states that have yet to enact any post-Kelo reforms.

Posted by eric at 9:27 PM

November 7, 2011

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land: Eminent Domain and Public Benefit

The Legal Infrastructure of Business
by Randal C. Picker

How is the Keystone XL pipeline like Atlantic Yards — other than that both are really bad ideas that could have huge, underplayed environmental impacts? This is how.

Eminent Domain has always been something that has fascinated me. It was brought very much to my attention when I was living in New York back in 2009, due to the bitter battle being fought over Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. A state government agency sought to seize land from a group of landowners in order to give a developer property on which to construct Atlantic Yards, a new arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. The landowners alleged that the state did not have the rights to seize property to benefit a private developer. Ultimately, New York’s state supreme court ruled in the agency’s favor.

For those not familiar with the term, Eminent Domain is an action by a state to seize private property, providing compensation, but without the owner’s consent. Usually eminent domain is invoked for the building of projects fostering economic development or for public use, such as highways or public utilities. Often the government must first attempt to purchase the property before resorting to the use of eminent domain.

The most recent and largest case that has come to my attention is that of TransCanada’s attempt to invoke eminent domain in order to build an oil pipeline ranging 1,700 miles from Canada, into the US- South Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico. The company has been suing dozens of landowners, taking them to court in their various states. In an interesting twist, TransCanada as the name demonstrates, is a Canadian company, but all permits for the project have been filed through its American subsidiary, located in Omaha.

Can a foreign company even invoke eminent domain in the US?

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NoLandGrab: Well, if eminent domain can be invoked for a Russian oligarch's basketball arena...

Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

November 1, 2011

The Eminent Domain One-Percenter

Inverse Condemnation

We're not all that down with the "occupy movement." It seems too unfocused, too anti-competition, too anti-success for us to get on board with the idea that equality of result is what the American dream and our system are based on.

But things like this profile of MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of commercial and residential development at Forest City Ratner Companies in this month's Westchester magazine, make us want to go down to Zuccotti Park and set up a tent.

An "innovative and tenacious builder" who has "left her mark" on the New York skyline, "she’s helping to shape Atlantic Yards, a complex of residential and commercial buildings that will also be the new home of the New Jersey Nets."

The profile details how she got her start, interning and then working for the New York City Economic Development Corporation for seven years before sliding over to Forest City, where her first grand project was the New York Times building, which like Atlantic Yards needed the government's power of eminent domain to make it happen. Are you starting to see the pattern?

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Posted by eric at 11:48 AM

October 31, 2011

Annenberg Center extends outreach to West Philly

The Daily Pennsylvanian
by Shelli Gimelstein

A heads-up to all our loyal readers in New York's sixth borough — In the Footprint is coming to Philadelphia.

Since 1971, the Annenberg Center has hosted a variety of acts ranging from American Indian tribal dancers to the Mask & Wig Club. Now, it is using its cultural resources to expand its role in the West Philadelphia community.
...

In addition to its elementary- and middle-school outreach efforts, from Jan. 18. to Jan. 29 the Annenberg Center will be presenting the play In the Footprint – The Battle Over Atlantic Yards in order to attract more adult audiences. Epstein believes the play, about a controversial development project in Brooklyn, will have “strong resonance in Philadelphia due to [ongoing construction] projects around Penn’s campus.”

Annenberg hopes to use the play to “spark community engagement and conversation due to the nature of this performance,” spokeswoman Sarah Fergus wrote in an email.

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Posted by eric at 11:31 AM

October 28, 2011

Bill of Frights! Can the Government take your Home?

A More Perfect Blog
by Robert Chapman-Smith

What could be more frightening than violations of our constitutional rights? But is everything that appears to be a violation actually one? This week we’ll explore some current constitutional issues ripped from the headlines, and delve into some questions about whether rights are being violated. We hope you enjoy our Bill of Frights!

“For every man’s house is looked upon by the law to be his castle of defense and asylum …” Sir William Blackstone, an english jurist from the 18th century, said these words in his seminal work Commentaries on the Laws of England. Though not an American, Blackstone’s words are reflected in American law. But some believe the principle that one’s home is respected by legal institutions is under fire in the United States through the abuse and overuse of eminent domain.

The Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment empowers the national government to seize property needed for “public use,” but it also restricts government by requiring it to provide just compensation to the owner. The Supreme Court has applied these restrictions to state and local governments through the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet from 1998 through 2002, the Institute for Justice documented 10,000 properties in 41 states where eminent domain was used to transfer property from private citizens to private developers whose planned projects promise to boost the local economy.

The proposed redevelopment projects vary in scope and rationale. Some are done in the name of urban renewal and the cleaning up of “blighted” neighborhoods. In an example from 2003 , New York City seized property in Brooklyn so that Bruce Ratner could build a stadium and bring his New Jersey Nets basketball franchise into the city. At the heart of the disputes of such projects is the definition of the Fifth’s Amendment’s words, “public use”.

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NoLandGrab: Frightening, indeed.

Posted by eric at 1:55 PM

October 24, 2011

Cartoon Finish: The Barclays Center

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Alexander Gruss


“So now do you finally understand what Eminent Domain means?”

Artist Alexander Gruss sent us this cartoon, his take on the controversial Barclays Center project in Brooklyn.

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Illustration: Alexander Gruss

Posted by eric at 11:57 AM

October 21, 2011

Scalia Lumps Kelo Decision with Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade

ABA Journal
by Debra Cassens Weiss

From the department of too little, too late — at least where Atlantic Yards is concerned.

Justice Antonin Scalia predicted Monday that the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London will be overturned.

Speaking to students at the Chicago-Kent School of Law, Scalia criticized the decision allowing the city of New London to use eminent domain to seize property for economic development, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I do not think that the Kelo opinion is long for this world,” Scalia said.

Long enough for Bruce Ratner, however.

Scalia ranked Kelo among the top cases in which the court made a mistake of political judgment, according to the Sun-Times account.

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Posted by eric at 12:13 PM

October 19, 2011

A Block Party Without a Block: A Community Survives Long After Its Homes Are Razed

MetroFocus
by Sam Lewis

Documentary filmmaker Jim Epstein, whose short doc on the razing of Manhattantown we posted last month, spoke recently with WNET's blog about modern-day parallels.

Q: The city still uses eminent domain as a strategy to clear private land for development…Is your film in part a cautionary tale?

A: My piece is actually an opening short for the “The Battle for Brooklyn,” a new documentary about the Atlantic Yards Project. I think there are absolute parallels between the urban renewal programs of the ’50s and ’60s and contemporary urban development projects. In Moses’ era, city officials used the urban renewal program as a tool to prevent “white flight,” and they often built public housing or cultural institutions. Today, the city invests in large-scale projects with the mantra of “growth” and “economic development,” but we see the construction of new stadiums and shopping centers.

My favorite Robert Moses quote is, “someday you’ll thank me for these projects and forget about these people.” I’m paraphrasing his actual words, but I think it reflects how we remember this era of urban renewal.

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Posted by eric at 1:05 PM

October 12, 2011

Visiting Occupy Wall Street We Hear “Eliminate the Fed!”: OR Maybe Just Federal Reserve Directors Backing Mega-Monopolies For the Super-Connected?

Noticing New York

A trip to Zucotti Park gets Michael D.D. White thinking about just who "The Fed" really is.

There are provocative ideas circulating among the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Maybe with respect to one idea, a very powerful one, we can take heed, but start small by considering a basic essential: Is the Federal Reserve on the public’s side?

Visiting Occupy Wall Street you will probably see, as I did, the placards calling for elimination of the Fed, (aka the “Federal Reserve” or “Federal Reserve System”).
...

Take the big step of eliminating the Fed? Maybe we could start with the smaller step of looking at who are the Federal Reserve Directors and whether they can be counted upon to serve the public interest. As mentioned above: Herman Cain?

More important, I have previously pointed out with some anguish that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has on its board two directors, Kathy Wylde and Lee Bollinger, both with one thing conspicuously in common: They have both been key in backing the neighborhood-destroying seizure of land through eminent domain abuse. At the expense of community interests they have endorsed those seizures for the sake of governmentally assisting politically-connected private mega-monopolies.

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Posted by eric at 5:33 PM

Majora Carter, speaking tomorrow at BrooklynSpeaks fundraiser, criticizes eminent domain for AY

Atlantic Yards Report

Sustainable South Bronx founder, Dan Doctoroff critic, and "The Promised Land" radio host Majora Carter is keynoting a benefit dinner tomorrow night in Prospect Heights for BrooklynSpeaks.

The coalition has taken the lead role in the ongoing litigation over whether the state studied the effects of a 25-year project buildout and in calling for a new governance entity to oversee Atlantic Yards.
...

The reform-AY BrooklynSpeaks and the stop-AY Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), now allies on the pending litigation, have long differed over the issue of eminent domain. It was DDDB, not BrooklynSpeaks, that helped organize that court case that culminated in 2009.

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) helped found BrooklynSpeaks, and then-MAS President Kent Barwick explained in December 2007 that they didn't think an eminent domain challenge would work. So a stance on eminent domain was not part of the BrooklynSpeaks platform.

As it turns out, the MAS left BrooklynSpeaks when its member groups, sufficiently radicalized by the failure to gain headway with the state and Forest City Ratner, finally went to court, in a case that paralleled a case brought by a DDDB-led coalition.

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Posted by eric at 5:25 PM

Eminent Domain, Atlantic Yards Brooklyn, and Beyond (tomorrow Oct 13)

Majora Carter Group

I know big projects can be great projects. I recently had the privilege to visit the Porto Nuovo development in Milan, Italy. It’s a massive re-development in a central part of that great city which was formerly dominated by aging rail yards and disused industrial spaces – alongside longstanding communities of people.

Principal developers of the project, Manfredi Catella and his wife Kelly took a bold step in order to ensure there would be less community resistance to the disruptive scale of the project on the one hand, and honor the responsibility that comes with putting public debt and commitment into the hands of private developers. They put the entire project on hold for year and really listened to people in the area.

The project changed in some big and small ways as a result. There were some hold outs and confrontations to be sure, but the level of conflict was so greatly reduced that the developers saved millions of Euros, people are happier, and an example has been demonstrated.

In contrast, Atlantic Yards developers and their agents bought the image of “community support” through some unscrupulous non-profit organizations that accepted money for that purpose. It is a bitter source of tension for locals and opponents of government meddling in private affairs, alike.

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Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

October 11, 2011

Bulldozing for Dollars

Taki's Magazine
by Gavin McInnes

The Libertarian webzine weighs in eminent domain abuse.

Where the left sees big government as the lesser of two evils, the right tends to side with big business. If there’s one thing both sides can agree on, it’s that nothing is more evil than both put together. Eminent domain is a slippery legal concept that combines the insatiable greed of big business with big government’s unlimited power and then sprinkles the resulting mess with incompetence. It was created to compensate citizens whose homes were in the way of important government infrastructure. Unfortunately, today we have entire communities bulldozed by corporate greed and then abandoned by incompetent bureaucrats. What may have been a good idea at the time has enabled a fascist kleptocracy to emerge.

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Posted by eric at 11:28 AM

October 3, 2011

Bidders emerge for Willets Point megaproject

Two major developers, as well as the real estate firm of the New York Mets' owners, have submitted proposals to turn the Queens property into a modern venue of entertainment, retail, hospitality and housing.

Crain's NY Business
by Daniel Massey

Two major developers and the Mets' owners' real estate firm are among the firms that submitted proposals for the right to redevelop Willets Point, sources said.

The Related Companies has teamed up with Sterling Equities, which is controlled by Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, to submit a proposal to redevelop the 12.75 acres included in the Queens project's first phase, the sources said. Silverstein Properties, which is building three towers at the World Trade Center site, also threw its hat into the ring.
...

City officials would not say how many proposals they received by last month's deadline, but indicated they were satisfied with the quantity and quality of the submissions.
...

The city controls about 90% of the land in the phase one area, and has not ruled out using eminent domain to obtain the rest.

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NoLandGrab: No word as to whether cash-strapped Forest City, or any Russian billionaire oligarchs, submitted a bid.

Posted by eric at 4:08 PM

September 30, 2011

The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood

Reason Hit & Run
by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie

New York City has a long, shameful history of neighborhood destruction under the guise of "civic projects." Take six minutes and watch this video.

In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act's main initiatives - "urban renewal" - destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and '60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal's victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin's famous quip that "urban renewal means Negro removal."

New York City's Manhattantown (1951) was one of the first projects authorized under urban renewal and it set the model not only for hundreds of urban renewal projects but for the next 60 years of eminent domain abuse at places such as Poletown, New London, and Atlantic Yards. The Manhattantown project destroyed six blocks on New York City's Upper West Side, including an African-American community that dated to the turn of the century. The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.

The community destroyed at Manhattantown was a model for the tight-knit, interconnected neighborhoods later celebrated by Jane Jacobs and other critics of top-down redevelopment.

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Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

September 22, 2011

Assessing the Kelo Apology

Reason Hit & Run
by Damon W. Root

Daniel Goldstein, the Brooklyn homeowner who led the legal battle against the Atlantic Yards eminent domain boondoggle, offers a few choice words in response to yesterday’s big news that Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer has apologized to homeowner Susette Kelo for his role in her notorious eminent domain case.

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Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

September 21, 2011

Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Apologizes to Susette Kelo for his Vote to Uphold the Condemnation of Her Home — But then Lets Himself off the Hook Too Easily

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

Justice Palmer lets himself off the hook too easily. It is true that the justices could not have known for certain that the Kelo condemnations would fail to produce the economic development that supposedly justified the use of eminent domain in the first place. But they could and should have known that such results have often occurred in similar cases, that the New London development plan justifying these particular condemnations was flimsy, and that there was no legal requirement compelling either the city of New London or the new private owners of the condemned property to produce enough development to offset the destruction caused by the takings. Some of these points were in fact noted in Justice Zarella’s dissenting opinion in the Connecticut Supreme Court. As he put it:

In my view, the development plan as a whole cannot be considered apart from the condemnations because the constitutionality of condemnations undertaken for the purpose of private economic development depends not only on the professed goals of the development plan, but also on the prospect of their achievement. Accordingly, the taking party must assume the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the anticipated public benefit will be realized. The determination of whether the taking party has met this burden of proof involves an independent evaluation of the evidence by the court, with no deference granted to the local legislative authority. In the present case, the evidence fails to establish that the foregoing burden has been met....

The record contains scant evidence to suggest that the predicted public benefit will be realized with any reasonable certainty. To the contrary, the evidence establishes that, at the time of the takings, there was no signed agreement to develop the properties, the economic climate was poor and the development plan contained no conditions pertaining to future development agreements that would ensure achievement of the intended public benefit if development were to occur.

The evidence Justice Zarella relied on was also available to the majority justices.

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Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

September 20, 2011

With Kelo Apology, Judicial Contrition and Cowardice Are Displayed

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

In 2010 and 2005 the author of the US Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case, Justice John Paul Stevens, expressed unease about his ruling in favor of Connecticuts's condemnors, suggesting that he was handcuffed by "settled" law even though he disagreed with the policy at play. He did not regret his decision but, according to the NY Times, addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas in 2005, he said:

''...I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator.''

...the eminent domain [Kelo] case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's ''taking'' of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result ''entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program'' that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that ''the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials.'' But he said that the planned development fit the definition of ''public use'' that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.

Now comes Justice Richard N. Palmer of Connecticut's Supreme Court—the court responsible, in a 4-3 ruling, for propelling the plaintiffs' case up to the US Supreme Court—giving an apology to Susette Kelo for his majority vote, as witnessed by "Little Pink House" author Jeff Benedict. Benedicts's account of the apology, and his communication with Justice Palmer about publishing the account, reveals some very disturbing cognitive dissonance (and cowardice) not just in Palmer's mind, but in the general judicial mind. Palmer's "sorry" is followed by a sorry explanation of what he meant by "sorry."

Apparently his contrition is not about overturning his own ruling (something that Michigan's high court has done when it came to understand its own misguided 23-year old Poletown eminent domain ruling and overturned it—"settled law"? we think not) but that he didn't know the personal hardship that the New London homeowners had gone through and he couldn't have possibly known that the New London/Pfizer development plan would end up with a barren wasteland and a dumping ground for Hurricane Irene refuse, but that even if he had, rest assured this would not have changed his ruling because of "settled" law.

link

Posted by eric at 1:51 PM

September 19, 2011

Apology Adds An Epilogue To Kelo Case

Supreme Court Justice's Startling Apology Adds Human Context To Tough Ruling

Hartford Courant
by Jeff Benedict

Here's a must-read epilogue to the epically bad decision in the landmark court case known as Kelo vs. New London.

If a state Supreme Court judge approaches a journalist at a private dinner and says something newsworthy about an important decision, is the journalist free to publish the statement?

I faced that situation at a dinner honoring the Connecticut Supreme Court at the New Haven Lawn Club on May 11, 2010. That night I had delivered the keynote address on the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London. Susette Kelo was in the audience and I used the occasion to tell her personal story, as documented in my book "Little Pink House."

Afterward, Susette and I were talking in a small circle of people when we were approached by Justice Richard N. Palmer. Tall and imposing, he is one of the four justices who voted with the 4-3 majority against Susette and her neighbors. Facing me, he said: "Had I known all of what you just told us, I would have voted differently."

I was speechless. So was Susette. One more vote in her favor by the Connecticut Supreme Court would have changed history. The case probably would not have advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Susette and her neighbors might still be in their homes.

Then Justice Palmer turned to Susette, took her hand and offered a heartfelt apology. Tears trickled down her red cheeks. It was the first time in the 12-year saga that anyone had uttered the words "I'm sorry."

article

NoLandGrab: We're guessing that Daniel Goldstein isn't holding his breath for a similar mea culpa from New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Related coverage...

Reason Hit & Run, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice to Susette Kelo: “I’m Sorry”

Palmer should be sorry. So should U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy, whose five votes upheld Palmer’s erroneous judgment and put the final nail in the coffin.

Posted by eric at 9:25 PM

September 14, 2011

Brooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case

Author Jeff Benedict Announces Deal On His Blog

Hartford Courant
by Susan Dunne

Nothing comes between Brooke Shields and her little pink house.

"Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage," a book written in 2009 by Jeff Benedict about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain decision in New London, is being made into a Lifetime TV movie starring Brooke Shields as the decision's most prominent opponent, Susette Kelo, according to an announcement made Friday on the author's blog, http://www.jeffbenedict.com.

Rick Woolf, Benedict's editor at Grand Central Publishing, confirmed the report. "We're thrilled that this is going to be a movie on Lifetime," Woolf said. "Susette is a folk hero and Jeff has done a tremendous job telling the story."

link

NoLandGrab: We would've cast Oscar-winner Melissa Leo in the role, but she might be a couple notches above a Lifetime movie at this point.

Posted by eric at 1:13 PM

September 13, 2011

Law Prof: ‘Highly Abusive Blight Condemnation’ for AY

Brownstoner

Atlantic Yards Report and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn point to an article by law professor Ilya Somin entitled “Let There Be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur” that will be published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The article looks at the blight condemnations used to justify the application of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards and Columbia and characterizes them as “highly abusive.”
...

Somin also argues that the blight studies were predetermined and concludes that the precedents set by Atlantic Yards and Columbia mean “there are virtually no remaining constitutional limits on blight condemnations in New York state.”

link

Photo: Tracy Collins

Posted by eric at 10:47 AM

September 12, 2011

Law professor Somin: in Atlantic Yards and Columbia eminent domain cases, "the [NY Court of Appeals] broke dubious new ground"

Atlantic Yards Report

Last February, libertarian law professor Ilya Somin of George Mason University, at a conference at Fordham Law School, called the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case in state court and the subsequent case challenging Columbia University's expansion "among the worst I've ever seen."

A law review article based on his presentation will be published in the October 2011 of the Fordham Urban Law Journal, titled Let There Be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur. (In several places, Somin cites an article I co-authored.)

(The AY case is known as Goldstein vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation and the Columbia case is known as Kaur vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation.)

Somin's argument:

the New York Court of Appeals erred badly, by allowing highly abusive blight condemnations and defining pretextual takings so narrowly as to essentially read the concept out of existence.

The "extraordinarily broad definition of “blight,” he allows, is not out of line with that of other states that define blight expansively though "odds with the text of the New York Constitution, which allows blight condemnations only in 'substandard and insanitary areas.'"

He also points to three areas in which the court failed to consider evidence and thus "broke dubious new ground":

  • evidence that the blight studies were predetermined
  • evidence that the firm conducting the blight studies, AKRF, had a conflict of interest, given that it had been concurrently and consecutively paid by Columbia and Forest City, respectively
  • evidence that the parties seeking the land had contributed to the blight

article

Posted by eric at 11:36 AM

Let there be Blight — My New Article on Blight Condemnations in New York

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

My new article, “Let There Be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur” is now available on SSRN. It critiques the New York Court of Appeals’ recent controversial blight takings decisions in the Atlantic Yards and Columbia University eminent domain cases. It was part of a Fordham Urban Law Journal symposium on Eminent Domain in New York. Here is the abstract:

The New York Court of Appeals’ two recent blight condemnation decisions are the most widely publicized and controversial property rights rulings since the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London. In Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp., and Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp., the Court of Appeals set new lows in allowing extremely dubious “blight” condemnations. This Article argues that the New York Court of Appeals erred badly by allowing highly abusive blight condemnations and defining pretextual takings so narrowly as to essentially read the concept out of existence.

article

Posted by eric at 11:29 AM

September 4, 2011

Screening: The Garden (2008, USA, 80 min.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011, 6–8:30 pm

BMW Guggenheim Lab

NoLandGrab readers would do well to check out this free screening of The Garden, in many ways the City of Angels version of Battle for Brooklyn.

Located in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, a lush 14-acre community garden (the largest urban farm in the United States) began as a form of healing after the devastating riots in 1992. Led by South Central farmers, it grew into an oasis where an economically depressed community could grow its own food and foster a sense of belonging. But when the owner of the land, a wealthy developer, decides to sell, the mostly Latin American farmers must organize and confront City Hall. Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s Academy Award–nominated documentary exposes the ensuing struggle, revealing the fault lines in American society and raising questions about equality and justice for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

Filmmaker Q&A will follow screening

6 pm open seating
6:15 pm screening

Directions

link

Posted by eric at 9:26 PM

August 26, 2011

The Resurrection of Seneca Village

The Huffington Post
by Alan Singer

In 1857, Seneca Village, an African-American community in Manhattan was erased from history. About a century later in the 1950s, a Parks Department gardener found a graveyard around 85th Street. The New Yorker magazine reported it was "filled with the bones of tramps and squatters." Today, the village and its former inhabitants are being resurrected by a team of archaeologists from Barnard College-Columbia University and City College (CUNY).
...

In 1853, the New York state legislature set aside land for the construction of Central Park and authorized the use of "eminent domain" to confiscate private property between 59th and 106th Streets (later extended to 110th Street) for public purposes. The residents of Seneca Village received final eviction notices during the summer of 1856. Although property holders were compensated, many protested in the courts. An article in the New York Times reported, "The policemen find it difficult to persuade them out of the idea which has possessed their simple minds, that the sole object of the authorities in making the Park is to procure their expulsion from the homes which they occupy." After eviction, the community was never reestablished.
...

Madeline Landry (Barnard) examined the language used by the local press to justify eminent domain and expulsion of Seneca Village residents from their homes and reported that it was remarkably similar to language used to justify the demolition of homes and businesses in the recent Atlantic Yards controversy in Brooklyn.

article

NoLandGrab: The principal difference, of course, being that the former was razed for a public park, while the latter is all about Bruce Ratner's private profit.

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

August 18, 2011

No Predicting 'Common Sense' Court Open to Dissenting Voices

New York Law Journal
by Joel Stashenko

A review of the unpredictable nature of the past year's decisions by New York State's highest court contains a reference to one of the previous year's very predictable decisions.

But none of the Court's cases in 2010-2011 produced the high-profile rulings of the previous year, when the judges ruled that landlords could not charge market-rate rents where they had accepted a city tax break; updated the definition of a "blighted" area to approve the seizure of private land for the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn; determined that the state's judges had been unconstitutionally denied a raise; and decided that the governor has the authority to fill a lieutenant governor vacancy.

Judge Lippman said in an interview that he was "very proud" of his Court's body of work over the past year.

"To me, it's a common-sense Court," Judge Lippman said.

article

NoLandGrab: Yeah, nothing says "common sense" like allowing "blight" to be defined as whatever a developer says it is. Very proud indeed.

Posted by eric at 12:37 PM

July 29, 2011

Rio, come kick a ball around with us the 30th of July!

International Alliance of Inhabitants

On the day of the World Cup draw, the Popular Committee of the World Cup and Olympics will have a public action in defense of “The People's Cup.” A march for the People's Cup will begin gathering at the Largo do Machado at 10am and will move towards the Marina da Goria where the draw is taking place.

While the 20 million dollar party for choosing the qualifying groups for the 2014 World Cup is happening on the 30th of July in Rio de Janeiro, thousands of the city's residents are being removed from their homes in preparation for the tournament, street vendors are prevented from working and the vast majority of the population will not have enough money to pay for tickets to the World Cup. The Popular Committee of the World Cup and Olympics will detail these and other processes in a collective interview for the press on the 29th of July.
...

The 2014 World Cup will impact 12 Brazilian cities. These are municipalities in which the majority of people do not have access to sewerage and in which a high percentage of people live in favelas.
...

According to authorities, forced removals are expected to affect around 12.5 thousand people in Rio de Janeiro but the evidence suggests that the number of removals undertaken for the mega-events will be around 30 thousand.

link

Posted by eric at 3:48 PM

July 26, 2011

Appeals Court Rejects Dallas Developer’s Claim That Book About Eminent Domain Defamed Him

Author and Publisher Protected by First Amendment

Institute for Justice

In an important victory for the First Amendment, a unanimous Texas Fifth Court of Appeals has handed a major defeat to Dallas developer H. Walker Royall in his defamation lawsuit against the author and publisher of Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. In November 2009, a Dallas trial court issued a blanket denial of Carla Main and Encounter Books’ claims that the book is protected by the First Amendment, prompting the appeal.

Late yesterday, the Dallas appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment and held that Royall failed to produce evidence that anything in Bulldozed defames him in any way. The opinion [PDF] reaffirms that criticism of public projects is protected by the First Amendment, and that developers who are involved in those projects cannot hide behind defamation law to escape criticism over their role.

“Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, the nonprofit public interest law firm that is defending Main and her publisher. “The appeals court has exposed the frivolity of Royall’s lawsuit, holding that Royall failed to prove that a single word of Bulldozed defames him.”

Published in 2007, Bulldozed chronicles events in Freeport, Texas, where Royall signed a development agreement to have the city take land owned by Western Seafood—a generations-old shrimping business—and give that land to Royall’s development company for a luxury yacht marina.

link

NoLandGrab: Here's a link to some of our past coverage of the Freeport land grab.

Posted by eric at 12:03 PM

July 21, 2011

The Ten States That Restrict Personal Freedom (And Those That Protect It) Read more: The Ten States That Restrict Personal Freedom (And Those That Protect It)

24/7 Wall St.
by Douglas A. McIntyre, Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter

Can you guess the identity of the least-free of these United States?

  1. New York

> Fiscal freedom: -0.471 (lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.90 (11th lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.191 (3rd lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -8.9%

New York is the least free state in the country. According to the report, this is because it has the lowest rated economic freedom and the third lowest rated personal freedom in the country. The state has the highest taxes in the nation, with above average property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate income tax rates. Government spending on “public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, and employee retirement” is all well above the national averages. The state also has the second greatest debt as a percentage of the state’s economy in the country, behind only Alaska. The state is not much better when it comes to personal liberty. New York has among the strictest gun laws in the country, motorists are highly regulated, home schools are highly regulated, and cigarette taxes are the highest in the country — currently $4.35 a pack. Eminent domain “abuse is rampant and unchecked,” such as last year’s case involving the expansion of Columbia University and the Atlantic Yards program in Brooklyn.

article

NoLandGrab: Don't get us wrong — we're all for gun control, regulating drivers and cigarette taxes. It's the land-grabbing we have a problem with.

Posted by eric at 12:01 PM

July 13, 2011

IJ Scores Major First Amendment Victory For St. Louis Property Owner Protesting Eminent Domain Abuse

Institute for Justice

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today handed down a major First Amendment victory for the right to protest government abuse. The case is a victory for a St. Louis housing activist who grew so fed up with the government’s abuse of eminent domain that he painted an enormous protest message on the side of one of his buildings facing the interstate calling for the end of eminent domain abuse. The city had required him to either remove the mural or get a permit to display his protest, but then it refused to issue him a permit when he applied.

Jim Roos runs a nonprofit housing ministry, which works to provide housing for low-income residents of south St. Louis. Roos became a vocal critic of the city’s use of eminent domain for private development after the city took away several of his housing ministry’s buildings not for a public use, but for private development projects.

Roos refused to remove his protest and so he joined with the Institute for Justice to fight for his First Amendment rights. And today the 8th Circuit handed him a victory, holding emphatically that government isn’t allowed to restrict speech based on its message. The court struck down the St. Louis sign regulations that the city had tried to use to silence this anti-eminent-domain activist.

link

Posted by eric at 6:16 PM

July 11, 2011

The Great Basketball Swindle

A riveting new documentary takes on New York's shameful eminent domain abuse

Reason.com
by Damon W. Root

At its best, Battle for Brooklyn illustrates the scope of these mounting outrages while capturing Goldstein’s shock and anger as he slowly realizes that the deck is truly stacked against him. But since the film clocks in at a lean 93-minutes, several other significant aspects of the story were only briefly addressed or left on the cutting room floor.

One such weakness is Battle for Brooklyn’s treatment of the atrocious November 2009 decision by New York’s Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—upholding the use of eminent domain. While there is a great scene showing Goldstein anxiously checking his computer for news of the ruling, the only real summary the audience receives is that “we lost.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the half of it. In its 6-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals actually admitted that the state’s blight determination might be bogus and then went ahead and upheld it anyway. “It may be that the bar has now been set too low—that what will now pass as ‘blight,’ as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses,” the majority declared. “But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.”

article

NoLandGrab: And — surprise, surprise — New Yorkers are still waiting for our esteemed state legislature to rein in eminent domain abuse. Don't hold your breath.

Posted by eric at 12:35 PM

July 6, 2011

Hockey arena site forces day-care center to find new home

Allentown Morning Call
by Elizabeth Murphy

Surely the Allentown Phantoms would never renege on their rent obligations. Right?

Olgie Moreno-Prosper says it's bad enough she has to move her Allentown day-care center to make way for a proposed hockey arena. Now she has to overcome the frustration of zoning bureaucracy to find a new home.

New Generation Learning Center, which tends 75 mostly inner-city children from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, is a tenant of 42 N. Seventh St. The building stands on what will practically be center ice if the city successfully builds a new home for the American Hockey League Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers' minor league team that now plays in Glens Falls, N.Y.

With Allentown threatening to acquire properties for the project through eminent domain, building owner Marian Rush said she has a contract to sell the building to the city for an undisclosed amount.

Moreno-Prosper, director of New Generation, wants to keep the day care center in the same vicinity and has a potential new home on the second and third floors of 515 Linden St. But that requires city approval because the building is outside the central business district and is zoned high-density residential.
...

Moreno-Prosper called the zoning process frustrating.

"We are moving because they are asking us to but they are putting us through this to move," she said, noting that she does understand the separation of the city and the zoning board.

article

NoLandGrab: If only she were relocating her basketball team rather than her daycare center, the city would've overrode the zoning for her.

Posted by eric at 11:07 AM

July 4, 2011

From the NoLandGrab archives: Eminent Domination Without Representation

Declaration-of-Independence.jpg

Eleven score and ten fifteen years ago today (230 235 yrs.), 56 property/business owners declared that they were fed up with King George III of England and his failure to act in the best interests of his citizen-subjects.

At the risk of being labeled "screamers" and "kooks," these 56 men volunteered to represent their communities and publicly executed a radical and politically risky move. They pledged their lives and fortunes to fight against what was essentially a "done deal:" the arbitrary rule of law and the manipulation of legislatures to serve the purposes of a despotic power.

On this anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we offer you a transcript of the document (after the jump), so that you may ponder the contemporary significance of the usurpations of a despot who refused to allow local citizens to determine issues that directly affected their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

As you consider the "Declaration of the thirteen united States of America," your thoughts may drift towards more recent events concerning a major land-use headache in Central Brooklyn (where, coincidentally, the first major battle of the War for Independence was fought): * NY State's takeover, with Mayor Bloomberg's consent, of local zoning, land use and environmental review (in other words, putting an arena and 16 towers at an already congested intersection — economic, health and quality-of-life concerns be damned), * Eminent domain seizures without legislative oversight (no legislators get to vote if the project is under NY State jurisdiction), * Manipulations of the rule of law to serve the purpose of the politically connected (i.e. "emergency" demolitions, the inevitable finding of "blight" to justify private property condemnation), * Approval of the largest single-source development project in the history of NYC placed in the hands of un-elected representatives of the three most powerful men in Albany, * The spending of our tax dollars on Bruce Ratner's private development, with taxes generated by the project earmarked to the servicing of Bruce Ratner's mortgage on the property, * Government officials ignoring the petitions of redress by their subjects/citizens.

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock

Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5 New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple

Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

Source: http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Posted by eric at 11:22 AM

June 7, 2011

Businesses opposed to Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project dragged to court

NY Daily News
by Erin Durkin

The state has dragged two Atlantic Ave. business owners into court to force them to let developer Bruce Ratner onto their property for construction work on his Atlantic Yards project.

The businesses are resisting, saying they fear property damage - but Ratner warns that shutting him out could delay the opening of the new Barclays Center arena.

OK, and how is that the property owners' problem?

Drew Tressler, president of Global Exhibition Services, which has been making museum and trade show exhibits at the Atlantic Ave. shop for 35 years, said he won't allow the developer to install underground steel cables known as tie-backs. He's afraid it could damage his building.

"Our building is concrete, and I really don't know what long-term effect the drilling will have on it. Concrete is brittle," he said.

Tressler said he's already dealing with noise and congestion from the project and he doesn't need any more headaches. He added the work could block him from renovating the building with new plumbing or a subbasement.

"I don't understand this," he said. "It's certainly not going to help me....I think it would bother any business owner."

The state is also suing Storage Mart, whose owners could not be reached for comment.
...

Ratner executive Thomas Bonacuso said the work is necessary to finish the Carlton Ave. bridge - which legal agreements say must be done before the arena can open.

"Delay in completion of work would also prevent the arena from opening on schedule" in fall 2012, Bonacuso wrote.

"The results would be devastating," he added, adding it would cost the developer "many millions of dollars."

article

NoLandGrab: Maybe Forest City should have thought about that before they ignored working on the bridge for a couple years once they tore it down.

Related coverage...

Curbed, Revenge of the Megaprojects

Today in Atlantic Yards opposition, the state has taken two Atlantic Avenue businesses to court because they've refused to let Bruce Ratner onto their properties for arena-related construction. One store owner has denied the developer's request to put in underground steel cables because he's worried about building damage. The developer, meanwhile, says the opposition could delay the arena opening. An argument we're sure will work well on the businesses' owners, since their properties are in line for state seizure when it's time for AY's next phase.

The Real Deal, Still more Atlantic Yards holdouts crimping Bruce Ratner's style

Joshua Rikon, an attorney for Global Exhibition Services, said eminent domain laws don't cover the kind of access the state is demanding and that the move reflects "poor planning" on Ratner's part.

Posted by eric at 1:36 PM

May 25, 2011

In NY, a "condemnor can condemn a Kasha Knish": more criticisms of eminent domain in New York and suggested reforms

Atlantic Yards Report

The latest issue of the Albany Government Law Review, published by Albany Law School, concerns Eminent Domain: Public Use, Just Compensation, & "The Social Compact", with several articles that touch on the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

And, as scholars indicated in a recent conference at Fordham Law School, few think that decision was wise, or that the legal regime in New York inspires confidence.

Probably the quote of the issue comes from attorney Michael Rikon, who represents condemnees (including Atlantic Yards opponent Daniel Goldstein) and suggests:

It is an aphorism in criminal law that a good prosecutor could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” With regards to condemnations in New York, it can fairly be said that in New York, a condemnor can condemn a Kasha Knish.

Commentators in the issue propose numerous reforms to right the balance in New York--reforms that likely would be opposed by supporters of the status quo.

One commentator suggests that decisions to condemn made by elected officials should be given deference, but that decisions made by appointees and others not directly accountable should face a higher burden. That would impact projects like Atlantic Yards.

Read on for Norman Oder's in-depth coverage.

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Posted by eric at 1:38 PM

May 10, 2011

Packaging Public Land, The City’s Role in Private Development

Urban Magazine
by Claudia Huerta

It’s hard not to notice all the construction going on in New York City. Yet where the average passerby sees only cranes and the hands of private developers reshaping the city, planners, policy-makers and political insiders see the increasingly powerful role of the city’s arms-length organization, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
...

EDC is different from other city agencies in some important ways. For instance, when city-owned properties are sold, the names of the bidders and their projects are not revealed to the public. It is only after EDC selects a developer that the community is informed of the developer’s plans. Unsurprisingly, this process has raised the ire of many New York City communities and made it the target of a public backlash, as was the case in the recent Willets Point and Atlantic Yards development proposals pushed by EDC.

Having many different funding sources gives EDC a lot of power. Add to that its unique semi-public, semi-private status and it is a recipe reminiscent of Robert Moses’ Triborough Bridge Authority, which built countless bridges, tunnels and highways throughout the city with impunity from the 1940s to the 1960s despite much public disapproval.

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Posted by eric at 12:19 PM

City seeks developers for Willets Point revamp

Grand plans inch forward for 62-acre Queens that's been the subject of a lengthy legal battle between the city and some of the local businesses that would be displaced.

Crain's NY Business
by Amanda Fung

The city moved another step forward Monday with its hotly contested plans to redevelop Willets Point, Queens. The city's Economic Development Corp. issued a request for proposal seeking a developer to build out the first portion of the 62-acre site, a parcel of land located next to Citi Field.

With Atlantic Yards, by contrast, the developer was selected before the project was announced. In fact, it was the developer who selected the project.

“We think this is premature,” said Michael Gerrard, senior counsel of Arnold & Porter, who represents 10 businesses that have been fighting for years to halt the Willets Point redevelopment. Some of Mr. Gerrard's clients are actually located in the first phase, he noted. “The project is still in legal limbo due to continuing uncertainty over whether the city will receive approval for the Van Wyck ramps that are essential to the project, which was approved as a whole, not something that could be broken into chunks or phases.”

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Posted by eric at 11:07 AM

April 13, 2011

Congress considers bill restricting eminent domain for economic development; Institute for Justice backs bill, professor warns against it

Atlantic Yards Report

Will Congress reform eminent domain? Yesterday the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on H.R. 1433, the "Private Property Rights Protection Act," which would prohibit states or political subdivisions to exercise eminent domain (or allow such exercise) over property to be used for economic development.

It drew both strong support and harsh criticism from a split panel of witnesses.

This reprises a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in reaction to the Supreme Court's controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, which upheld eminent domain for economic development.

(The previous vote was 376-38, indicating bipartisan consensus; it's likely the Republican-dominated House would still support the bill, though perhaps without such consensus. The Senate, Democratic then and now, never voted.)

However, it would not have any effect on agencies pursuing eminent domain under the justification of blight removal, as in the state of New York.
...

Dana Berliner, Senior Attorney for the Institute of Justice, testified [PDF] that, after the Kelo decision, "the floodgates opened," as the rate of eminent domain abuse tripled. One of her five examples:

Last year, the New York Court of Appeals--the state's highest court--allowed the condemnation of perfectly fine homes and businesses for two separate projects. First, a new baksetball arena and residential and office towers in Brooklyn, and then for the expansion of Columbia University--an elite, private institution--into Harlem.

Note that the justification in both cases was blight, not economic development, though there's obviously conceptual overlap.

Berliner observed that, while some states have reformed their laws, "it remains a major problem in many other states," with New York the worst state in the country, "and it has gotten even worse since Kelo." (There's broad consensus on that.)

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Posted by eric at 8:51 AM

April 12, 2011

House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Hearing on H.R. 1433: “Private Property Rights Protection Act”

Institute for Justice Media Advisory

The House heard testimony today on a bill aimed at reining in eminent domain.

In an increasingly partisan nation, one issue unites Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives: reforming eminent domain laws to end the use of public power for private gain. A bipartisan bill being considered in Congress right now would greatly discourage this abuse of power by stripping federal funding from any municipality that condemns private property for private development. This would finally provide some federal protection for the property rights of all Americans, especially the poorest and most-vulnerable, from the alliance of land-hungry developers and tax-hungry government officials.

H.R. 1433 (the “Private Property Rights Protection Act”) cosponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA), prohibits states and municipalities from using eminent domain for private development if they have received federal economic development funds. It also prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development, which is defined as taking private property and transferring it to another private person to increase tax revenue, jobs or general economic growth. A nearly identical bill that was introduced immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Kelo v. City of New London passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 376-38, with the Senate never voting on passage.

Importantly, the bill would still allow eminent domain for traditional public uses like public utilities, roads and post offices, and would also allow local officials to remove properties that pose an immediate threat to public health and safety and put abandoned property to productive use.

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Posted by eric at 11:20 PM

April 7, 2011

Seeking balance over blight, academics suggest new standards, dropping underutilization, and tougher look at projects with more % of private benefits

This is Part 3 of a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2) on Fordham Law School's eminent domain symposium in February.

Atlantic Yards Report

Is there a reasonable compromise that would preserve the use of eminent domain as a tool for government while preventing dubious tactics like claiming underutilization--or cracks in the sidewalk--equal blight?

And shouldn't courts play some role in scrutinizing blight, especially for certain projects, ones which promise a greater ratio of private than public benefits?

In an intriguing paper titled The Use and Abuse of Blight in Eminent Domain, attorney (and part-time Columbia academic) Martin E. Gold and Lynne B. Sagalyn of Columbia Business School (and the book Times Square Roulette), set out a hierarchy of eminent domain projects, from those with clear public benefits to those with more private benefits.

Those at the bottom of the hierarchy deserve the most scrutiny, and thus a closer examination of blight findings. They mention Atlantic Yards as falling somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy and criticize some of the definitions used in the AY eminent domain case, notably underutilization.

Need for review

They make a strong case for redefinition, arguing that "effectively there is no review of blight findings in New York" and--as others have contended--the courts have abdicated their role in policing eminent domain.

So "thoughtfully crafted, objective and measurable, standards for the determination of blight" are needed:

If blight is to continue to be a condition and cornerstone for condemnations for renewal or economic development undertakings, it needs serious alteration; otherwise it will continue to serve more as an expensive foil for projects sought by developers and government officials, than as a screen filtering out lands that should be left alone.

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Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

April 6, 2011

AY eminent domain decision "among the worst I've ever seen," says law prof; former NJ Public Advocate says NY court abdicated role in policing blight

This is Part 2 of a three-part series (Part 1) on Fordham Law School's eminent domain symposium in February.

Appellate Division Justice James Catterson was not the only person at a symposium February 11 to slam the New York Court of Appeals' decision in the Columbia (Kaur) and predecessor Atlantic Yards (Goldstein) cases.

So too did several academics, including some longstanding critics of eminent domain and others who, while recognizing the importance of the tool, agree that jurisprudence in New York has gotten out of hand. They spoke at Taking New York: The Opportunities, Challenges, and Dangers Posed by the Use of Eminent Domain in New York, a symposium at Fordham Law School.

In other words, instead of "junk lawsuits" and "frivolous litigation," as then-Daily News columnist Errol Louis dismissed Atlantic Yards legal filings, or "contrived lawsuits," in the words of academic Bruce Berg, maybe we should be talking about "junk judicial decisions."

After all, the former Public Advocate in New Jersey--a self-described "ACLU civil liberties lawyer"--declared that "the New York Court of Appeals basically abdicated any meaningful role for the judiciary in determining whether a blight designation even passed the laugh test."

And, though the court has indicated that the legislature should step in, panelists expressed little hope that the notoriously dysfunctional New York legislature would act to reform eminent domain laws.

In other words, even though the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't hear the appeal in the case challenging the condemnation for the Columbia University expansion, a good number of legal experts agree that New York is an outlier.

Need to get your blood boiling? Read on.

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Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

April 5, 2011

Justice Catterson says of Court of Appeals opinion in AY eminent domain case, "I don't know what it means"; rues that his critique was "an epic fail"

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on Fordham Law School's eminent domain symposium in February.

Atlantic Yards Report

James Catterson, an Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, has been the most conspicuous judicial critic of eminent domain jurisprudence in New York, writing the plurality opinion, later reversed, denying the state's effort to condemn land for the Columbia University expansion, and penning a scorching concurrence in the case upholding dismissal of challenge to the Atlantic Yards environmental review.

Nor has Catterson shied away from public, pungent criticism of the Court of Appeals' decision in the Columbia and predecessor Atlantic Yards cases, calling it confusingly opaque. He spoke at Taking New York: The Opportunities, Challenges, and Dangers Posed by the Use of Eminent Domain in New York, a symposium February 11 sponsored by Fordham Law School.'

The overview

In opening remarks lasting a little more than half an hour, the bow-tied Catterson--brisk, earthy, self-deprecating--offered what he termed a "Cook's tour" of the history of eminent domain.

Then, in the final minutes, he spoke about the November 2009 Atlantic Yards decision, Goldstein, et al., v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, d/b/a Empire State Development Corporation, and the Columbia case, Parminder Kaur, et al., v. New York State Urban Development Corporation.

Read on for Catterson's worthwhile words of wisdom.

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Posted by eric at 4:23 PM

April 3, 2011

In St. Louis, a protest sign meets government arrogance

The Washington Post
By George Will

New York courts have refused to rein in eminent domain abuse. Now comes a story where the issue is not even allowed to be mentioned.

A dialectic of judicial deference and political arrogance is on display in St. Louis. When excessively deferential courts permit governmental arrogance, additional arrogance results as government explores the limits of judicial deference. As Jim Roos knows.

He formed a nonprofit housing and community development corporation that provides residences for people with low incomes. Several times its properties have been seized by the city government, using “blight” as an excuse for transferring property to developers who can pay more taxes to the seizing government.

The Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision legitimized this. It permits governments to cite “blight” — a notoriously elastic concept, sometimes denoting nothing more than chipped paint or cracked sidewalks — to justify seizing property for the “public use” of enriching those governments.

Roos responded by painting on the side of one of his buildings a large mural — a slash through a red circle containing the words “End Eminent Domain Abuse.” The government that had provoked him declared his sign “illegal” and demanded that he seek a permit for it. He did. Then the government denied the permit.

The St. Louis sign code puts the burden on the citizen to justify his or her speech rather than on the government to justify limiting speech. And the code exempts certain kinds of signs from requiring permits. These include works of art, flags of nations, states or cities, and symbols or crests of religious, fraternal or professional organizations. And, of course, the government exempted political signs. So the exempted categories are defined by the signs’ content.

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Posted by steve at 10:11 PM

March 30, 2011

Out of the City's Domain

Willets Point United

As we commented yesterday, Judge Joan Madden has thrown the city a curve ball by issuing her order to show cause against that effort to segment the Willets Point project and avoid proper review of the Van Wyck ramps. In doing so, Madden explicitly rejected the city's argument that this entire dispute could be rolled into the eminent domain challenge.

We anticipate that EDC will try to make this case when they submit papers to the judge in response to her order. We know exactly why the city is trying to use the ED gambit-they are on stronger legal ground-given how the NY State courts have ruled on condemnation challenges-in this arena then in the environmental arena where its case is much weaker.

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Posted by eric at 11:59 AM

March 29, 2011

City's Willets Point plans hit legal pothole

Judge asks authorities why she shouldn't reverse her earlier dismissal of lawsuit to block the redevelopment after city skirts restrictions.

Crain's NY Business
by Erik Engquist

Joan Madden didn't do Atlantic Yards opponents any favors, but she's at least threatening to toss a wrench in the city's Willets Point land grab.

The city's bid to redevelop Willets Point, Queens, hit a pothole Tuesday when a judge ordered the Bloomberg administration to show why she shouldn't revoke the go-ahead she granted last summer.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden had ruled that the project could proceed because the city promised not to condemn any land until it had approval for new Van Wyck Expressway ramps, which it had deemed essential to the project. But when state and federal approval of the ramps proved elusive, the city split the project into two phases and moved ahead with condemnations, arguing that the ramps were not required for Phase I.

But the administration failed to make that argument to the judge.

According to Michael Gerrard, the attorney for Willets Point property owners who object to the city's plan, the judge signed an order directing the city to explain why her order dismissing his lawsuit should not be vacated.

City lawyers will prepare a brief, the property owners will write a response, and the judge will hear oral argument in open court July 20.

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Related coverage...

City Hall, Imminent Domain: Willets Point opponents looking to avoid fate of the Atlantic Yards, Columbia University expansion

An interesting look at the legal strategy of Willets Point property owners.

By next summer, the dilapidated jumble of auto shops in Willets Point should be starting to transform into a slick new development featuring mixed-income housing, a hotel and a convention center.

But first the city must take on a small band of business owners trying to hold onto their property in the Queens neighborhood, and while recent experience shows that the city has the upper hand in securing the land for the project, the group is eager to learn from recent economic development fights.

Two other redevelopment projects in the city, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Columbia University's expansion in Manhattan, recently reaffirmed the right of government to take private property in New York and turn it over to private developers.

As the city takes its first step toward using eminent domain in Willets Point, opponents are looking carefully at the legal battles over those two projects, as a guide for which strategies to follow and which to avoid.

One major problem:

Yet in the end, what will shape the outcome is not broad support but the courts. And in New York, where the laws are notoriously permissive, the courts broadly support eminent domain.

NoLandGrab: Especially for other people's houses.

Posted by eric at 11:32 PM

March 18, 2011

HOSPITAL BRIBERY CHARGES: Willets sticks with Lipsky

YourNabe.com
by Connor Adams Sheets

You have to hand it to the Willets Point United crew — they're far more loyal than Richard Lipsky has ever been. Or Forest City Ratner, for that matter.

Willets Point United was keeping Lipsky’s services as of Monday, bucking the trend of cutting ties with him set by many of his other clients and associates. The group paid Lipsky $57,500 in 2010, according to lobbying records.

“The allegations have nothing whatsoever to do with Willets Point, and we consider that Dr. Lipsky has done a most effective job on behalf of WPU to expose the severe negative impacts of the proposed Willets Point development,” the group said in a lengthy statement on its website. “WPU is motivated, indefatigable, and inspired by Dr. Lipsky’s contact with federal enforcement agencies.”

Forest City Ratner Cos., the developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, a flashpoint in the national eminent domain debate, hired Lipsky, effectively barring him from being able to work on behalf of project opponents.

Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for the developer, said Lipsky worked for Forest City Ratner as a consultant for about five years before he was terminated last week.

“He actually worked on issues related to youth and sports. His background is in sports. He has a doctorate in sports psychology or something like that,” DePlasco said. “He was a consultant, so he wasn’t directly employed.”

Hmm. We'll have to go back and re-read all of Lipsky's "Daniel Does Destroy" blog posts attacking Atlantic Yards critics to try to find the youth and sports angle.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), an outspoken opponent of the $3 billion plan to redevelop Willets Point, spoke at that same protest. He said Friday he was “very surprised” to hear that the lobbyist worked on both sides of the eminent domain issue.

“I wouldn’t have expected Lipsky to be involved, but it’s symptomatic of the system,” he said. “How the hell can you be involved in helping the Willets Point owners fight the misuse of eminent domain and yet you’re supporting the misuse of eminent domain by Ratner at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn?”

Indeed.

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Posted by eric at 11:21 AM

March 9, 2011

Adventures in Brooklyn

Scenes in the City

On the way out, I made a point to pass the Atlantic Yards, a point of interest since seeing the Civilian's In the Footprint, and I thought about the conversation I had with my dad after having seen it. I told him one thing that had frustrated me about the show was that they never really fully explained the details of eminent domain, but went through a lot of trouble convincing us that it was being abused. I asked my dad (a real estate attorney, so, you know, he knows about stuff) what he thought of the fact that even though it's a private developer, they're using the fact that the project is creating affordable housing and jobs to validate the use of eminent domain. He shrugged and said, "That seems about right." The comment didn't really contain any sympathy for the residents who had been who had been pushed out, but nor was it in defense of the government or the developers. It was just an observation that it seemed to him what had happened had been a valid use of eminent domain. The memory made me think fondly of my dad, about how he values logic and consistency - so much so that I think he might favor it over any moral or political ideal. Our politics don't always align, but I like that, I can respect that. I'm comforted by that.

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NoLandGrab: Her dad kinda sounds like Greg David.

Posted by eric at 12:03 PM

March 7, 2011

Willets Pointman

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance

Lip$ky: "My Atlantic Yards shilling is for the kid$$$$!"

Lisberg also points out what he implies might be a conflict owing to our work on Atlantic Yards: "The city wants to create jobs in a forlorn section of Queens by shutting down the businesses that have been there for decades. Sound weird? How’s this: The chief lobbyist against using eminent domain on those businesses in Queens also works for a developer using eminent domain on homes in Brooklyn."

Now, we dealt with this issue six years ago-emphasizing the importance of the Nets coming to Brooklyn:

"From the Alliance's perspective the most salient reason to join hands with FCRC, Build and Acorn is the bringing of the Nets to Brooklyn with a brand new arena. When the Alliance's Richard Lipsky was an up and comer plying his basketball wares all over the city, Brooklyn was a mecca for all BBall pilgrims. It still is, and the love for the game is beyond what even we would have imagined when we first began to evaluate the AY proposal.

The Brooklyn Nets are going to galvanize the entire borough and the team and its ownership is going to play a major role in working along with the youth leaders of Brooklyn in their tireless and unacknowledged efforts on behalf of the kids. That is why the support has been so unequivocal from these community folks."

link

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily News pokes at Lipsky contradiction on eminent domain; also, FCR may have hired him for youth sports, but he's been a zealous advocate

Daily News columnist Adam Lisberg yesterday took a swipe at lobbyist Richard Lipsky for some seeming inconsistency: vigorous advocacy against projects involving eminent domain like Willets Point and Columbia University, while working for Bruce Ratner on Atlantic Yards.

Lisberg writes:

At the same time, though, developer Bruce Ratner's companies are paying Lipsky $3,500 a month for "information and advice" on Atlantic Yards, the controversial project to bring apartments and the Nets basketball team to Brooklyn.

The first phase of Atlantic Yards alone required the state to condemn 15 privately owned properties.

Eminent domain allows government to seize a private owner's property to serve the greater public good — if you consider a basketball stadium or a shopping center to be a public good.

Lipsky said he's usually against it, but the Nets arena and its benefits for neighborhood kids make it worthwhile in Brooklyn.
...

If Lipsky was hired strictly for youth sports programs, he sure hasn't let that stop him from extolling Atlantic Yards for multiple reasons.

NoLandGrab: And let's not forget that Lip$ky, the dogged advocate for neighborhood retail, has also been a paid lobbyist for Bruce Ratner's East River Plaza big-box mall, home to such mom-and-pop operations as Target, Costco, Best Buy, Old Navy and Marshall's. Must be because the "Brooklyn Nets are going to galvanize" East Harlem. It's for the kid$$$$!

Posted by eric at 9:52 AM

March 3, 2011

Willets Point Property Owners Vow to Continue Legal Challenge Against City

WNYC.org
by Richard Yeh

Property owners in Willets Point, Queens, under threat of losing their land by eminent domain as the city makes way for a redevelopment of the area, vowed to reopen a legal case they lost last year.

At an emotionally charged public hearing in Flushing Wednesday, property owners and their attorneys said the city has reneged on a legally binding promise not to take over land without state and federal approval for new highway ramps to alleviate traffic in the area.
...

In addition to the ramps issue, many business and property owners criticized the city’s plan to acquire privately owned property by eminent domain, if necessary, for what they say is a private project. Janice Serrone said property owners like her have not gotten a fair shake from the city in the long neglected neighborhood.

"The developers are going to get a 30-year tax abatement, meanwhile we've been paying taxes for 30 years and have gotten absolutely no services," said Serrone. "Give us our streets and sewers and we'll continue to pay our taxes and develop what rightfully belongs to us."

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Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

March 2, 2011

Greg David: Willets Point Truther

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance

You just have to love it when Atlantic Yards enablers — one paid for his shilling, the other just doin' it for free — turn on each other.

In yesterday's Crain's web edition, commentator Greg Davis purports to set the record straight on Willets Point with an article inaptly titled. "Important Truths about Willets Point." As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts. So, in the service of a bit of cognitive dissonance for David-someone who has demonstrated little concern or regard for any one's constitutional property rights in NYC-we offer a rebuttal.

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NoLandGrab: Usually, the enemy of our enemy is our friend — but the mercenary (and incredibly sanctimonious) Lipsky is still our enemy.

Posted by eric at 10:15 PM

Important truths about Willets Point

Crain's NY Business
by Greg David

One place you surely won't get the truth about eminent domain abuse is from Greg David, who's even b.s.-ed his own daughter about it.

It may appear Wednesday at a public hearing that there is considerable opposition to the Bloomberg administration's plan to clean up and redevelop the hazard waste site known as Willets Point, Queens. Don't be deceived. Tomorrow is the end game of a decades-long effort to make Willets Point a generator of jobs and business activity. Also don't forget that the last-ditch efforts of the few holdout businesses have extracted a steep cost: preventing the city's economy from being as prosperous as it could be.
...

The opposition has been greatly overstated. In a 2007 survey, Hunter College researchers found exactly one resident in the area. At the time, there were 225 businesses, mostly auto parts and repair business. They employed 1,300 people. Most of the major businesses in the area have reached agreements with the city to relocate elsewhere, mostly to nearby College Point. The numbers of remaining businesses and workers is much smaller today.

Meanwhile, opponents keep inventing strategies to derail the city. For a while, it was the idea that planned highway ramps somehow violated the environmental impact statement. A judge dismissed the claim summarily. Another complaint is that eminent domain is being wrongly applied. New York's highest court has rejected that line of reasoning at both Atlantic Yards and Columbia University's West Harlem plan, and the U.S. Supreme has refused to consider the cases. Case closed.

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NoLandGrab: Yes, Greg, a government that can take land from whomever it wants whenever it wants — that's got to be good for business, right?

Posted by eric at 12:20 PM

February 28, 2011

Concern for Underclass as the City Progresses on Its Willets Point Plan

The New York Times
by Dan Bilefsky

Two years ago, as the mayor attended the Mets’ home opener at the new Citi Field, Adrien Nicolescue, an auto mechanic from Romania, joined a procession of honking garbage trucks to protest the city’s plans to condemn the nearby Willets Point area and build a $3 billion project of apartments, office buildings, stores, restaurants and a hotel.

But as his comrades geared up for another showdown with the mayor at a public hearing on the project scheduled for Wednesday, Mr. Nicolescue decided to pack up and leave. “I am going home, back to Romania,” he said, standing on the same pothole-pocked corner of Willets Point where he has been drawing in customers for windshield repairs for 36 years.

Willets Point, in Queens, is a 61-acre expanse of junkyards and auto-repair shops so squalid that local business owners compare it to Iraq. “I don’t want to leave,” Mr. Nicolescue said, “but I have nowhere to go."
...

Whatever the challenges, some are determined to stay. Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing 82 businesses that have refused to leave, said that he was preparing to file a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the project flouted environmental laws. But he acknowledged that history and precedent were not on his side.

In November 2009, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled that the state could take businesses and private property for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Legal experts said that decision reaffirmed New York’s right to use eminent domain even as many state legislatures have been moving in the opposite direction.

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, If 29 developers are interested in Willets Point, why not the Vanderbilt Yard? Also, no Times scrutiny for Pinsky's projections

Two things jump out from a New York Times article today headlined Concern for Underclass as the City Progresses on Its Willets Point Plan:

Seth W. Pinsky, president of the corporation, said in an interview that the project would create 5,300 new jobs, provide affordable housing and generate $25 billion in investment over the next 30 years. He said that 29 developers had already expressed interest, and that the city would choose finalists this spring.

But opponents of the Bloomberg plan counter that the project is speculative and environmentally unsound.

Contrast with AY

First, if 29 developers have expressed interest in Willets Point, would a similarly large number have jumped at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard and/or the entire Atlantic Yards site?

But the MTA didn't reopen its RFP after Forest City Ratner in 2009 asked to renegotate the Vanderbilt Yard deal, and MTA board member Jeff Kay claimed, "But there is no other market. No one else has come forward with a credible proposal at this time, and we should take advantage of that.”

Optimistic projections

Second, Pinsky should not with any certainty claim such definitive numbers about jobs, housing and investment. Nor should the Times transcribe his claims without a glimmer of doubt.

Posted by eric at 11:22 AM

February 23, 2011

BLIGHTED AREA? NOT AT ALL!

Welcome to Harlem

Damon Bae’s commercial laundry on Third Avenue in East Harlem may never be mistaken for the kind of glamorous businesses found near Wall Street, Times Square or Madison Avenue, but it is a thriving concern in this neighborhood of three- and four-story buildings and vacant lots.

The laundry, Fancy Cleaners, serves the five dry cleaning stores Mr. Bae owns in Manhattan, and the small retail dry-cleaning operation he opened inside the laundry has attracted customers from Harlem and beyond in the five years since he moved here from Murray Hill.

“I didn’t expect such a huge volume,” Mr. Bae said. “There aren’t many residential buildings nearby. But you offer a good price, and people will find you. You should see the line on Saturdays. I’ve even got people coming from the Bronx.”

But Mr. Bae, and more than a half-dozen other small-business owners in this neighborhood bound by Second and Third Avenues, from 125th to 127th Streets, are waging an uphill fight to hold onto their property. The Bloomberg administration has so far moved successfully in the courts to condemn six acres on behalf of a big developer for a $700 million East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center.

“I think that the city is going to take away our properties and businesses so they can make another developer with deeper pockets a lot of money,” Mr. Bae said.
...

Many of the business owners knew that a large stretch of the area was included in a 150-block urban renewal effort that was approved in 1968 but never quite materialized. But property owned by at least three of the businessmen was not included in the renewal zone, at least not until 2008, when the Bloomberg administration added those parcels to the mix.

At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hailed the creation of jobs and housing, and the city justified taking the private property by declaring the area “blighted” — a description that Mr. Bae and the other business owners found galling.

The city owned most of the land, allowing it to sit fallow for decades while turning down Mr. Bae and other business owners who wanted to buy parcels to expand their operations.

“It’s artificially manufactured blight,” Mr. Bae said.
...

The battle against eminent domain in East Harlem has received less attention than similar disputes at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Willets Point in Queens and the Columbia University expansion in West Harlem. But in each case, longtime businesses were pushed out to make way for large developments.

Jacob Toledo, the owner of Cycle Therapy, runs the city’s largest motorcycle dealership in a refurbished five-story building on East 127th Street. Rows of new and used Triumph, BMW, Honda and Yamaha motorcycles and scooters line the neat shop, while the smell of oil hangs in the air. Mr. Toledo says he may be forced to close his business permanently if the city takes his land.

article

NoLandGrab: Besides everything else thats egregious about this situation, how can you countenance any project that would put a company as creatively named as "Cycle Therapy" out of business.

Posted by eric at 10:19 PM

February 18, 2011

Atlantic Yards

Land Use Prof Blog
by Jessica Owley

Perhaps I am late to the game on this one, but I just saw the trailer for a documentary about the Atlantic Yards controversy. The movie, called Battle of Brooklyn, tells the story of Brooklyn's use of eminent domain to build a sports arena. I am a big fan of eminent domain (hmm.. not sure if that is the right way to put it), but will likely see this movie that appears to focus on the protesters.

The main protester that the film follows actually agreed to a $3 million settlement and moved out. I wonder if they include that tidbit.

link

NoLandGrab: Yeah, just a little late. Here's part of the comment we posted, which, oddly, appears to have been removed:

Daniel Goldstein received a $3 million settlement after fighting the project for six years, and only after the state had already taken his home. The "tidbit" you condescendingly refer to came when the judge handling the condemnation insisted that he and the state and developer Forest City Ratner reach an accommodation before leaving his chambers. Forest City insisted on a gag order -- wanting to strip him of his Constitutional right to speak out against the Atlantic Yards project -- as a condition of the settlement, but he told them that he would rather end up with nothing than be stripped of his rights and dignity. And of course, his home, because of the development rights accorded to Forest City Ratner by the State of New York, was worth far more than $3 million to the developer.

Posted by eric at 10:24 AM

February 16, 2011

ALI-ABA

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

We are heading to Florida on Thursday to screen the film at a conference on Eminent Domain.

http://ownerscounsel.blogspot.com/2011/02/battle-of-brooklyn-eminent-domain.html

The film is very close to completion and we hope to launch it at a major festival this spring/summer

Thanks again for your support

link

Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

February 14, 2011

Corporatism masquerading as Liberty

Credit Writedowns
by Edward Harrison

An examination of faux-Libertarianism, corporatism and kleptocracy inevitably finds its way to Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

There are lots of other examples of corporatism at work in the U.S. legal system regarding property rights in particular. My November 2009 post "New York to use eminent domain to build a basketball stadium" showed the New York State Court of Appeals ruling that the Atlantic Yards basketball project can go forward as planned, dislocating the residents in the Brooklyn, NY area where the stadium is to be built. The decision means that government can evict you from your own home, seize your property, and give you what it believes is a fair price without your consent to build a sports arena, ostensibly for the public good but certainly for state and private profit.

This and other cases like it are occurring because of the decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn. If a state or local government deems a private project – funded by private monies and profiting private enterprises – to be in the public interest, it can seize your property to allow this project to occur. In the New London case, residents were evicted to make way for a luxury hotel and up-scale condos, from which private developers would profit handsomely. Kelo was an outrageous example of cronyism completely at odds with the ethos of the Dartmouth College Case of 1819. Because of Kelo, government can now abuse its power to enrich specific private interests. That’s corporatism at work.

Corporatism has nothing to do with liberty. It is all about power and coercion. It’s about favouring the big guy over the little guy, the more well-connected over the less well-connected, the insider over the outsider. And in society that means favouring large, incumbent businesses over smaller businesses, new entrants or individuals.

article

Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

February 10, 2011

Fordham Law School Conference on Eminent Domain in New York

Lawkipedia
by Ilya Somin

This Friday, I will be speaking at an academic conference on eminent domain in New York at Fordham Law School, 140 W. 62nd Street. The event is sponsored by the Fordham Urban Law Journal. My panel will be at 10 AM, and I will be speaking about the New York Court of Appeals controversial recent blight condemnation decisions in the Atlantic Yards and Columbia cases.

The conference will also include presentations by many well-known property scholars, including Michael Heller, Lynne Sagalyn, Chris Serkin, and my colleague Steve Eagle.

link

More info via the Fordham School of Law.

Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

February 6, 2011

Blighted Area? These Business Owners Beg to Differ

New York Times
By Charles Bagli

Damon Bae, the owner of a commercial laundry, is discovering firsthand what New Yorkers have learned from the Atlantic Yards fight: Your property is not safe once the government decides that it's better for a well-connected developer to have it.

But Mr. Bae, and more than a half-dozen other small-business owners in this neighborhood bound by Second and Third Avenues, from 125th to 127th Streets, are waging an uphill fight to hold onto their property. The Bloomberg administration has so far moved successfully in the courts to condemn six acres on behalf of a big developer for a $700 million East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center.

“I think that the city is going to take away our properties and businesses so they can make another developer with deeper pockets a lot of money,” Mr. Bae said.

...

Many of the business owners knew that a large stretch of the area was included in a 150-block urban renewal effort that was approved in 1968 but never quite materialized. But property owned by at least three of the businessmen was not included in the renewal zone, at least not until 2008, when the Bloomberg administration added those parcels to the mix.

At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hailed the creation of jobs and housing, and the city justified taking the private property by declaring the area “blighted” — a description that Mr. Bae and the other business owners found galling.

The city owned most of the land, allowing it to sit fallow for decades while turning down Mr. Bae and other business owners who wanted to buy parcels to expand their operations.

“It’s artificially manufactured blight,” Mr. Bae said.

link

Posted by steve at 7:58 PM

February 3, 2011

City to Seize Land in Queens

Eminent-Domain Proceedings Set for Property Holdouts at Willets Point Project

The Wall Street Journal
by Eliot Brown

New York City is moving to seize property from landowners in Willets Point.

Seeking to kick-start a massive Queens real-estate development project conceived in the boom years, the Bloomberg administration is moving to seize a portion of the site from private property owners.

Next week, the city plans to initiate the eminent-domain process on holdout owners who own property in the first 20-acre phase of the 62-acre project. The city also is planning to solicit bids from developers in the spring, according to city officials.

Known as Willets Point, the development site by Citi Field is slated to ultimately contain more than eight million square feet, with more than 5,000 apartments, a hotel and more than 1.7 million square feet of retail space.

The site currently is filled with junkyards and auto-repair shops, along with some larger industrial properties. The City Council in 2008 approved the use of eminent domain to acquire parcels from holdouts.

The property owners are expected to litigate to block the city action, although New York state laws give the government broad powers to use eminent domain. Similar recent development projects, like the new basketball arena being built at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, have survived court challenges.
...

Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist who represents business owners at the site, says that the eminent domain action was "an absolute disgrace."

article

NoLandGrab: The mercenary Lipsky, like a broken clock, is occasionally right. But he sure sang a different tune when Daniel Goldstein refused to sell to Lipsky's client, Bruce Ratner.

Related coverage...

Curbed, City Ready to Drop an Iron Fist on the Iron Triangle

The Bernie Madoff fallout may have plunged the Mets into financial chaos, but the real fireworks in Queens are about to kick off across the street from the team's stadium. The city is getting ready to start the controversial process of separating property owners from their property at Willets Point, the self-contained village of junkyards and auto-repair shops known as the Iron Triangle.
...

The Journal reports that next week Team Bloomberg will initiate eminent domain proceedings against nine holdouts, with more to come in the future. It's expected that the property owners will fight the government in court, but if you've been paying attention to how these things have gone as of late (Atlantic Yards, Columbia expansion, etc.), let's just say that the Mets stand a better chance of winning the World Series than some guy does of keeping his scrap heap behind the outfield.

Queens Crap, Here comes the Bloomberg steamroller

Crain's NY Business, City plans to seize Willets Point land

Posted by eric at 11:01 AM

January 24, 2011

Eminently Legal Destruction

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance

Poor Richard Lipsky. He appears to be suffering from amnesia, forgetting about his love of eminent domain for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project (and hatred of opponents), for which he served as a paid consultant, before turning opponent himself, as a paid consultant for eminent domain victims of the Columbia University expansion and Willets Point land grab.

In yesterday's NY Post, the paper had an article about the fact that property owners in NY State have absolutely no protection from the depredations of those elected officials who want to take away their property.
...

And in our view, the Court of Appeals in this state is an ass-but it is the legislature's failure to remedy the state of eminent domain law in New York that is the real scandal. With the state's highest court taking the, "see no evil," approach, justice for landowners here is truly blind, and will remain so unless the legislature acts-as it has in so many other states in the post-Kelo era.

link

NoLandGrab: Obviously, Lipsky's Atlantic Yards consulting contract has expired.

Posted by eric at 8:50 AM

January 23, 2011

Post, belatedly, notices Judge Catterson's complaint about no judicial oversight of eminent-domain proceedings; why not put EB-5 on the agenda?

Atlantic Yards

In an article headlined Wrong from blight: Judge rips land grab, the New York Post reports three months late:

In a little-noticed ruling that could pack a punch for property owners, a judge has blasted the city for abusing eminent domain in its bid to seize buildings in East Harlem -- yet says there's nothing he can do about it.

In a searing statement, Justice James Catterson of the state Appellate Division accused the city of falsely claiming "blight" as a ploy to transfer private property to developers.

But New York's lower courts are powerless to stop it, said Catterson, thanks to prior rulings from the state Court of Appeals on eminent-domain cases related to Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards development and Columbia University's West Harlem expansion.

"In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the [East Harlem] neighborhood in question is not blighted . . . and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer," Catterson said of the city's argument that it can grab two blocks between 125th and 127th streets along Third Avenue because the area is economically depressed.

Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, recent rulings . . . have made plain there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent-domain proceedings," the justice wrote.

Catterson and a panel of four other Appellate Division justices dismissed the matter of Uptown Holdings vs. New York City on Oct. 12, 2010...

Previous notice

Actually, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn noticed in October, and so did others watching Atlantic Yards, including this blog.

Catterson is known for the plurality opinion temporarily blocking eminent domain in the Columbia University expansion and also a searing concurrence, which read like a dissent, in the case challenging the Atlantic Yards environmental review.

On the agenda: EB-5?

This Post article suggests that newspaper can put issues on the agenda when someone decides it's important, whether or not it's "old news."

By the same token, couldn't the Post cover Forest City Ratner's astonishing effort to raise money from Chinese millionaires seeking green cards under the EB-5 immigration program, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's lies in service to that effort?

link

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

January 13, 2011

Land grab in New York

Charleston (SC) Post & Courier

Columbia University, a private institution in New York City, got a green light from the U.S. Supreme Court last month to begin seizing private property in its neighborhood, using a state agency to do the dirty work. Too bad.

The outcome is a setback for property rights. But it is business as usual in New York, a state that recognizes few limits on its powers to condemn one person's property for the benefit of another. The Supreme Court was wrong to pass up a chance to stop this sort of theft.

A number of states, including South Carolina, hastened to pass laws sharply narrowing the reach of eminent domain after the Supreme Court ruled in Connecticut's controversial Kelo case, in 2007, that a city could take private land from one owner and hand it over to another if it were fighting "blight."

Unfortunately, a number of states have left the door open to abuse of their property condemnation powers by failing to give a clear and limiting definition to "blight." New York is one.
...

The decision dismissed the finding of a lower court that the official definition of "blight" used by the state could apply to "virtually every neighborhood in the five boroughs" of New York City.

Instead, the appeals court applied the same broad definition of "blight" under which it had allowed a state agency to condemn the large Atlantic Yards property in Brooklyn for the benefit of a private developer.

article

NoLandGrab: For the record, Kelo was decided in 2005, not 2007.

Posted by eric at 9:59 AM

January 4, 2011

The Bloomberg Era, Part Two

Nathan Kensinger Photography

Forced Change
December 31, 2010 - At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, this multi-part photo essay examines how New York City's built environment has changed over the past 10 years, and what the future of New York's skyline might be. Part one of this essay can be seen here.

On January 1st 2010, Michael Bloomberg was sworn into office for a nearly unprecedented third term as the Mayor of New York City. Bloomberg, the 23rd richest person in the world, is only the fourth mayor in the city's history to serve a third term in office, and accomplished that goal by running "the most expensive self-financed political campaign in U.S. history," according to the Huffington Post. During his tenure, Mayor Bloomberg has "amassed so much power and respect that he seems more a Medici than a mayor," according to The New Yorker. He has used his power and wealth to enact an agenda of post-9/11 development that has radically changed the city's landscape. As described in part one of this photo essay, "not since Robert Moses has a single individual presided over such a large-scale transformation of New York City's built environment."

Like Robert Moses, the legendary Power Broker, Mayor Bloomberg currently exerts a stranglehold of power over New York City. In 2009, New York Magazine bluntly declared "Mike Bloomberg owns this town," and "in the past seven years Michael Bloomberg has become the only powerful figure in New York who really matters.... The mayor is not a dictator... but Bloomberg gets what he wants more than any mayor in modern memory." Also like Robert Moses, who was called New York's Master Builder, much of Mayor Bloomberg's work has focused on constructing a new version of the city. In 2009, Bloomberg drew comparisons between his accomplishments and Robert Moses', telling The New Yorker that "we’ve done more in the last seven years than—I don’t know if it’s fair to say more than Moses did, but I hope history will show the things we did made a lot more sense." Unfortunately, the parallels between Bloomberg and Moses also include the use of controversial methods to force development projects through, often at the expense of New York's unique fabric of small neighborhoods.

One of the most controversial tools Mayor Bloomberg has utilized in his quest to transform New York City is eminent domain, a practice whereby the state seizes private property to clear the way for an impending development meant for civic and public improvement. This was a favorite tool of Robert Moses, "who rammed highways through dense urban neighborhoods with a 'meat-ax' and became the un stoppable engine of 'slum clearance'," according to Metropolis Magazine. Moses' methods were often vilified, but he created the infrastructure for present day New York City, building highways, bridges, tunnels, parks and institutional landmarks like the Lincoln Center and the United Nations that have been freely used by countless millions of people. Michael Bloomberg, on the other hand, has approved the use of eminent domain for private development projects that include luxury residences and retail shops, college campus facilities and a sports arena. When completed, none of these developments will be open to the general public. They include several neighborhoods documented on this website: Willets Point (aka The Iron Triangle), Manhattanville and the Atlantic Yards.

article

Posted by eric at 1:28 PM

January 2, 2011

Prospect Heights bar, across the street from blight, now colonizes TriBeCa

Atlantic Yards Report

In October, cataloging non-blight on Vanderbilt Avenue, I mentioned, among others, Weather Up at Dean Street, immediately across the street from the staging/construction zone slated to be a massive surface parking lot.

Weather Up is "now colonizing TriBeca," in the words of PaperMag. Blight, the justification for eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards site, is supposed to arrest development. It didn't arrest the original Weather Up, nor the spinoff.

Such colonization, in fact, appears to be the opposite force of blight.

link

Posted by steve at 7:26 PM

December 15, 2010

Of Mandates and Minarets

The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism

A post about the recent Virginia ruling challenging provisions of federal healthcare legislation circles its way back to eminent domain abuse.

One cannot count on the Supreme Court to concur with Judge Hudson’s ruling, nor to recognize how inadequate his reasoning is. The Court is not governed by reason, either. Witness its concurrences with the legality of eminent domain in the Kelo case, recently in the Atlantic Yards case, and most recently in the Columbia University case, all of which sanctioned the taking of private property for the benefit of private interests in conjunction with local governments’ claims of reviving “blighted” areas to generate greater tax revenues than they got from existing property owners.

In the latter case, for example, the Empire State Development Corporation coerced or intimidated New York City property owners into selling their economically viable property and then allowed the abandoned property to become “blighted,” in order to compel the last holdouts to sell out or see their property arbitrarily condemned. Columbia University, not a litigant in the case but which wanted the land to expand on, was merely the government’s silent partner in the taking.

article

Posted by eric at 9:35 AM

December 13, 2010

There Goes Manhattanville: Supreme Court Turns Down Columbia Expansion Case

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

The kleptocracy is alive and well in the good ol' US of A.

Nick Sprayregen knew the chances were slim that the Supreme Court would hear his case against the state and, by extension Columbia University, yet still, the owner of Tuck-It-Away self-storage held out hope.

"It was a shocking decision, even with the chance of the court taking the case being one percent," Sprayregen told The Observer by phone today. He was referring to the odds that all cases face in being heard by the court, though he believed his had a good chance, both on merit and import, given the particulars of his suit and the dearth of opinions from the high court since it decided the landmark Kelo case five years ago, which basically rewrote the rules around eminent domain.

"I though we've put together, in terms of facts, about the strongest case anyone could," Sprayregen continued. "What the state and Columbia have done to collude on this is horrifying. We really thought they'd take a look at this. It strikes fear in me for others about how anyone else could put together a stronger case. We spent six years on this. How anyone else will mount a stronger challenge to eminent domain, I don't know."

article

Posted by eric at 10:47 PM

Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal in Columbia eminent domain case

Atlantic Yards Report

Justice denied is... justice denied.

The effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal on the eminent domain ruling in the Columbia University expansion has been denied, without comment.

Thus the court passes for now on the opportunity to clarify the meaning and legacy of its controversial 5-4 Kelo vs. New London decision in 2005.

While the federal appellate court hearing an appeal in the Atlantic Yards litigation interpreted Kelo quite narrowly, denying the challenge, courts in other states have used language in Kelo to more closely examine the actions of governmental agencies pursuing eminent domain.

The Supreme Court also passes on an opportunity to pronounce on eminent domain law as practiced in New York State, seen as an outlier among states, given that all challenges start in the state's appellate division, with no opportunity for testimony under oath, further evidence-gathering, or cross-examination.

link

Related coverage...

Bloomberg, Columbia's Expansion Allowed by U.S. Supreme Court in Eminent Domain Case

Columbia University can move ahead with plans for a $6.3 billion expansion of its Manhattan campus after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by neighboring businesses whose property may be taken over by eminent domain.

The justices today refused to question findings by a state development agency, Empire State Development Corp., that the area is blighted and that the Columbia expansion has a legitimate public purpose. The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the plan in June.

AP via The Washington Post, High court won't block Columbia expansion plan

Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

December 11, 2010

Will the Supreme Court Hear the Columbia University Eminent Domain Case?

Reason
By Damon W. Root

Cato Institute legal scholar Ilya Shapiro highlights a big feature story from The Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia’s undergraduate newspaper, on New York’s controversial decision to use eminent domain on behalf of the elite private university. As Shapiro notes, the Supreme Court is discussing today whether or not to hear property owner Nick Sprayregen’s lawsuit challenging the eminent domain taking, and a decision is expected as early as Monday.

At least four justices will have to vote yes if the full Court is going to take the case. Unfortunately, the liberal bloc will likely vote no. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer both joined Justice John Paul Stevens’ disgraceful majority opinion in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), so there’s little reason to think they’re interested in limiting or overturning that unfortunate eminent domain precedent now. As for the new faces, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has her own dubious record when it comes to protecting property rights in the Empire State, and as a self-professed fan of judicial restraint, Justice Elena Kagan may not want to subject New York’s practices to much judicial scrutiny.

But that still leaves five possible yeses. Justice Clarence Thomas will definitely want another shot at curbing eminent domain abuse. His Kelo dissent predicted exactly the sort of government malfeasance we’re now witnessing in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases in New York. Justice Antonin Scalia also dissented in Kelo, though it’s possible his sense of judicial restraint will prompt him to let the 2005 precedent stand. Let’s hope not.

link

Posted by steve at 9:05 AM

Columbia University Expansion Project

Biersdorf & Associates

The Conflict: After announcing the project in 2003, Columbia University threatened “eminent domain” and quickly and amicably acquired all but 2 properties contained within the project’s footprint. Negotiations could not be reached with these owners, so In 2008, the State hired consultant AKRF to conduct a blight study. AKRF evaluated each of the 67 lots in the neighborhood and determined that there were high enough instances of physically poor conditions, emptied properties, and underdevelopment to label the area “blighted”. In New York, the blight designation provides government with the necessary means to use eminent domain to acquire property.

Is the property really blighted? The concept of “blight” is a controversial term at the heart of this case and other similar cases in New York. Because New York’s statutory definition of “blight” is so vague, government agencies can easily obtain a “blight” designation in order to use eminent domain to acquire property. Norman Siegel, civil rights attorney for Sprayregen and Sing said it best when he stated, “nobody really knows what it (blight) is”. He further emphasizes that understanding the inherent flaws in the blight law is essential—mainly that blight is a vague tool crafted to be whatever government wants it to be.

...

Unfortunately, New York is one of only seven states that have not passed post-Kelo reform aimed at curbing eminent domain abuse. Several New York lawmakers have attempted to do so, but failed after receiving opposition from the Bloomberg administration. Until New York passes eminent domain legislation addressing “blight” and the right to take, this type of abuse will continue.

link

Posted by steve at 8:47 AM

December 10, 2010

Columbia eminent domain case: One of the Supreme Court "Petitions to Watch"

The Eminent Domain Law Blog

SCOTUSblog has included the Columbia University eminent domain case Tuck-It-Away, Inc. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, dba Empire State Development Corporation, Docket 10-402 in this week's edition of "Petitions to Watch." The petition for certiorari filed by these Harlem property owners will be included among the many the Court will consider when the Justices conference tomorrow, December 10. The Justices' decisions to grant or deny will be released on Monday, December 13.

This case concerns the proposed expansion of Columbia University into a Harlem neighborhood by way of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the same agency that enabled Forest City Ratner to take private homes and businesses for the Atlantic Yards arena and multi-use redevelopment.

article

Posted by eric at 7:16 AM

December 9, 2010

A Musical Comedy About the Atlantic Yards Case? Yep. That’s New York For You.

Gideon's Trumpet

The New York Times reports that some creative folks in Brooklyn have produced a musical comedy about the Goldstein v. Pataki controversy, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards redevelopment project in which the courts have permitted the taking and displacememt of a Brooklyn neighborhood in order to facilitate the plans of Bruce Ratner, a mega-developer. It’s called In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards. The inspiration for this musical was the eminent domain case in which the state agency (ESDC) took an entire Brooklyn neighborhood by eminent domain, displaced its occupants, and turned the land over to good ol’ Bruce so he can build a new stadium for the Nets so they can move from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

The plans for the project also include a whole bunch of high rises — all for Ratner’s private gain. That’s what is called “public use” in America, at least if you listen to the New York state and federal courts, and to the New York Times which has a conflict of interest because the midtown Manhattan building in which its operations are housed sits on land that was taken by eminent domain from its rightful owners, razed, and then turned over to — guess who? The selfsame Bruce Ratner who built a high rise buiding housing the Times. Surprise, surprise! What a coincidence. As for us, we call this sort of stuff kleptocracy.

article

Posted by eric at 4:16 PM

December 8, 2010

LA Version Coming Soon

Curbed LA
by Neal Broverman

Speaking of eminent domain: The Architect's Newspaper reviews "In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," a stage retelling of the epic Brooklyn development battle, a review which ends by pointing out how the unlucky Brooklyn Dodgers had a better shot at winning the World Series (there was a segue) than Atlantic Yards does at including affordable housing. Suggestion: a prequel on the building of Dodgers Stadium and Chavez Ravine?

link

NoLandGrab: Yup, a land grab figured in the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, too.

Posted by eric at 10:20 PM

In effort to get Supreme Court to hear Columbia eminent domain case, AY precedent and New York practices seen as outliers favoring condemnors

Atlantic Yards Report

The Columbia University expansion case should reach a reckoning this week at the U.S. Supreme Court, which, if in the unlikely case it accepts the appeal, could place a check on eminent domain as practiced in New York State.

As I wrote in September, after seeing a surprising Appellate Division victory overturned unanimously by the state Court of Appeals, which relied on its Atlantic Yards decision, Tuck-It-Away owner Nick Sprayregen and the Kaur/Singh family are trying to get to the Supreme Court.

On his Inverse Condemnation blog, land use attorney Robert Thomas has posted the entire set of briefs in the petition for certiorari (Tuck-It-Away, Inc. v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp.) at the United States Supreme Court.

Will cert be granted?

The justices will meet December 10 to consider a number of cases and are expected to announce December 13 which cases they will accept (aka "grant certiorari").

It's always a long shot to get a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Plaintiffs in the federal Atlantic Yards eminent domain case were rejected in June 2008, though one justice, the conservative Samuel Alito stated that he would've granted the petition.

As I wrote at the time, a decision to reject does not mean that the cases below were decided correctly, just that the appeal didn't present enough issues of law--conflicts in the interpretation of the Supreme Court's highly contested 6/23/05 Kelo v. New London decision--to merit review.

However, with some two-and-a-half years for additional cases that seemingly clash with Kelo to emerge, the petitioners in the Columbia case have a somewhat better shot.

article

Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

December 6, 2010

Institute for Justice Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Whether to Hear New York Eminent Domain Abuse Case

On Friday, December 10, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether to take Nick Sprayregen’s appeal and protect his family’s property. You have probably never heard of Nick Sprayregen, but his legal challenge has the potential to impact the lives of ordinary Americans more than most cases seeking U.S. Supreme Court consideration.

It is exactly because he is such an ordinary American that his experience should be taken to heart, because unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes some specific action on his behalf and stops the actions of a politically powerful private interest, the fate of his family business could be the fate of your home, your family business or any other property you and your family own.

Even though Nick worked hard his whole life, he now stands to lose what is rightfully his because of government’s use of eminent domain for someone else’s private gain.

The politicians and judges in New York, where he lives, have turned their backs on his constitutional rights. Now, the fate of his property and his family’s future lies in the hands of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. If they do not take his case and reject their infamous Kelo ruling from five years ago, Nick Sprayregen will be the latest American to lose his private property and constitutional rights, but he won’t be the last.

In 1980, Nick’s father created a self-storage business in West Harlem called Tuck-it-Away. Self-storage back then was a new idea in the region and their business thrived. Nick joined the family business, ultimately taking it over after his father retired and expanding it to more than a dozen locations beyond their West Harlem headquarters. For Nick, his business represents a secure little corner of the world that is his own—a hard-earned possession he hopes some day to pass on to his children.

In 2004, however, his American Dream started to turn into an American nightmare. Columbia University—a private institution—began its efforts to expand its research facilities—which generate millions of dollars in private profits for the school each year. Columbia has convinced the Empire State Development Corporation to help it expand the private university’s facilities onto the very land where Nick’s business now stands. While New York’s Appellate Division invalidated the taking on the grounds that it (and the “blight” designation it was based on) was nothing more than a land-grab designed to advance Columbia’s private interests, the Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) reversed that decision, holding that the state’s courts were not allowed to second-guess the government’s decision to seize private property.

link

Posted by eric at 10:30 PM

November 8, 2010

Urban Renewal’s Human Costs

A history of postwar Manhattan developments shows the pitfalls of mass planning.

City Journal
by Anthony Paletta

An otherwise insightful review of a new book about New York City's post-war embrace of large-scale "urban renewal" projects jumps to one faulty conclusion about the present-day versions.

Fortunately, enthusiasm for such large-scale efforts eventually declined as urban renewal’s human costs became apparent—and very apparently a miserable symbol of democratic decision-making in the Cold War. Yet similar impulses endure. While it is harder today to remove residents, there seem to be few obstacles to forcing out local businesses—whether from the site of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn or in the Bloomberg administration’s Willets Point redevelopment proposal. The lure of massive redesigns has diminished but not vanished.

As Daniel Goldstein will attest, and the court records will show, it ain't that hard at all to remove residents, either.

article

Posted by eric at 10:29 AM

October 15, 2010

More on the Most Recent Abdication of Judicial Responsibility on Eminent Domain

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

DDDB has a press release from the East Harlem Alliance of Responsible Merchants, regarding a NYS Supreme Court's decision this week to allow the seizure of private property on 125th Street.

EAST HARLEM ALLIANCE OF RESPONSIBLE MERCHANTS LAWSUIT DISMISSED BY COURT

(New York, NY – October 14, 2010) – The NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed the dismissal of all claims made by EHARM in their fight against the East Harlem M/E/C LLC. East 125th Street project; despite the misuse of municipal might, power, and procedure to take private, productive commercial property and hand it over to a secretly selected development group, beset by trouble.
...

We are responsible owners," said Fancy Dry Cleaner's Damon Bae, one of the property owners who filed the Petition and a spokesman for the group. "We maintained our land and grew our businesses over the past decades, but we are also being victimized by the City. The City neglects its own property, and then cries 'blight' so it can take our property and give it to some politically connected developer."

"What all this points to is that a rich guy can pay his way to hire the government to seize private land so that he can make more money", said Bae. "Say for example that you had a single-family house in a large parcel of land that was passed down from generation to generation in what all of a sudden became the next up and coming neighborhood. A large developer with deep pockets can now come in, make significant payments to a few very well connected individuals, hire the government to call your house "underutilized" (since after all, you are only one family occupying a large parcel of land only for yourself, while a large condo building can be built that can house 100 families) and have your house condemned. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

link

NoLandGrab: That, sadly, is pretty much the way things are in New York State today.

Posted by eric at 11:42 AM

October 14, 2010

New York Appellate Judge James Catterson: “there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings”

Reason Hit & Run
by Damon Root

All of which brings us to yesterday’s unanimous appellate court ruling in Matter of Uptown Holdings v. City of New York. As befits a lower court, the judges consider themselves bound by the precedents set by the state’s highest court. What does that mean in practice? Here’s the entirety of Judge James Catterson’s depressing and all-too-accurate concurring opinion:

In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp. (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp. (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority.

As I noted in a column last month, the victimized property owners in the Columbia University case have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review New York’s actions (the Court refused to hear the Atlantic Yards case in 2008). Judge Catterson’s opinion is yet more evidence why the Supreme Court needs to start paying attention to New York’s eminent domain abuse.

article

Posted by eric at 10:40 AM

October 13, 2010

Justice Catterson, forced to defer to the condemnors, concludes that "there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings"

Atlantic Yards Report

A law review article I co-authored this spring with Amy Lavine argues that judges have become too deferential to condemning agencies and don't examine eminent domain sufficiently:

The courts have repeatedly used the principle of legislative deference to pass on the difficult issues—such as whether an arena is really a public good, whether private developers should be able to dictate that public good, the meaning of “blight,” and when a project changes so much as to require reapproval.

A judge reinforces the argument

Yesterday (as per DDDB), Appellate Division Justice James Catterson let loose with a blistering coda to that argument, concurring reluctantly in a decision upholding eminent domain:

In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 511 [the Atlantic Yards case] and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 15 NY3d 235, [the Columbia University case] (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority.

Catterson background

Catterson is noted for some forceful opinions in cases related to the two above.

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NolandGrab: Again we ask — can someone tell us under what circumstances New York State can't seize property through its power of eminent domain?

Posted by eric at 11:53 AM

October 12, 2010

NY Appellate Judge: "there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings"

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

It's official — the answer to the question "when can't New York State take your home or business for any reason it dreams up" is "never."

From DDDB, in full.

It is truly a sad (and despicable and dangerous) state of affairs when New York's judicial branch admits that it has explicitly turned itself into a bystander when it comes to the 5th Amendment (perhaps the SCOTUS will have something else to say about this soon).

The following is a concurring opinion in a unanimous Appellate Division ruling against property owners challenging New York City's use of eminent domain for private gain in East Harlem:

Decided on October 12, 2010
Mazzarelli, J.P., Sweeny, Catterson, Renwick, Manzanet-Daniels, JJ.

In re Uptown Holdings, LLC, et al., Petitioners,
v
City of New York, et al., Respondents.

...CATTERSON, J. (concurring)
In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 511, 893 N.Y.S.2d 472, 921 N.E.2d 164 (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 15 NY3d 235, —- N.E.2d —— (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority.
(Emphasis added.)

It should be noted that Catterson's concurrence is a none too subtle mega-tweak of New York state's highest court.

The question is begged: if New York courts aren't going to do their job when it comes to powerful interests taking New Yorkers' homes and businesses, and New York's elected officials are happy to pretend this isn't a problem, what is a New Yorker supposed to do?

link

Posted by eric at 9:03 PM

October 10, 2010

Eminent Domain And The 2010 NY Gubernatorial Race

Ground Report
By Richard Cooper

This article by the former Chair of the Libertarian Party of New York assesses the candidates for New York Governor by their stances on eminent domain. Included are these facts originally found on Norman Oder's Atlantic Yards Report regarding front-runner Andrew Cuomo:

According to Oder, Cuomo was asked by Senator Carl Perkins to review the bonds underlying the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn which includes the Nets basketball arena. He did not respond. Oder reports that developer Bruce Ratner contributed $5,000 and the law firm representing the project contributed $52,900.

link

Posted by steve at 8:48 AM

October 7, 2010

Bettina Johae’s EMINENT DOMAIN, NYC

The Brooklyn Rail

Bettina Johae’s project, “eminent domain, nyc” (2010), investigates the use of eminent domain—for public and for private use—in New York City over the past centuries: from the creation of Central Park and the forming of New York’s streets in the 19th century, via the vast condemnations during the Robert Moses era for highways, railways, parks, office buildings, universities, cultural and convention centers, and public and private housing projects to more recent and future projects, such as the New York Times building, the Bank of America Tower, the Atlantic Yards project, Willets Point, and the Columbia University expansion. The project—which was produced as part of the VLA Art & Law residency—so far consists of a series of 10 postcards and a map of eminent domain from the 19th century to today.

link

NoLandGrab: Dear Daniel, Bet you wish you were here. XOXO, Bruce

Posted by eric at 9:38 AM

September 28, 2010

The Litigious Legacy of Kelo

The Wall Street Journal, Editorial

Even in the best of circumstances, it is contentious when the government uses eminent domain to take someone's property. When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy became the deciding vote in the 2005 Kelo decision—which allowed governments to seize private property for economic development—he guaranteed that contentiousness would be raised to a whole new level. In a Texas appeals court in Dallas today, we can see the high costs of Mr. Kennedy's concurrence.

Today the court will hear an argument that a defamation case should be tossed. This case involves a book that was itself the product of a contentious eminent domain battle. In other words, we now have what any sensible person should have expected from Kelo's cavalier approach to the expropriation of private property for economic purposes: an explosion of litigation, neighbor set against neighbor—and taxpayers on the hook for millions in legal fees and project costs.

The defamation suit at issue was brought by a developer against Carla Main and Encounter Books, respectively, the author and publisher of "Bulldozed: 'Kelo,' Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land." The book tells the story of Freeport, a small Texas town whose Economic Development Corporation (EDC) tried to take land from a citizen who didn't want to sell as part of a plan for a new marina. Defending Ms. Main and Encounter is the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm based in Arlington, Va.

Freeport's original plan called for a private marina, with the city working in partnership with Dallas developer H. Walker Royall. When Wright Gore, owner of a local shrimping business, refused to sell land the city wanted, Freeport initiated eminent domain proceedings against him.

The defamation suits are an aftershock, brought by Mr. Royall in response to the bad press he was getting. He complains that when he signed on, the project was not controversial because Mr. Gore had not refused to sell.

When asked in a phone call what he most objects to, he says it is the portrait of him as a developer who wants to "steal somebody else's property and wants to silence anyone who wants to talk about it."

article

NoLandGrab: And his plan for disproving that characterization is... suing anyone who wants to talk about it? Poor, maligned real estate developers.

Posted by eric at 1:15 PM

September 27, 2010

Petition asking Supreme Court to hear challenge to eminent domain for Columbia argues that Court of Appeals failed to address Kelo

Atlantic Yards Report

As plaintiff Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-It-Away Storage pledged, he'd go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the state's pursuit of eminent domain in the Columbia University.

Now, after seeing a surprising Appellate Division victory overturned unanimously by the state Court of Appeals, which relied on its Atlantic Yards decision, Sprayregen and the Kaur/Singh family that owns a gas station on the project site have filed their Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (below), the request for the court to hear the case.

It's always a long shot--fewer than 1% of petitions are granted--but this petition, authored by attorney Norman Siegel and a host of others, hammers home the state court's failure to address the guidelines seemingly set forth in Justice John Paul Stevens's majority opinion and Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurrence in the 2005 Kelo v. New London case, in which the court upheld eminent domain by a 5-4 margin.

Ignoring Kelo?

The petition states:

In sharp contrast to the situation in Kelo, in which a municipal agency adopted a “carefully considered” development plan which had no preselected private beneficiary, ESDC worked backwards, pre-ordaining Columbia as the beneficiary of its eminent domain power. Having settled on this, ESDC endorsed a plan, developed behind closed doors by Columbia itself, to transfer private property to Columbia in furtherance of the university’s expansion dreams. ESDC then collaborated with Columbia to devise after-the-fact traditional public purposes to justify the takings, and even allowed Columbia to create the very blight-like conditions that ESDC then proposed to remediate.

The use of eminent domain here was thus a fait accompli meant to circumvent any obstacles to the realization of Columbia’s private agenda. A two-judge plurality of New York's appellate court recognized that the takings were unconstitutional under Kelo, and a third judge joined the plurality to hold that the condemnation was invalid because ESDC had violated petitioners’ due process rights. New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals of New York (“Court of Appeals”) nonetheless reversed, upholding ESDC's actions in a 34-page decision that never once mentioned Kelo.

article

Posted by eric at 9:47 AM

September 23, 2010

Really No Hope For Atlantic Yards Opponents

NY Observer
by Matt Chaban

There was something devilishly brilliant to how Daniel Goldstein, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, and a handful of lawsuits nearly brought down the massive $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project. For years, the arena cum condos were held off by one suit after another, first at the federal level, then in the state courts. The legal challenges went on for so long that when the recession hit, it nearly killed the damn thing. (Someone should really write a book about all this.)

Obviously, it didn't work, as the project found a savior in Russia, broke ground in March, and the arena is (maybe) on its way to opening in time for the 2012-2013 basketball season.

Still, there are a few remaining court cases to unwind, and as the indefatigable Norman Oder reports today, two of them have been tossed out by the Brooklyn Supreme Court. On Monday, Justice Abraham Gerges yet again ruled that the state was justified in its use of eminent domain at the Atlantic Yards site. The particulars of the case charged that the Empire State Development Corporation needed to file a new set of Determinations and Findings because the project had changed so much.

As before, Yards opponents could take some small consolation from the judge's decision, in that he essentially said what the state did was a terrible thing, but it not being the judiciary's place to overrule the legislature (and its constitutionally mandated subsidiaries, like the ESDC), there was really nothing he could do about it....

article

Related coverage...

NetsDaily, Arena Critics Lose Again...and Again

Barclays Center construction continues apace with Bruce Ratner telling friends it's on schedule for completion in late spring/early summer 2012. At the same time, the same Brooklyn judge who pushed Daniel Goldstein to sell out back in April dismissed two of the last challenges to the arena on Monday.

Posted by eric at 10:17 AM

September 22, 2010

Gerges dismisses final eminent domain challenge: "alleged additional changes... even if factually true... do not change the public purpose"

Atlantic Yards Report

This case, on the other hand, was the small, final hope for stopping Atlantic Yards through an eminent domain challenge.

So much for charges that the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--which allows for 25 years, rather than ten, to build the project-- "was intentionally withheld in bad faith."

So much for attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff's assertion that "we now know [the ten-year project timetable] is complete, utter fantasy."

So much for Brinckerhoff's charge that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) timed release of information to avoid judicial scrutiny.

In a decision that was hardly unexpected, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges on September 20 dismissed a lawsuit--Article 78 Petition to Compel the ESDC to Issue New Determinations and Findings, with three remaining plaintiffs--arguing that the project had changed so much and the public benefits so attenuated that new eminent domain findings should be made.

(This was the final case challenging eminent domain. Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman is still considering a reargument of a case challenging the project timeline.)

Development Agreement not important

Gerges had already rejected most of the arguments in March, in a decision in a case challenging the ESDC's condemnation process.

But the Development Agreement had not been part of that case. No matter. His key paragraph in the new decision:

For the same reasons, the court further finds that the alleged additional changes to the Project that petitioners rely upon in this action, even if factually true, similarly do not change the public purpose to be served by the Project, i.e., to eliminate blight and the blighting influence of the below-grade rail yard and to construct a civil [sic] project. In this regard, it is noted that although the alleged changes to the Project are now discussed in more detail, based upon the assertion that more details have been revealed, the basic premise of the arguments have already been considered and rejected by the court in the Condemnation Decision and adopted herein.

(Emphasis added)

This raises a question: could even more extreme changes, "if factually true," change the public purpose? In other words, if the developer had 100 years to eliminate blight, with no effective penalties, would the public purpose be attenuated?

article

NoLandGrab: Justice isn't just blind in New York State — it's deaf and dumb, too.

Posted by eric at 11:00 AM

Gerges dismisses case claiming state had failed to condemn easement over Spalding Building

Atlantic Yards Report

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges on September 20 dismissed a claim by Peter Williams Enterprises (PWE) regarding air rights above 24 Sixth Avenue (the Spalding Building), agreeing with the Empire State Development Corporation that PWE released such rights when it sold its own nearby property, the one-story 38 Sixth Avenue and that the exercise of eminent domain "extinguished all easements."

Williams had publicly said that he had brought the claim for money and his attorney asserted that the state had made a "colossal mistake" in not specifying that the easement was subject to eminent domain.

In court arguments on August 6, there was a small twist, suggesting there might be something to PWE's claim. While the ESDC's appraisal to PWE covered the building and the easement, the sums were lumped together in the offer to PWE. But Gerges didn't address that directly.

article

NoLandGrab: With Peter Williams more interested in money than righteousness, this case held zero hope for opponents of Atlantic Yards from the get-go.

Posted by eric at 10:57 AM

September 20, 2010

Atlantic Yards: The Videogame

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with an Atlantic Yards-themed videogame.

Well, almost.

Introducing Nail Household Fighting Against Demolition Squad.

The Wall Street Journal, Fighting Eviction: The Videogame

A new online game lets players join China’s ongoing battle between property developers and homeowners.

Nail Household vs. Demolition Team, released by Mirage Games in August, is set in a cleared pit, empty except for a lone three-story house marked “chai” — the Chinese word for demolition.

The goal? To defend your house against guards and gangsters brandishing knives and bouncing on jackhammers. The characters you can play include a woman in curlers who throws sandals at encroaching attackers, a pot-bellied man who drops dynamite from the roof, and an old man with a shotgun.

When you win a level, the woman appears, pointing a finger at the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the government’s power. When you lose, the house collapses in a cloud of dust.

The game is the latest example of how chai is bleeding into Chinese pop culture. Earlier this year, Li Chengpeng drew attention for “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” which compares the plight of James Cameron’s Na’vi to the people who live in “nail houses,” so named because they stick out of construction sites like a nail out of a plank of wood.
...

Nail Household vs. Demolition Team is popular online, with more than 50,000 comments about it on social-media site Renren.com and more than 10,000 users discussing the game in their online diaries.

But players complain that they can never complete the final “survival” level, where swarms of demolition workers overwhelm the house’s defenders.

“The cruel fact from the game is: Even if you survive the previous six levels, your house will be demolished at the end anyways,” a Twitter user named “windchaos” wrote.

Play the Game, in Chinese

Play the Game, (partially) translated version

NoLandGrab: We've made it to Level Four Five Six the final level. But is it any surprise that "your house will be demolished at the end anyways?"

Image: Mirage Games

Posted by eric at 6:32 PM

September 19, 2010

Staten Island’s Cedar Grove: City Wants the Next Chapter of a 50-Year Eminent Domain Saga to Be Final Dismantling of a 100-Year Old Community

Noticing New York

An article in the Village Voice is the jumping-off spot for this entry about an attempt by the city to exercise eminent domain. It's a twisted tale that begins 50 years ago when land was taken for a project that never happened, and then leased back to the original owners. Now the city wants to again kick this group out for ... what purpose? Blog author Michael D. D. White may not be able to reveal all, but he's raised some interesting questions.

The Village Voice has a new must read article about Staten Island’s small summer community of Cedar Grove (brought to our attention by the Historic Districts Council) that provides much food for thought. See: "Poor Man's Bermuda" in Staten Island? Not anymore, By Elizabeth Dwoskin Sep 15 2010. Though the story concerns itself with a community of just 41 families it manages in microcosm to provide perspective on a superabundance of important issues, far more than arise in a typical public development story: eminent domain, the unreliability of public officials and their vision, parks, privilege, municipal budgeting, and finally historic preservation.

...

At first blush it might seem like a simple story pretty much the way City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wants to tell it: That this private community (and club) is on public park land and its residents have been able to be there only because the Parks Department has let them occupy their premises at an exceedingly low rent. Ahem: It ain’t that simple.

link

Posted by steve at 9:03 AM

September 17, 2010

Blight Fight

Why is the city of Montgomery condemning the property of African-Americans along a civil rights trail?

Slate
by Radley Balko

Bruce Ratner's eminent domain-abusing megaproject makes a cameo in a report of abuses that make Atlantic Yards seem downright benign.

When the city of Montgomery, Ala., razed the home of Karen Jones' family last April, there were still photos and family furniture inside. The city says it gave Jones notice the bulldozers were coming, but she says the notices were sent to her deceased grandmother (the home's former owner) and a deceased uncle. The reason given for the demolition was that the front porch wasn't up to code. The city declared her properly "blighted," and destroyed the building, rather than helping Jones and her family fix the porch, or fixing it and sending her a bill. And then Montgomery sent Jones a bill of $1,225, the cost of the demolition. If she doesn't pay, the city will put a lien on the property. If she still doesn't pay, the city can seize the land or sell it at auction.

What happened to Jones isn't unusual. Over the last decade or so, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of homes in Montgomery have been declared blighted and razed in a similar manner. The owners tend to be disproportionately poor and black, and with little means to fight back. And here's the kicker: Many of the homes fall along a federally funded civil rights trail in the neighborhood where Rosa Parks lived. Activists say the weird pattern may not be coincidence. "What's happening in Montgomery is a civil rights crisis," says David Beito, a history professor at the University of Alabama who, as chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, held hearings on the demolitions in April of last year.

Just how many homes have been targeted over the years isn't clear, in part because most of the people targeted haven't the means or the will to fight the condemnations. But some residents believe the number is in the hundreds.
...

Beito calls these actions "eminent domain through the back door." And they're actually more sinister than the take-from-the-poor, give-to-the-rich eminent domain schemes you may have heard of, like the infamous Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case, or the more recent Atlantic Yards project in New York City. Alabama state law actually forbids the use of eminent domain for private development. Instead, Montgomery deems property blighted based on a section of state law that gives code inspectors wide leeway. The owner must then correct the problem to the satisfaction of the inspectors, or the city will do it what it did threatened to do to Jones: Raze the property, bill the owner for the demolition, and then sell the property off to developers if the owner doesn't pay. If you can't afford repairs, you may well lose your home.

This is much worse than eminent domain, which requires the government to pay owners fair market value.

article

Posted by eric at 11:28 AM

September 2, 2010

Law review article: "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project"

Atlantic Yard Report

Atlantic Yards has survived all court challenges, but some of the wins have been ugly, leaving significant doubts about the capacity of the legal system to oversee such projects. So let the revisionism begin. (Cf. a line from the New York Times on Atlantic Yards.)

In the same issue of The Urban Lawyer that contains a revisionist article on the seminal Berman v. Parker eminent domain case, the author of that article, Amy Lavine, a staff attorney at Albany Law School's Government Law Center, and I collaborate on an article titled "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project."

The article is embedded at bottom. Lavine did the first draft, and offered me credit because she relied so much on my work. I collaborated significantly on revisions. (Note Lavine's disclosure--unknown to me until this article--that she "provided limited research for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s state eminent domain and MTA lawsuits.")

(The quarterly journal is published by the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law, and edited by professors and students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.)

Below I offer some choice excerpts.

Click through for those excerpts, as well as access to the full paper.

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Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

September 1, 2010

The seminal Berman v. Parker case: "precedent without context," and leading dangerously to cases like Kelo and Goldstein

Atlantic Yards Report

The U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 1954 decision in the case known as Berman v. Parker is a foundation of eminent domain jurisprudence, guiding courts to defer to decisions made by legislative authorities and to allow a generous definition of blight.

Of course, there's an enormous contrast between the blight found in 1954 in Washington, DC slums--nearly half the residences relied on outhouses--and the "relatively mild conditions of urban blight" in Prospect Heights, as described last November by the New York Court of Appeals in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC).

That's because successive court decisions expanded and elaborated on the base of Berman.

But what if the unanimously-decided Berman was wrongheaded? If so, and the setting was ignored, that further undermines controversial decisions like the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo vs. New London case and the New York Court of Appeals' 2009 decision in Goldstein vs. ESDC.

Berman and urban renewal

As Amy Lavine, a staff attorney at the Government Law Center in Albany explains in an article for The Urban Lawyer, "Urban Renewal and the Story of Berman v. Parker" (embedded below, as well as excerpted), a closer analysis, plus hindsight, suggest that the court got it wrong, missing the point and ushering some very mixed results.

And, as noted in a footnote at the end of the article, one of the most egregious examples of the spawn of Berman--"precedent without context"--is the Atlantic Yards eminent domain litigation, which just happens to be the subject of another article in that same Urban Lawyer issue, which Lavine wrote with me.

I'll have more on that article, titled "Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project," tomorrow.

article

Related coverage...

Gideon's Trumpet, Two Good Articles on Redevelopment

We found of special interest the factual tidbit that though the Southwest redevelopment project was sold to the Supreme Court as an effort to uplift the poor slum dwellers who — so went the plan — would be provided with low-cost housing renting at $17 per month per room, in fact, after the court approved the plan and allowed the eminent domain takings to proceed, that provision of the plan was dropped. Ten years later, the Wall Street Journal reported that rents in the new, redeveloped Southwest were so high that they inspired a rent strike by affluent tenants.

Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

August 26, 2010

Filing Deadline for Atlantic Yards

Condemnation Law

As many of you already know, there is a filing deadline of September 1st for property owners on the Atlantic Yards Project who wish to pursue an additional damages claim.

New York Eminent Domain Law states that a property owner has 2 years to file a claim for additional damages if a property owner signs the offer for advanced payment. However, a court order was issued requiring claimants for the Atlantic Yards project to file their claim by September 1st, 2010.

If you signed the offer for advanced payment, or if you have yet to receive an offer and wish to pursue an additional damages claim, we advise you act quickly.

link

Posted by eric at 10:45 AM

August 24, 2010

Property Rights, Eminent Domain, and the “Ground Zero Mosque”

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

A few conservative commentators have advocated using the power of eminent domain to take the land on which the “Ground Zero mosque” is scheduled to be built (see here and here). The idea seems to have originated with New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.

Legally, such a taking wouldn’t be as simple as Paladino seems to think. If New York state government tries to condemn the land in question, it will have to either admit that the true purpose is to prevent the construction of a Muslim facility, or concoct some other rationale to hide its motives. If the government is honest about its purposes, the proposed taking would almost certainly violate the owners’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion, for reasons senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh outlines here.

If, on the other hand, the government tries to put together an alternative justification for the condemnation, it runs into a different problem. Even under the otherwise highly permissive Kelo decision, the Supreme Court has said that “pretextual” takings (condemnations where the officially stated purpose is just a pretext for some other agenda) are forbidden. What exactly counts as a “pretextual” taking after Kelo is a matter of great dispute, one that has divided lower courts (see this excellent article by Daniel Kelly for the details). Nonetheless, there is a good chance that a transparent effort to cloak an effort to suppress unpopular speech or religious observances in some construction project would be viewed with suspicion by courts.
...

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg puts it, “The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right.”

There is some irony in the fact that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has eloquently defended the property rights of the “Ground Zero Mosque” owners even though he recently presided over gross abuses of property rights in the Atlantic Yards and Columbia University cases, among others. He strongly supported both of these extraordinarily dubious takings. Still, Bloomberg’s hypocrisy doesn’t make him any less right about the Ground Zero controversy.

article

Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

August 23, 2010

Todd Triplett just needs a little cash, that’s all

The Brooklyn Paper
by Aaron Short

Todd Triplett is about to open a new art space in Fort Greene, a second try for the would-be dance impresario three years after his original venue, Amber Art Space, was closed down and seized by the city.

Triplett has found a location — a former parking garage on Atlantic Avenue — to realize his vision of a multipurpose arts and performance space for Prospect Heights and Fort Greene that he is calling “Free Candy.”
...

Free Candy is similar to Triplett’s prior effort, Amber Art Space — though he hopes it won’t end the same way.

In 2007, the city took over Amber a mere four weeks before its opening, claiming that the neighborhood around it was blighted and the building was needed as part of the BAM Cultural District plan.

Triplett and his partners had poured $1.2 million into that space, hoping to open a three-story music club on Ashland Place. But the city wanted to build a 187-unit condominium tower on the site, smashing Triplett’s dreams.

The building was never built.

“Basically, they’ve created the blight,” said Triplett. “I’ve moved on. I don’t have any anger. I just want to do it. What’s so hard about supporting the arts? Let’s just go.”

article

To support Todd Triplett's "Free Candy" project via Kickstarter, click here.

Posted by eric at 10:32 AM

August 22, 2010

Judge won't block Willets Point redevelopment

State Supreme Court judge rejects group's attempt to halt project on environmental grounds.

Crain's NY Business
by Daniel Massey

The same judge who gave the first legal pass to the deeply flawed Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement has done the same for the deeply flawed Willets Point Environmental Impact Statement.

A state Supreme Court judge has denied an attempt by Willets Point's lone resident and nearly two dozen local land and business owners to win an injunction halting the redevelopment of Willets Point, Queens.

The group's members had argued that the environmental review conducted by the city failed to “take a hard look at the environmental impacts” on regional highways, emergency response services and area water supplies, among other complaints.

They had sought an order annulling the environmental review of the project and the City Council and Planning Commission's approvals, as well as an injunction barring the city from continuing with the development until it complied with proper environmental procedures.

But State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden denied the request, ruling against the Willets Point group on all of its claims—which ranged from questioning the environmental review to contending the office of the deputy mayor for economic development did not have the authority to be the lead agency on the project.
...

Jerry Antonocci, owner of Crown Container owner, one of the businesses that filed suit, promised the group would persevere in their attempt to stop the development.

“I'm sure we're going to appeal the decision,” he said. "We just got out of the first inning. It ain't over. We're not giving up.”

article

Posted by eric at 12:18 PM

August 17, 2010

Kickstarter: Free Candy

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill]
by Alexander Abad-Santos

Todd Triplett has 45 days to raise $16,560 more to bring Free Candy, a multi-use art space, to Clinton Hill.

Mr. Triplett, 34, who holds a master’s from Pratt, originally planned to open a music and arts space in Fort Greene in 2007 but was served a notice of eminent domain by the city just weeks before opening to make way for a housing tower and dance space as part of the BAM Cultural District. That project was put on hold because of the downturn in the housing market.

Mr. Triplett has found a new space, and he hopes he’ll achieve his dream with the help of community donations through Kickstarter. Mr. Triplett is still keeping the venue’s location secret, but so far he’s raised $3,440 of his $20,000 goal, which comes with an October 1st deadline. If he raises the funds, Triplett hopes to have Free Candy running by the end of the year.

The Local recently spoke with Mr. Triplett about his project. Here’s the condensed interview:
...

Between 2005 and 2007 I was building a space called the Amber Arts Music Space. It was in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, about a block away from BAM on Ashland and Fulton. We were about four weeks from opening and we had gotten all our various licenses, and we were just putting the finishing touches on the building. We received a letter from eminent domain from the city; basically saying they were replacing the building with a condominium and ironically, an arts space at the base of the condominium.

So we fought and eventually let it go. The building actually still stands like the day we left it. That was basically three years ago.

article

Click here to help back Mr. Triplett's project.

Posted by eric at 2:04 PM

August 8, 2010

The New Yorker's Kaz An Nou review: is the issue a "morale boost" or the bogus nature of blight?

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's another reminder how the ESDC, tool of developer Bruce Ratner, falsely portrayed an up-and-coming neighborhood as "blighted."

From the New Yorker's review of Kaz An Nou, the new-ish restaurant on Sixth Avenue between Bergen and Dean Streets, a half-block from the Atlantic Yards footprint:

If any neighborhood is in need of a morale boost, it’s the stretch between Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues, bordering the Atlantic Yards site. The last tenant took a multimillion-dollar payout, Forest City Ratner’s heavy equipment has moved in, and Freddy’s Bar has served its last beer. Just south of the buildings awaiting demolition, though, Kaz An Nou seems determined to bring a bit of Caribbean color and hope. (Its proximity to the Atlantic Yards wrecking ball has caused some concern, but the owners think they’re safe, thanks to the Seventy-eighth Precinct station house next door.)

This is just a little odd. The neighborhood near the Atlantic Yards site is doing pretty well. After all, new restaurants and pubs keep opening on Vanderbilt Avenue bordering the site.

Unfortunately, the concern regarding the proximity to the wrecking ball is misplaced; the issue is not whether the building itself is in danger of condemnation--it's not--but whether arena crowds or the market for a sports bar (or something else arena-related) would make it uncomfortable for this neighborhood spot.

The real issue, as I pointed out in March and May, when the Brooklyn Paper and the Times, respectively, wrote about the restaurant, is how exactly the state could get away with calling the AY site blighted when such restaurateurs remained undeterred.

link

Posted by steve at 11:51 AM

August 4, 2010

another - almost worse - brooklyn eminent domain story

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

Todd Triplett posted the following comment to a recent update of ours and asked that I spread the word about his situation. I believe he is correct in thinking that the community interested in our film will also be interested in his story.
...

Here is what Todd had to say.

Hello. My name is Todd Triplett. I'm the founder of FREE CANDY, a mixed-use arts space opening here in Clinton Hill, BK. 3 years ago, I lost my previous location, Amber Art & Music Space to eminent domain (not related to Atlantic Yards...but close). Despite losing everything from the previous circumstance, I've held tight to the dream and am now raising money via Kickstarter for my new space, FREE CANDY. Please check out my page and my story and share with your supporters. I'd greatly appreciate any support you can provide.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/862772420/want-some-free-candy

link

NoLandGrab: We covered this egregious land grab three years ago.

Posted by eric at 11:09 PM

July 23, 2010

Carl Paladino: I'd Use Eminent Domain To Block Ground Zero Mosque

NY Daily News
by Celeste Katz

New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has dreamed up a novel new use for eminent domain: religious bigotry!

If elected governor, WNY's Carl Paladino vows in a new radio ad that he'd use the eminent domain laws to stop the construction of a controversial Islamic center/mosque near Ground Zero.

(I'm not sure he could actually do that, by the way, but I'm looking into it.)

It's New York State. You can use eminent domain for anything, as long as you're rich and powerful enough to get away with it. Just ask Bruce Ratner.

Paladino says sure he can, and instead of a mosque, the site should be a war memorial.
...

It's notable from a political standpoint that Paladino is going after Cuomo here, leaving out that other Republican guy who wants to be governor, Rick Lazio.

Cuomo and Lazio have tangled on the topic, with Lazio doing most of the tangling.

Lazio spokesman Barney Keller replied to my inquiry about Paladino: “Since Rick Lazio called on Andrew Cuomo to do his job several weeks ago and look into the funding stream of the Cordoba Mosque voices of opposition have emerged from coast to coast.”

Also weighing in on this one: Libertarian gubernatorial hopeful Warren Redlich, who's dumping on the "knee-jerk" Paladino idea as a "plan to waste money and abuse property rights through eminent domain."

article

NoLandGrab: We had to look it up, too — "WNY" stands for "Western New York," not "Wing Nut Yokel."

Posted by eric at 11:20 AM

July 7, 2010

I’ll Take Manhattanville

Many states have clamped down on eminent domain. Recent court cases signal that New York won't be following their lead.

Architectural Record
by Stephen Zacks

Seizing another person’s land is a pretty strong-armed way of doing business. Property owners have often challenged eminent domain in courts, and lawmakers in many states have tried to limit its use. Recent decisions in New York show that the state won’t hesitate to apply the broadest interpretation of the law to make mega-developments happen.

On June 24, the New York Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—ruled that the state could use eminent domain to acquire property for a Columbia University expansion in West Harlem. The decision overturned a rare December 3 rejection by a lower court. The landowners fighting to keep their property intend to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision comes seven months after another controversial eminent domain ruling: On November 24, the same Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. The massive, mixed-use project is now under construction.

Stoking the Debate

These recent decisions have reignited a long-running debate over the uses of eminent domain. Should we be afraid of Beijing or Shanghai-style condemnations of property to promote urban redevelopment?

article

Posted by eric at 10:19 AM

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."

link

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 10:00 AM

The Absurdity of Eminent Domain in New York

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

From the NY Law Journal:

...Judge Robert S. Smith said he agreed with all of the Court's ruling except the part explicitly extending eminent domain consideration to most, if not all, educational and recreational projects.

"Surely this approach will, in some imaginable cases, cause the statute to be unconstitutional as applied: would anyone seriously suggest, for example, that private tennis camps or karate schools ('educational' uses), or private casinos or adult video stores ('recreational' uses), qualify as 'public' uses in the constitutional sense?" Judge Smith wrote in a brief concurring opinion.

Given the Court's ruling today, yes many would seriously suggest this...those many just happen to be powerful government officials and their developer friends. The State's attorney in the Columbia case basically said such uses would be proper.

And this is the road of absurdism the Court has laid out for New Yorkers.

link

Posted by eric at 9:50 AM

Universities and Eminent Domain

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

In Kaur v. New York Urban Development Corporation, its recent decision upholding the condemnation of property for transfer to Columbia University, the New York Court of Appeals claimed that the use of eminent domain to transfer land to a private university is more defensible than its use to transfer land to commercial corporations, as in the Atlantic Yards case:

Unlike the [New Jersey] Nets basketball franchise [one of the key beneficiaries of the Atlantic Yards takings], Columbia University, though private, operates as a non-profit educational corporation. Thus, the concern that a private enterprise will be profiting through eminent domain is not present. Rather, the purpose of the Project is unquestionably to promote education and academic research while providing public benefits to the local community. Indeed, the advancement of higher education is the quintessential example of a “civic purpose”.... It is fundamental that education and the expansion of knowledge are pivotal government interests.

I think this line of argument is seriously flawed. I tried to explain why in one of my earliest posts on the Columbia University takings back in 2006.
...

Given the Court of Appeals’ ultradeferential approach to blight condemnations, I have no doubt it would have reached the same result even if Columbia were a for-profit corporation. I just wanted to make the point that such judicial abdication does not become more defensible merely because the new owner of the condemned property is a university.

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Posted by eric at 9:44 AM

New York’s Eminent Domain “Blight” Grows

Commentary
by Jonathan Tobin

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

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Posted by eric at 9:33 AM

Court of Appeals, citing precedent in Atlantic Yards case, overturns lower court ruling blocking eminent domain for Columbia expansion

Atlantic Yards Report

In less than four weeks after a contentious oral argument, the state Court of Appeals brought an unsurprising end to the Cinderella story that was the Columbia University eminent domain case, ruling unanimously--though with a very reluctant concurrence--that the courts should defer to the Empire State Development Corporation in its finding of blight.

As I reported after watching the oral argument in Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp., the judges--including Atlantic Yards dissenter Robert Smith--felt bound by their decision in the Atlantic Yards case last November, a decision that was glaringly ignored by the two-judge plurality who shortly afterward ruled against the ESDC in the Columbia case.

Wrote Smith:

I concur in the result on constraint of Matter of Goldstein v New York State Urban Dev. Corp. The finding of "blight" in this case seems to me strained and pretextual, but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein. Accepting Goldstein as I must, I agree in substance with all but section VI of the majority opinion.

The decision, I wrote, would hinge on how seriously the court took allegations of bad faith by the ESDC and biased methodology by its consultants. Answer: not much.

The court ignored a memo from an ESDC lawyer, as cited by property owners' attorney Norman Siegel, that stated, We are going to manufacture support for condemnation.
...

Appeal coming

According to the Observer, Nick Sprayregen, who owns Tuck-It-Away storage company and has spent more than $2 million on legal cases--more than twice as much as has been spent in the Atlantic Yards cases--vowed to appeal.

"This decision, if not overturned, will allow eminent domain abuse in New York to become even worse than it is now," he wrote. "In effect, this court is sending a clear signal that a blight designation, even is caused by the very developer seeking the use of eminent domain, is acceptable."

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Posted by eric at 9:24 AM

High Court Overturns Columbia Eminent Domain Ruling; No One's Property is Safe in New York

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

DDDB trumpets a badly needed call to action.

Back in October the Court of Appeals allowed Ratner and New York State to move forward with eminent domain for Atlantic Yards. In a contrasting decision a Manhattan lower appellate court said Columbia could not use eminent domain to seize businesses in West Harlem. Today the high court ruled that any time government says there is "blight" the court has basically no role whatsover in reviewing that decision, no matter how corrupt or collusive that decision appears on its face.

So the Columbia expansion and Atlantic Yards bogus blight findings have now been given the stamp of approval by the state's high court. And the same court thinks that private arenas and private schools are somehow a public use.

Nonsense.

It is a very sad day for all New Yorkers. There appears to be no judicial review allowed when state actors and their developer friends collude to take homes and businesses from the little guy. Twice now the high court has excused itself from any meaningful review of the government's abuse of this awesome power.

The upsetting rulings leave no doubt for what must be done. Legislative reform must occur if we are going to protect our citizens from eminent domain abuse such as what has occurred in Prospect Heights, West Harlem and elsewhere.

There is such reform afoot. Senator Bill Perkins has a bill that would not allow these kind of bogus blight findings. The bill has made it out of committee and the full Senate must vote on it.

Please call or email Senate Leader John Sampson to tell him that New Yorker's no longer have any protection against eminent domain abuse—not from the Court's and not from the Legislature—and so the Senate must vote on the Perkins bill and must pass it...today. There is no more time to wait.

Call Senator Sampson at: (518) 455-2788
Email Senator Sampson at: sampson@senate.state.ny.us

Until this bill passes, everyone New Yorker's home or business is vulnerable to government seizure if a developer covets it.

link

Posted by eric at 8:59 AM

June 24, 2010

PRESS RELEASE: New York’s High Court Slams Door On Property Owners in the Empire State

INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE, www.ij.org

If you own a piece of property in New York State, you won’t like today’s ruling by the state’s high court.

The New York Court of Appeals—that state’s highest court—today overturned a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the New York State Urban Development Corporation from using eminent domain to take property away from a group of small-business owners in upper Manhattan and turn it over to Columbia University for private development. Today’s decision comes on the heels of the court’s decision last year in Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation, which allowed homes and businesses in Brooklyn to be turned over to wealthy developer Bruce Ratner to build luxury condominiums and a basketball arena.

“Once again, New York’s courts have completely ignored the abuse of power by government bureaucrats and politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. IJ litigates nationwide against eminent domain abuse and filed a brief with the Court in favor of Harlem property owners. “The sad truth is that, in New York, the government not only can hand your property over to private developers for no better reason than that it likes them more than it likes you, but it does so on an alarmingly regular basis.” Last year, IJ catalogued the staggering rate at which properties are taken for private use in the Empire State in a report, Building Empires, Destroying Homes, available at www.ij.org/BuildingEmpires.

According to another report by the Institute for Justice on eminent domain abuse in New York, titled Empire State Eminent Domain: Robin Hood in Reverse, eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets those who are less well-off and less educated, as well as ethnic and racial minorities—populations least able to fight back and thus most in need of protection from abuse. In New York, more than elsewhere in the country, this means taking from the poor to give to the rich. A copy of that report is available at: http://www.ij.org/3045.

A lower court had previously refused to allow the condemnations to go forward, noting that the state agency’s assertion that it was taking the properties to eliminate “blight” was clearly nothing but a pretext for using government power to further Columbia’s pre-existing expansion plans. In today’s ruling, Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote that the lower court should not have looked so closely at the agency’s blight findings, which should be “entitled to deference by the judiciary.”

“In other words, the court is saying that judges shouldn’t judge,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.

Associate Judge Robert S. Smith concurred in the result, noting that he was bound by the court’s earlier decision in the Goldstein case. “The finding of ‘blight’ in this case seems to me strained and pretextual,” Judge Smith wrote, “but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein.”

“No one taking a fair look at the state’s finding of ‘blight’—which is based on a report that was commissioned years after Columbia decided it wanted these properties—could think it is anything but a pretext for handing over these properties to another private owner,” explained Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice staff attorney. “This isn’t judicial ‘deference.’ It’s judicial blindness.”

The New York opinion comes only one day after the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. That opinion—which allowed the government to condemn homes in the name of “economic development”—spurred a national backlash, leading to legislative changes and court decisions providing property owners with greater protection in 43 states. Political and judicial leaders in New York, however, have refused to reform their eminent domain laws, which are among the worst in the nation. More information on the post-Kelo backlash is available at: www.ij.org/KeloAt5.

“New York remains one of only seven states that has failed to provide any legislative reform of eminent domain, and it is the only state whose highest court has allowed private property to be taken for private use since the Kelo decision,” explained Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Every state high court to hear an eminent domain case since Kelo has applied greater judicial scrutiny—every state, that is, except New York. The New York Court of Appeals is the only state high court that gives complete and abject deference to the actions of condemning agencies, no matter how suspicious.”

“Today’s decision confirms what we already knew: Judicial review of eminent domain in New York is fundamentally broken,” concluded McNamara. “Unless the Legislature takes meaningful steps to protect property rights, New York property owners will find themselves out in the cold—in some cases all too literally.”

Posted by lumi at 5:01 PM

NY Top Court OKs Columbia's West Harlem Expansion

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Rest easy, New York's powerful, wealthy, politically connected developers (and private universities)! The state's highest court has reversed the Appellate Division's moment of temporary sanity, and reaffirmed that no one's property is safe in New York if somebody richer lays an eye on it.

For Nick Sprayregen, the owner of a set of West Harlem warehouses in the footprint of a 17-acre expansion planned by Columbia University, there was a brief glimmer of hope earlier this year. The landlord, to the surprise of most everyone watching, won a state appellate court case that challenged the state's use of eminent domain to take his property for Columbia's campus, with a judge writing a blistering opinion that excoriated the state agency leading the process. Contrary to most precedents, it seemed possible that Mr. Sprayregen might actually stave off a land-taking and defeat the university.

Today, the narrative returned to its expected track.

New York's top court Thursday morning issued a decision that overturned the lower court's decision, ruling that eminent domain could indeed proceed.

The Court of Appeals, in a 7-0 decision, found that the Manhattan appellate court was improper in ruling for Mr. Sprayregen, as precedent clearly is on the side of the state, the area is indeed blighted, and the courts generally are deferential to the state agency.
...

Even the member of the court who is most skeptical of the use of eminent domain, Robert Smith, approved, issuing a concurring opinion. Mr. Smith was the lone dissenter in a case that challenged the use of eminent domain to build a basketball arena and housing in Brooklyn, brought by Daniel Goldstein and other landowners.

"The finding of 'blight' in this case seems to me strained and pretextual, but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein," Mr. Smith wrote. "Accepting Goldstein as I must, I agree in substance with all but section VI of the majority opinion."

article

Related coverage...

Columbia Spectator, Court OK'S Manhattanville expansion

In a blow to opponents of Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that eminent domain can be used to obtain private properties in the area.

The opinion, written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, overturned the December 2009 ruling by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, in which Justice James Catterson had stated that the Empire State Development Corporation’s finding of blight in Manhattanville was made “in bad faith,” and that the expansion of an “elite” private university did not constitute a public use, as required by eminent domain law. Ciparick dismissed that ruling in harsh terms.

The expansion of a private university can serve the public good, Ciparick wrote: “The indisputably public purpose of education is particularly vital for New York City and the State to maintain their respective statuses as global centers of higher education and academic research,” the ruling reads. “The purpose of the Project is unquestionably to promote education and academic research while providing public benefits to the local community. Indeed, the advancement of higher education is the quintessential example of a ‘civic purpose.’”

The two remaining private property holdouts in the 17-acre expansion zone—Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur—had also argued that ESDC’s decision to hire consulting firm Allee King Rosen and Fleming to conduct a blight study constituted “collusion,” since AKRF was also a consultant for Columbia. That was one of the primary bases on which the Appellate Division had condemned eminent domain, but the Court of Appeals defended ESDC, noting that it hired a second, independent consultant, Earth Tech, to replicate the study, and Earth Tech also found the area blighted.

“Contrary to petitioners’ assertions, Earth Tech did not merely review and rubber stamp AKRF’s study, but conducted its own independent research and gathered separate data and photographs of the area before arriving at its own conclusions,” Ciparick wrote. “Further, unlike AKRF, Earth Tech had never previously been affiliated with or employed by Columbia. Simply put, petitioners' argument that ESDC acted in 'bad faith' or pretextually is unsubstantiated by the record.”

NoLandGrab: Wait, you mean the ESDC's other paid consultant conducted its own "independent research" (even taking photographs!) and found the same "blight" the ESDC hired it to find, completely independently of AKRF? Well, that settles it.

Reason Hit & Run, New York's Highest Court Upholds Columbia University's Eminent Domain Abuse

New York’s Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—issued its decision today in the Columbia University eminent domain case, upholding the state’s controversial land grab on behalf of the elite private university. Exactly as it did in last year’s disastrous Atlantic Yards ruling, the Court of Appeals shirked its judicial responsibility and ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation’s flawed and pretextual blight findings “were rationally based and entitled to deference.” So much for an independent judiciary that stands up for constitutional rights.

New York Law Journal, Breaking News: In Eminent Domain Case, High Court Puts Columbia Expansion Back on Track

The Court also held that under §6260(d) of the Urban Development Corporation Act, the development corporation is empowered to acquire property for a range of projects, including "educational, cultural, recreational" and for other purposes.

The potential public good of the Columbia project is "at least as compelling in its civic dimension" as the Atlantic Yards construction given the go-ahead in Goldstein, the Court held today.

NoLandGrab: That's not setting the bar very high, is it?

The New York Times, Court Upholds Columbia Campus Expansion Plan

The ruling cited a decision in a similar eminent-domain case last year involving the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, where the state was condemning property on behalf of a developer who planned to build a basketball arena for the Nets and up to 6,000 apartments. “We ruled for Atlantic Yards, and if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university,” the court said Thursday in its decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.

NLG: That's kind of the whole point, isn't it?

The complete 34-page decision can be found here. [PDF]

Posted by eric at 1:18 PM

BQE planners take Heights off the hit list

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gary Buiso

Eminent domain is off the table for BQE renovation in Brooklyn Heights. But it's still on the table for less fancy neighborhoods — and, of course, for big private real estate development projects.

State officials have slammed the brakes on a controversial plan to eviscerate part of historic Brooklyn Heights in order to modernize the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, conceding on Wednesday night that the shocking scheme is untenable.

A week after our exclusive report that the state was considering condemning buildings in the northern part of the neighborhood as part of a long-term project to widen the roadway, the Department of Transportation announced that it would simply need to buy too many homes and businesses near Willow and Middagh streets.

When they finally did a ground survey, state inspectors discovered that 300-400 residential units and 80 commercial properties would need to be condemned, admitted Peter King, a project manager overseeing the $300-million first phase of the renovation of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street.

“You cannot talk about an alternative that runs roughshod in a neighborhood, regardless of what benefits you might have,” King told a stakeholders group that met at St. Francis College on Remsen Street.

Apparently you can, however, if the benefits inure mostly to a private developer.

But just because homes in the northern heights have been saved, doesn’t mean that eminent domain is off the table.

That’s because other possible scenarios to cure the aging highway include lower-impact designs that would involve little new construction and no property takings, but also three tunnel alignments that would involve property takings at the south end of the tube, at Kane Street in Cobble Hill, and at the northern portal at North Portland Avenue in Fort Greene.

“Depending on what we do, there may need to be takings,” King said. “Eminent domain is a tool, but taking away property is a very serious issue.”

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NoLandGrab: We're not advocating for the use of eminent domain, least of all for a highway that cuts through a dense, vibrant urban neighborhood. But only in New York is eminent domain verboten for a highway project but just peachy for a basketball arena and 16 privately owned high rises.

Posted by eric at 10:10 AM

June 23, 2010

Court of Appeals' Atlantic Yards decision gets singled out in IJ's post-Kelo report

Atlantic Yards Report

The libertarian Institute for Justice has issued a report titled Five Years After Kelo: The Sweeping Backlash Against One of the Supreme Court’s Most-Despised Decisions.

And, not surprisingly, New York is singled out as not having made any reforms, with the November 2009 Atlantic Yards case, Goldstein vs. Empire State Development Corporation, singled out:

There is one significant exception to this good news for property owners in state courts—New York. The Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court) seems stuck in the days when courts routinely ignored evidence of eminent domain abuse, refusing to give the facts any real scrutiny at all. This latest ruling from the court, which completely ignores the fundamental role of the courts in properly interpreting essential constitutional rights, tells the whole story:

It may be that the bar has now been set too low—that what will now pass as “blight,” as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses. But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.

The Court of Appeals does have a chance to redeem itself in another challenge to a completely trumped-up claim of blight, combined with concealment of relevant evidence, in another case currently pending before it. New Yorkers can only hope the Court of Appeals will remove its head from the sand before reaching its final decision.

The latter is the case involving the Columbia University expansion; a decision is expected in a few weeks.

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Posted by eric at 10:50 PM

June 15, 2010

Bites of Heights

BQE could chomp posh B'klyn nabe

NY Post
by Rich Calder

The abject unpopularity of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards land grab will apparently make the use of eminent domain harder in New York, even for traditional purposes like roads.

It’s highway robbery!

Some 30 to 50 buildings along the pricey Brooklyn waterfront -- including multimillion-dollar historic brownstones in Brooklyn Heights -- could be demolished by the state to modernize and revamp the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, officials confirmed yesterday.

The state Department of Transportation is reviewing many ways to widen lanes, lengthen ramps and renovate a section of the decrepit roadway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, including the two-level portion that runs under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade -- and one controversial possibility would use eminent domain to seize property.
...

DOT Spokesman Adam Levin said the plan is among many being considered – including one calling for less extensive renovations and another to run a tunnel under Brooklyn Heights. He said the agency plans to take a hard look at all these options before resorting to a “worst-case scenario” of taking people’s homes.

“We are well aware of all the controversy caused by Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn,” he said.

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Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

June 14, 2010

Will Development Agreement get its day in court? Unlikely, as Justice Friedman moves case back to condemnation judge who already dismissed issue

Atlantic Yard Report

It looks like the belatedly-released Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--which signals significantly relaxed deadlines for the project--won't get its day in court, after all.

In a brief, five-page decision in the case known as Peter Williams Enterprises, et al., vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation (aka Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC), state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman essentially rejected a challenge by property owners that the Atlantic Yards project has changed so much that the ESDC should be forced to issue a new Determination & Findings to proceed with eminent domain.

Friedman did not formally reject the case, because she didn't examine the Development Agreement or get to the merits.

Instead, she moved it from New York County (Manhattan) to Kings County, as the ESDC had requested. In Kings County, Justice Abraham Gerges, who handles condemnations, already rejected similar arguments when rejecting a direct challenge from property owners to the condemnations.

The decision was dated May 26 and filed June 1, but I only learned about it last week. I asked the attorney for the petitioners, Matthew Brinckerhoff, for a comment, but didn't get one.

Development Agreement still at issue in separate case

Friedman is still considering a request by two groups of petitioners--organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and BrooklynSpeaks--to consider the Development Agreement in revisiting her March 10 ruling that the ESDC's ten-year timeframe for Atlantic Yards was reasonable.

In her ruling, Friedman disagreed that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to reflect the burden of a 25-year project on communities was necessary. Nor would she annul the 2009 Modified General Project Plan, or MGPP.

But she refused to let the Development Agreement--released in January a week after oral argument--to be added to the case, known as Develop Don't Destroy (Brooklyn), et al., vs. Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner Companies.

She's still considering the request for reargument, but such motions, like appeals, are generally more of a long shot than new cases, as was the Williams case.

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Posted by eric at 12:48 PM

Doblin: To build a tunnel, you need tunnel vision

Bergen Record
by Alfred P. Doblin

Congratulations, Bruce Ratner. You've replaced Robert Moses as the poster child for the ruthlessly efficient deployment of eminent domain.

This month, The New York Times reported that more than 3,000 occupants of buildings in the way of the ARC Tunnel and deep-station project will be displaced. Maybe Bruce Ratner, the developer of the long-delayed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, can offer the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey some tips on moving that process along.

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Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

June 12, 2010

Highway robbery! State is mulling taking Heights homes for BQE repair

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gary Buiso

Classic brownstones and other homes in historic Brooklyn Heights may be demolished by the state as part of the long-overdue effort to shore up and modernize the aging Brooklyn–Queens Expressway revealed this week.

State transportation planners are currently considering several ways to impliment a $300-million reconstruction project of the triple-canitlever portion of the BQE under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, plus other portions between Sands Street and Atlantic Avenue — but one scenario calls for homes to be taken near Willow and Middagh streets to accommodate the wider highway.

Peter King, project manager with the Department of Transportation, called the possibility of an eminent domain taking unlikely, but confirmed that it is being considered.

“It is well-established that the public sector has the authority to acquire properties for public purposes,” he said. “It would be premature to rule out anything, and a violation of process to start discounting things,” he said.

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NoLandGrab: Actually, it's now well established that the public sector has the authority to acquire property for any purpose, including but not limited to taking your home so a rich real estate developer and his Russian billionaire savior can build a private arena for a horrible basketball team for which we also get to foot most of the bill.

Posted by eric at 8:58 AM

June 8, 2010

Second look at Columbia eminent domain argument, with FAQ; will bad faith claim be the key? Also, law professors debate public use, land assembly

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder updates his observations of the Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp. case.

After watching the newly-posted webcast of the June 1 oral argument in the eminent domain case (Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp.) at the Court of Appeals regarding the Columbia University expansion, I've expanded and amended my original post, which was based solely on an audio file.

The 40-minute argument is well worth watching. Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attorney John Casolaro, cerebral and persistent, seemed aggrieved when he had to defend weaker positions. The property owners' attorney, Norman Siegel, was about as passionate as you can get in the relatively restrained confines of an appellate court.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, with the help of a few colleagues, did a good job ensuring that the major issues are highlighted. (The Atlantic Yards oral argument got bogged down in places, by contrast.)

And Judge Robert Smith, the dissenter in the AY case (Goldstein v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp.), more than once played devil's advocate, challenging Siegel to convince him to vote to overturn the very recent precedent, set last November nine days before the Appellate Division, in a split decision, ruled against the ESDC.

Read the rest of this post which covers highlights from the hearing, the lack of coverage by New York City's three major daily papers, and a debate about eminent domain.

link

Posted by steve at 9:08 AM

Overriding Broad Public Use in the Face of Bad Faith Blight: In re Parminder Kaur and Redeveloping Eminent Domain in New York State

Albany Government Law Review Fireplace
By Robert Barrows

Here is a look at the eminent case recently heard by the New York State Court of Appeals. The ESDC is trying to claim Manhattanville is blighted so as to justify the use of eminent domain, but ESDC claims of blight seem to have been manufactured, not so differently from the ESDC claiming blight in a Prospect Heights neighborhood that has million-dollar condos.

The conclusion indicates that the Court could rule against the ESDC if it considers the Kaskel exception where "“the physical conditions of an area might be such that it would be irrational and baseless to call it substandard or insanitary.”

The taking of Manhattanville appears to be, on its face, manufactured and so ostentatious that the Kaskel exception could come into play. Much of the ire of the First Department’s opinion was directed at the ESDC’s process for making its determination and the court placed strong importance on timing and procedure in the exercise of eminent domain – a theme that perhaps will continue on appeal. More importantly, given the current public outrage and uncertainty surrounding the law of eminent domain, employing a long invoked exception that places a check against engineered pretenses to justify a taking would perhaps be a sensible solution. With In re Parminder Kaur v. N.Y.S. Development Corp., the use of the hypothetical exception illustrated in Kaskel may be justified.

link

Posted by steve at 8:42 AM

June 4, 2010

Columbia Oral Argument Recap - Blight, Civic Purpose, And Bad Faith

Inverse Condemnation

We've been busy filing an appellate brief and drafting another, so until now, haven't had the chance to post up links about Tuesday's New York Court of Appeals oral argument in Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp.

We live blogged the arguments, following along on the court's video webcast. The court usually posts an archived video of oral arguments, which we expect next week.

link

Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

June 2, 2010

Columbia eminent domain case draws heated arguments, frequent references to Atlantic Yards cases

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder provides the blow-by-blow of yesterday's argument in the New York State Court of Appeals over the Columbia University eminent domain case.

In the highly contested 40-minute oral argument yesterday in the Columbia University eminent domain case, attorneys significantly reprised arguments in the briefs, with frequent references to the Atlantic Yards case the Court of Appeals decided last November.

I didn’t make it to Albany and none of the city’s three daily newspapers sent a reporter. That’s dismaying, given that the Appellate Division’s surprising and contested rejection of the Empire State Development Corporation’s eminent domain findings was big news last December.

The bottom line of the argument is unclear, given there are various strands of argument. In other words, if the court upholds the ESDC on its finding of blight--as is not unlikely, given its decision in the AY case--it could find other reasons to block Columbia.

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Related coverage...

Columbia Spectator, Court of Appeals grills state on M'ville blight, civic purpose of expansion

After more than six years of buildup, the fate of eminent domain in Manhattanville came down to 45 minutes in a small courtroom in Albany.

On Tuesday, the seven judges of the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, heard oral arguments on whether the state should be allowed to invoke eminent domain—the process of seizing private properties for a “civic purpose” in exchange for market-rate compensation—on Columbia’s behalf. The University plans to build a 17-acre campus in West Harlem, but two business owners, who represent about 9 percent of the land in the expansion zone, have refused to sell their properties.

Former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel argued on behalf of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, and attorney John Casolaro represented the Empire State Development Corporation, the body that approved eminent domain for the project in December 2008.

Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur challenged that approval in court in January 2009, and last December, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division declared eminent domain in Manhattanville illegal in a 3-2 decision, which ESDC immediately appealed.

That brought the fight to the Court of Appeals, where Siegel called on the judges to uphold the Appellate Division ruling on several bases: one, that ESDC declared the neighborhood “blighted” in “bad faith” and based on faulty methodology; two, that there was “collusion” between ESDC and Columbia, because ESDC hired a company to conduct a blight study when that company was also a contractor for the University; three, that the expansion of a private university does not constitute a “civic purpose”; and four, that Sprayregen’s due process rights were violated when ESDC refused to turn over certain documents requested under the Freedom of Information Law in time for them to be included in the record for this case.

AP via Victoria Advocate, NY top court considers Columbia expansion plan

A state redevelopment agency urged New York's top court on Tuesday to approve its use of eminent domain so Columbia University can expand its Ivy League campus over 17 acres in West Harlem.

At oral arguments, Empire State Development Corp. attorney John Casolaro said the Court of Appeals should overturn a divided lower court and conclude this constitutes an appropriate civic project for educational purposes where the state can take land, even when the land goes to a private, not-for-profit institution.

"The Legislature has indicated this is a proper public purpose," Casolaro said.

NoLandGrab: Casolaro meant, of course, that the unelected, unaccountable ESDC had made that determination (surprise, surprise) — not the Legislature.

Bwog, Manhattanville Goes To NY Court of Appeals

This is kinda-sorta-maybe-it!

As you may recall, December brought a major obstacle to Columbia’s dreams of expansion: the New York State Supreme Court decided 3-2 that that state could not use eminent domain to secure parts of West Harlem for Manhattanville. The Empire State Development Corporation, the only major defendant in December’s case, has appealed the decision with the Columbia administration’s support.
...

In November, the New York Court of Appeals gave the uber-fraught Atlantic Yards a 6-1 approval of use of eminent domain, but the Atlantic Yards project did not stumble in the NY Supreme Court like Manhattanville has.

A decision is expected this summer, which could mean this month and could also mean three months from now.

Crain's NY Business, Court date set for Columbia eminent domain case

Last November, the same judges that will hear the Columbia case ruled that eminent domain could be used to clear the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn so that developer Forest City Ratner could build a huge mixed-use project there.

However, experts say the Atlantic Yards decision doesn't guarantee a similar outcome because there are numerous differences between the two cases. For starters, the opponents of Columbia using eminent domain won in the lower court, unlike their counterparts in the Atlantic Yards case. Last December, in a strongly worded opinion, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said it would be unconstitutional to use eminent domain to benefit “a private, elite education institution.”

“You are never the favorite when you are seeking a reversal,” said Scott Mollen, a partner at law firm Herrick Feinstein, who isn't involved in the case.

Posted by eric at 10:00 AM

June 1, 2010

Columbia eminent domain appeal today in Albany; Atlantic Yards decision invoked regularly; will Court of Appeals revise NY's role as national outlier?

Atlantic Yards Report

The eminent domain case involving the Columbia University expansion--a $6.28 billion, 17-acre project in West Harlem's Manhattanville--will be heard this afternoon at 2 pm (webcast) before the Court of Appeals in Albany.

It may seem like an uphill battle for the appellant Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which--shockingly--lost a split decision (a two-judge plurality, a concurrence on other grounds, and a two-judge dissent) last December, before the Appellate Division, the intermediate court where all eminent domain cases begin.

But it's probably more of an uphill battle for the winners, property owners represented by attorney Norman Siegel, since Justice James Catterson, author of the plurality opinion, glaringly failed to grapple with the Court of Appeals' ruling just nine days earlier in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

In the latter, the court 6-1 upheld the use of eminent domain, saying that when there were reasonable differences of opinion on blight judges had to defer to agencies like the ESDC.

So in legal papers the ESDC argues that the Columbia case is essentially like the Atlantic Yards case (Goldstein vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation, aka ESDC), and the Columbia plaintiffs (Tuck-It-Away, a company owned by Nick Sprayregen, and a gas station owned by Parminder Kaur and family members) say it's not, in part because the AY site includes part of a previously-designated urban renewal area as well as a railyard, considered to be de facto blight.

(Of course the plaintiffs in the AY case were all from outside those zones.)

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Columbia Spectator, M'ville property owners prepare for eminent domain hearing

Posted by lumi at 6:47 AM

May 31, 2010

Own Property in New York State?

You’d Better Pay Attention to Tuesday’s High Court Argument on Eminent Domain Abuse

Institute for Justice

If you own a piece of property in New York, you’d better pay close attention to an oral argument taking place on Tuesday, June 1 at 2 p.m. in Albany before New York’s high court.

This case—Kaur v. Empire State Development Corporation—may well decide if powerful private interests can team up with the government to take away your home, your small business, your farm or your factory through eminent domain for someone else’s private gain.

It is called eminent domain abuse and it is a plague that has wreaked havoc across the Empire State for decades. Tuesday’s court argument will decide whether Columbia University—a private institution—may direct the government’s power of eminent domain to take property away from its neighbors for the university’s private use and profit. Columbia seeks to take the property of neighbors Nick Sprayregen and Amanjit Kaur to expand its campus. If Columbia were a public university, this would be a public use. But Columbia is a private university and, as such, the takings are for private gain.

Immediately following the 2 p.m. oral argument, which is expected to last for about one hour, property owners, their advocates and supporters will hold a press conference outside of the court to answer questions and explain why property rights must be respected in the state. The press conference will take place at Academy Park, 20 Eagle Street in Albany, directly across the street from the front of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ), said, “This is the kind of abuse of government power on behalf of powerful private interests the Framers of the Constitution sought to prevent when they drafted the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and required that private property could only be taken for a public use. Taking someone’s land for a private institution like Columbia for its private use and profit is not a public use.” The Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners in the infamous eminent domain abuse case Kelo v. City of New London, is the nation’s leading advocate against eminent domain for private gain.
...

Just last year, the Court of Appeals refused to stop the use of eminent domain for an arena for the NBA Nets and private development project in Brooklyn. It now has an opportunity to redeem itself in this decision.

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Posted by eric at 10:06 AM

May 27, 2010

China Land Snatch!

National Bibliographic

"Private" property in China is about as tenuous a proposition as straight talk from Brett Yormark. How bad is China's landgrabbing? The author calls Atlantic Yards "child's play" by comparison.

This story today in the Times is a good reminder of what unchecked capitalism abetted by local and state government (free market / police state) looks like in China. If anyone holds the illusion that the economic boom in China benefits all of its citizens, take a look at what's happening in the Laogucheng neighborhood of Beijing where all of its residents are being forcibly and often violently evicted from their homes before they are razed to make way for development. One woman, Tang Fuzhen, actually resorted to self-immolation as armed thugs broke into her home to expel her and her family. What's more, this is merely one headline catching example out of hundreds of such occurrences all over China. It highlights the gritty, leading edge of the real estate boom in China that seems likely to lead to massive inflation in addition to massive human rights violations. The silver-lining is that protests from average citizens, law professor, and others have finally made some headway with the legislative affairs office of the State Council, with cabinet members calling for local governments to hold developers responsible for "vicious incidents" and to "publicize 'reasonable' standards of compensation."

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NoLandGrab: At least the Chinese get a silver lining. Albany lawmakers, unlike China's State Council, haven't lifted a finger to rein in developers.

Posted by eric at 10:50 PM

May 22, 2010

Eminent Domania: Eminent Domain Battle

Fox New York
By Kathy Carvajal

Click through to view this piece on eminent domain abuse. Atlantic Yards is included as a an of example of how a vague definition of blight was used to allow the use of eminent domain.

From Brooklyn to Long Branch, New Jersey, attorneys representing private citizens have been challenging a state's right to take control of a property for public use.

Historically, few challenges were made to the eminent domain law as it involved the creation of railways, expanded public facilites, etc. But in recent years there has been an increase in legal challenges to the law when 'blight' is used as the primary reason by the state for a takeover.

On Friday, Good Day NY spoke with Attorney Bill Ward who has represented property owners in Long Branch.

"The eminent domain process is subect to abuse. Where the controversy comes in is in redevelopment projects under the Local Redevelopment Housing Law (in NJ) that says certain areas of a city are blighted," Ward told co-host Rosanna Scotto.

"What I would like to see is the state legislature tighten the definition of blighted and eminent domain."

In 2005, following a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the states in an eminent domain case, more than 30 reformed their eminent domain laws.

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Posted by steve at 4:16 PM

June 1: Get on the Bus to Albany for Columbia Eminent Domain Argument

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

From our friends in Harlem and at the Institute for Justice, you are invited to take the bus to Albany, please see details and registration information below:

On June 1, the New York Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Tuck-it-Away v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. Columbia University (a private, for-profit entity) wants to expand into Harlem, and take everything in its path. They asked the state to use eminent domain to take Nick Sprayregen's storage business, but the New York Appellate Division said NO. Columbia appealed to the state's highest court...the same court that rubber-stamped the seizure of properties for the Atlantic Yards project for Bruce Ratner and his billionaire Russian business partner Mikhail Prokhorov. That court will hear the case on June 1. Oral arguments begin at 2pm.

Join the Institute for Justice, Coalition to Preserve Community and property owners and activists from across New York City and State on June 1 to show your support for Nick. Help us tell the court and the media that New Yorkers oppose eminent domain for private gain. We will have a free bus leaving Harlem at 8:30am for Albany. Free lunch will also be provided for those riding our bus. Please join us!

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Posted by steve at 9:27 AM

May 17, 2010

Tues, May 18. Oral Argument on Eminent Domain Related Atlantic Yards Case

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Legal arguments in the following lawsuit will take place Tuesday, May 18th, at 2:30 PM in Manhattan. Keep in mind, when timing your arrival, that there is a security check to go through.

Details:

PETER WILLIAMS vs. NYS URBAN DEVELOPMENT CORP
Tuesday, May 18.
2:30 PM
New York County Supreme Court
60 Centre Street [Map]
Room 335

Manhattan

Oral argument on Article 78 lawsuit seeking to compel the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to make new Eminent Domain Procedure Law (204) findings and determinations.

A number of property owners and tenants in the footprint brought this lawsuit in January 2010 arguing that the eminent domain takings were based on a 2006 approved plan that no longer exists. If the property seizures are going to occur, they must be for the drastically altered current plan—a basketball arena and one building—not for the project originally conceived with the promise of 2,250 affordable housing units, 16 towers and 10,000 jobs. The case argues that the ESDC must make new findings and determinations under the States's Eminent Domain Procedure Law.

link

Posted by eric at 11:05 AM

May 11, 2010

Albanian Village Needs Help Fighting Gov’t Land Grab

Develop Don't Destroy Accursed Mountains via Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn

Sure, Albania's a little bit outside of our usual purview, but news of this land grab comes from Catherine Bohne, proprietress of Park Slope's Community Bookstore. Plus, they've got a cool flag.

The Valbona Valley where I’ve been half-living is traditionally one of the toughest places in Europe - they don’t call these the Accursed Mountains for nothing! Perhaps in order to survive the people have become both adapted to the land AND fiercely protective of each other — really GOOD to each other. And to me! Now the local government - which, like most government in Albania, is very corrupt – is moving to grab land in Valbona. And the Selimaj, my adopted family, are standing up to them. This really is the little guy fighting against huge forces. Will you help?

Landgrabbers, apparently, are not exclusive to New York State's allegedly representative democracy. They're perfectly at home in Albania's formerly Communist parliamentary democracy, too.

Here are the two videos I made so far which summarize the situation – I was up all night making the last one, so I’m sort of blotto right now, and I think the videos will be clearer than I will be.

Valbona Land Grab – Part 1 (5/9/10)

Valbona Land Grab – Part 2 (5/10/10)

This land grab promises no hoops, but it will offer ping pong! And a community benefits agreements — which will deliver basketball ping pong before affordable housing running water.

The Komun has published reports to various foreign investors promising over 80 infrastructure projects to benefit the people of Margegaj Komun and Valbona specifically, including really important things like bringing running water to the houses of Valbona village. They were supposed to start work this summer. They haven’t. Instead, they’re rushing to build this tourism complex (with Ping Pong) which (you may have noticed) employs mainly members of the Head of the Komun’s family (who live in Shoshan, not Valbona).

In all seriousness, click thru to learn how you can help the Selimaj fight the good fight.

Posted by eric at 11:14 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!...

Courier-Life Newspapers via NYPost.com, Last holdouts face eviction to make room for 'Willoughby Square Park'

There are dozens of tenants left in the city-acquired properties on Albee Square between Willoughby and Fulton streets, some of whom allege that the city isn’t helping them find new homes.

“They keep telling us that they’ll help us get a place, or that they’ll pay us to move out — but they lied,” said Ray Ahamed, a 14-year resident of one of the properties. “Some people have been living here for 50 or more years. My family will have a hard time finding a place to go.”

Ahamed added that he was given a July deadline to get out — a date not confirmed by the city.
...

“What’s the worst-case scenario? We’re not sure,” said an HPD official, who asked not to be named.

Posted by eric at 10:50 PM

De Blasio: Eminent Domain Is Needed

GlobeSt.com
by Ian Ritter

NYC Public Advobdicate Bill de Blasio has apparently forgotten that the only need for eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards footprint is to clear the way for a basketball arena.

Certain projects that provide affordable housing to residents here are in the best interest of the city and require the need for eminent domain, said Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate, speaking at a breakfast put on by non-profit association ABNY. He specifically pointed to the controversial mixed-use Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn being built by developer Bruce Ratner, which bought out a number of residences and building in the area and was the center of a contentious legal battle.

“I do think there’s a place for eminent domain,” de Blasio said, explaining that he is a “pro development progressive.” “When appropriate you do maximize height and density to maximize affordable housing.”

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NoLandGrab: The "non-profit" ABNY is run by a real estate magnate, with assistance from a former senior advisor to the chairman and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation and ex-flack for stellar governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. De Blasio, no doubt, is starting to line up donors for his 2013 run for mayor.

Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Developers' Advocate Bill de Blasio: Eminent Domain Was Needed for Atlantic Yards Housing

A "pro-development progressive" would realize that Atlantic Yards and the use of eminent domain for it, is all about the developer's profit.
...

Worse is this: affordable housing could be accomplished over the Vanderbilt Rail Yards in a high density and highrise community without the use of eminent domain at all. And when eminent domain is continuously used for private benefit, the eventual backlash will be such that it will be difficult to use it when it is actually crucial for a public purpose.

Atlantic Yards Report, Public Advocate de Blasio defends eminent domain for Atlantic Yards; he's apparently forgotten his "no more subsidies" position

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who issues daily press releases but did not see fit to attend or comment on the Atlantic Yards groundbreaking in March, now concludes he's happy with the project, at least according to a speech before the business-friendly Association for a Better New York (ABNY).
...

No more subsidies?

During the campaign last August, de Blasio said in a debate, "But no more subsidies. That project has gotten all the subsidy it deserves. And they either have to figure out a way to make it work or we should pull the plug."

As I wrote, de Blasio came a little late to "no more subsidies," given his silence when the developer gained more than $100 million by renegotiating the Vanderbilt Yard deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

Beyond that, when the Empire State Development Corporation a few weeks later announced new concessions to developer Forest City Ratner, de Blasio was silent.

Posted by eric at 8:40 PM

May 10, 2010

Year in review: Uncertainty for Manhattanville

The Empire State Development Corporation appealed in January to the New York State Court of Appeals, which will hear the eminent domain case on June 1.

Columbia Spectator
by Kim Kirschenbaum

The University’s Manhattanville expansion plan faced a setback this year after a state court declared eminent domain for the project illegal in December. This surprise ruling, which will send the case to New York’s highest court in June, has significantly raised the stakes of this protracted legal battle.

The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division declared in December in a 3-2 decision that eminent domain—the process by which the state can seize private property for “public use” in exchange for market-rate compensation—in the 17-acre expansion zone is illegal, dealing a blow to the University’s long-term plans. It was an unexpected victory for Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, the last private landowners in the expansion area who have not struck deals with the University.

The Empire State Development Corporation—the state body that approved eminent domain for the project in December 2008—appealed the decision in January to the New York State Court of Appeals, which will hear the case on June 1.

In the interim between the December ruling and the June appeal, the plaintiffs and respondents have been exchanging legal briefs. These briefs have honed in on, among other things, previous eminent domain cases whose legal precedents could be a bellwether for the upcoming case. Of particular interest is the November 2009 Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation case, in which the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards commercial development in Brooklyn.

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Posted by eric at 9:47 AM

May 9, 2010

The Week in Crime: Dodge City

The Local (NY Times Blog) By Chris Prentice

The "Dodge" in the headline refers to a brand of automobile, but the dodge we're thinking of is the one where the Empire State Development Corporation, the tool of developer Bruce Ratner, claims Atlantic Yards will alleviate blight including crime in the area of the development when Ratner's nearby malls are the crime magnets responsible for the problem.

April 27: A woman’s purse was stolen around 9:15 p.m. while she was dining at Chuck E. Cheese on Flatbush Avenue. She lost personal papers, money and an iPhone, with a total worth of more than $700.

April 30: Some $8,000 worth of jewelry was stolen from Sterling Gallery on Atlantic Avenue around 4 p.m. The unknown thief snatched a display case from the store and fled.

May 1: A woman shopping at Target at 6:10 p.m. said her purse was taken from her shopping cart when she bent down to look at some nail polish.

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Posted by steve at 7:19 AM

May 7, 2010

Atlantic Yards-- Roll Out the Dough, Land Grab to Go

Deep QT
by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

I love the smell of eminent domain abuse in the morning. It smells like land grabs and taxpayers being soaked. A truly fragrant blast of the stuff is wafting up from Brooklyn, where developer Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) have cleared the last man standing in the footprint of the behemoth Atlantic Yards project. Eminent domain was used to acquire much of that footprint. Until becoming a footprint, the area was a neighborhood in Prospect Heights. Atlantic Yards, which is being heavily backed by New York taxpayers, will include an arena (Barclays Center) to showcase the sad sack New Jersey Nets. Though the sacks currently belong to a group headed by Bruce Ratner (of Forest City You Know Who) a murky Russian plutocrat is in the process of becoming majority owner. The cash infusion to Atlantic Yards is sorely needed by Ratner.

Despite all this, Ms. Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff seems to think that Daniel Goldstein should have been dragged from his building in handcuffs, with less money than he paid for his home.

I definitely agreed with the need to oppose the ESDC/Ratner use of eminent domain. Still do. What I have a hard time getting behind is Dan Goldstein's three million dollar deal. And after all my partisan writing, forwarding, and expanding, I feel some final words are warranted.

Dan has lots of reasons for taking the 3 mil. To paraphrase a few: He was going to be evicted anyway, it was sensible to get what he could. What would he achieve by being a martyr? At one point he was outrageously low-balled for his property, so squeezing ESDC and Ratner for a high-ball was justified. Though he agreed to resign as DDDB spokesperson, he didn't surrender his right to speak against Atlantic Yards. And so on and so forth. Dan's loyal supporters are also doing some splainin'. Saying Dan was only doing the responsible thing for his family. And the 3 mil is less than it seems, given the tax bite, the legal bills for the non-DDDB attorney who represented Dan in the settlement negotiations, and how expensive it will be for Dan to get another place in NYC. (Personally, I think the last excuse should be dropped. It's bound to grate with all the folks who somehow manage to find something for under a mil.)

I Want To Believe. But the words three million dollars three million dollars three million dollars keep beating in my brain. No matter how I twist it, the amount seems a little-- dare I say it?-- greedy. Which wouldn't be a big thing (we're all human) if the greed of Forest City Ratner and ESDC hadn't been such a DDDB theme-- and if Dan Goldstein weren't working so hard to paint himself as totally free of impure motives. As said, a lot of Dan's supporters are helping him paint. The pro-Ratner crowd is making with the jeers. (Bertha Lewis of ACORN did a bile dump almost immediately.) But anger and disappointment is also being expressed by people who are against Atlantic Yards and expected Dan Goldstein to be unflaggingly noble.

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NoLandGrab: Luckily for critics of Daniel Goldstein's settlement that none of them have ever had to walk a mile in his shoes. And for the record, we know of no one involved on the front lines of the Atlantic Yards opposition — and we count ourselves among them — who believes that Daniel Goldstein owes anything to anyone.

Posted by eric at 9:08 AM

Columbia's Day of Reckoning?

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance

Everybody's favorite hired gun, Richard Lipsky (eminent domain at Columbia and Willets Point, where he's on the payroll of property owners = bad, eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, where he was on the payroll of developer Bruce Ratner = good), opines on the coming NY Court of Appeals case.

If the higher court allows the lower court ruling to stand, it will send a chill down the spine of the EDC condemners-and that's especially true if any upholding decision looks at the blight issue with care. The role of the city's neglect in the blighting of Willets Point could well lead to the trashing of any ED effort on the Iron Triangle. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In our view, an adverse Appeals Court decision against NY State would be the icing on the cake.

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Posted by eric at 8:57 AM

May 6, 2010

It's game over for Nets Arena holdout Goldstein

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com]
by Rich Calder

A Post photog ambushed Daniel Goldstein and his daughter yesterday, on their allegedly "residents only" private street.

Daniel Goldstein, the longtime Atlantic Yards project holdout who last month accepted a $3 million settlement from developer Bruce Ratner that allows an NBA arena to be built, freaked out today outside his now-former Prospect Heights home after the Post photographed him watching movers pack his belongings into two large vans.

Goldstein, while holding his young daughter Sita in a baby carrier, got so furious that he yelled, "It’s a private street! Get off, or I’ll call the cops," said photographer Benny Stumbo. However, Stumbo said he had already gotten permission to shoot in front of the soon-to-be demolished condo complex at 636 Pacific Street from a security guard watching the fenced-up block for Ratner.

Alleged "security" guard.

Meanwhile, Ratner may have a new main nemisis.

As the Post web site first reported yesterday, real estate mogul Peter Williams says he owns air rights above part of the site of the planned Nets arena and that the project can’t be completed until the issue is settled.

He filed a suit accusing the state of failing to address his air rights when condemning property for the project, but says he’s ready to sell to Ratner or anyone for the right price.

Williams told the Post he was contacted by project opponents who are in the process of raising money to buy the air rights before Ratner can. He declined to give his asking price but said he’d "prefer" to sell to the opponents because he considers Ratner a "bully."

The opponents, he said, could then take over the court challege. If the court sides with Williams or the opponents, it could take up to two years for the state to be able to condemn the air rights and clear the way for the project -- time that Ratner doesn’t have.

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Posted by eric at 12:54 PM

MOVING TRUCKS PACK UP THE LAST REMAINS OF ATLANTIC YARDS

The Brooklyn Ink
by Todd Stone

While the headline is all wrong — "Atlantic Yards" is still just a trade name, as well as a euphemism for "worst land-grabbing, subsidy-bloated, mega-development boondoggle ever" — this article captures the essence of footprint moving day.

At the intersection of Dean Street and 6th Avenue yesterday, a U-Haul truck was parked outside of what used to be Freddy’s, a legendary Prospect Heights bar that served its last round of drinks over the weekend, after more than 70 years in business.

Freddy’s is among the last of the tenants of Atlantic Yards to pack up and leave – to make way for the much-protested construction of a basketball stadium for the New Jersey Nets, made possible by state laws of eminent domain.

It was moving day yesterday, and with an air of acceptance, mixed with nostalgia, a group of about six – mostly former employees of the bar – removed large pieces of furniture from inside. One former employee named Michael walked out of the bar and into the heavy midday heat with a large monkey on his back made of wood.

“We’ve got to keep that,” one of the guys said to Michael as he passed.

Michael used to live just three doors down from Freddy’s on Dean Street, in a brownstone building also condemned for the Atlantic Yards project. He moved out in February, but his next-door neighbors, at 481 Dean Street, stayed on until they were discovered still living there on Monday, as reported by the the NY Post.

“I’ve seen them going in and out [of the their home] all along,” he said, as if to convey that it was no secret to him that they were still living there. The fact that they were still there certainly didn’t seem to bother him; if anything, he seemed impressed.
...

While talking outside, a security man told [Forest City Ratner Community Liaison Bill] Murphy that there are people on the roof, gesturing to the building where Goldstein still lives. Realizing it was Goldstein’s building, Murphy said, “Don’t worry. It’s probably just Daniel Goldstein and his friends documenting the place.”

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NoLandGrab: All the commotion must've distracted the security man, allowing the NY Post to sneak in and ambush Goldstein on Forest City Ratner's allegedly private street.

Posted by eric at 12:46 PM

For Columbia Expansion Appeal, State Looks to Atlantic Yards

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Columbia University's proposed 17-acre expansion is set for a test June 1, when the state's top court is scheduled to hear arguments on the use of eminent domain, a power that was ruled unconstitutional by a state appellate court in December in a humiliating blow for the Ivy League school and the state. (The scathing court decision labeled the state's argument that the area was blighted as "mere sophistry.")

Seeking to reverse the decision, the state's lawyers are arguing that the appellate court was far off-base, and ignored precedent set by the top court in November for the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, the $4.9 billion housing and basketball arena project in Brooklyn.

Both sides--the state's development agency (funded by Columbia for this case), and landowners Nick Sprayregen and Gurnam Singh--have now submitted their briefs, and here's a look.

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Posted by eric at 12:37 PM

Atlantic Yards Project: Another Brooklyn Holdout Emerges

Housing Watch
by Lisa Selin Davis

Out of the rubble -- literally -- of the Atlantic Yards construction zone, another family has emerged. A woman named Aisha Ahmed, whose ex-husband bought 481 Dean St. in 1988, is asking for $170,000 more than she has been offered -- or $85,000 for each child -- to vacate her property. We don't know what the previous offer was, nor do we know if the property has been officially sold, since no records have been found.

We do know that the state, the developers, and probably even the members of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the organization that Goldstein led (until he retired as spokesperson after receiving his settlement) were unaware of the Ahmed family's presence. They are described as "elusive" and perhaps the building is in bad enough shape that it fits the definition of blight that Forest City Ratner, AY's developer, fought so hard to establish.

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NoLandGrab: The "elusive" Ahmed family ingeniously concealed themselves by being the only people on the block with a light on, which can be seen in this photo (second building to the left of Freddy's), taken last Friday night by Tracy Collins.

And as the photo (also by Collins, click to enlarge) to the right shows, 481 Dean Street, the second building from the left, is hardly in "bad enough shape" to fit any objective definition of blight (that is, one not dreamed up by the Empire State Developmenter Corporation and Forest City Ratner), which Housing News would have known had they bothered to go round and look, or had they even just Googled "481 Dean Street," like we did.

Posted by eric at 12:18 PM

Another look at the Peter Williams case: did easement come with building and could it be sold to opponents?

Atlantic Yards Report

WNYC reports on the case brought by Peter Williams Enterprises (PWE):

He says the state took his property by eminent domain but forgot about air rights he acquired above an adjacent building nine years ago.
...Forest City Ratner says Williams never owned the air rights but instead a light and view easement that he forfeited when he gave up his building.

The lawsuit says that PWE was conveyed "certain property above the plane" of 24 Sixth Avenue, including, as noted in the underlying document, "the right and interest of light and air."

So that's property, but it isn't "air rights" in the sense of the right to build.

Does easement go with building?

It's plausible that a property owner would lose the benefit of an easement when that property is sold; as described in FindLaw, some easements typically remain with the property while others do not.

With the former, the "easement essentially becomes part of the legal description." However, as Williams's lawsuit states, the easement was never described in eminent domain proceeding.

And another twist

The New York Post reports:

Williams told the Post he was contacted by project opponents who are in the process of raising money to buy the air rights before Ratner can. He declined to give his asking price but said he’d "prefer" to sell to the opponents because he considers Ratner a "bully."

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Related coverage...

WNYC Radio, Atlantic Yards Project Hit With Another Legal Challenge

A former Prospect Heights property owner says he still owns air rights over a small parcel where the Atlantic Yards arena is being built.

AP, Air-rights lawsuit seeks to derail Nets arena

Another lawsuit has been filed aimed at halting the Brooklyn development that includes a new arena for basketball's Nets.

Gothamist, Atlantic Yards Faces "Air Rights" Hurdle

Bruce Ratner must have exhaled a sigh of relief when outspoken nemesis Daniel Goldstein finally agreed to vacate the last apartment in the footprint of his multi-billion dollar Atlantic Yards site last month, giving way for the humongous project to begin construction. But just because no one is physically in his way anymore doesn't mean Ratner doesn't have to contend with more ethereal concerns!

Can't Stop The Bleeding, Final Atlantic Yard Holdout To Ratner : You Paid For The Ground, Now Cough Up For The Air

While Bruce Ratner was finally successfully in paying Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s Daniel Goldstein to leave his Brooklyn home, another local resident is presenting a separate challenge to plans to build a new Nets arena.

Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

May 5, 2010

Atlantic Yards holdout Peter Williams claims developer Bruce Ratner doesn't own air rights

NY Daily News
by Erin Durkin

Just when developer Bruce Ratner thought he'd grabbed all the land he needed for his Atlantic Yards project, a property owner is staking one last claim - to the air above the site.

Peter Williams insists he still owns the air rights over a Sixth Ave. lot - and says the state forgot to condemn it when they used eminent domain to seize the rest of the site.

He sued the state Tuesday, charging the Empire State Development Corp. is trying to "steal" his property and "intends to proceed as if it owns property it plainly does not.

"They screwed up," Williams said.
...

The state took possession of the Sixth Ave. building where Williams' grown children lived on March 1 - but never filed to condemn the air rights he owns over the former condo building next door.

"I have something of value that they're not paying me for," he said. "They're trying to run me over with a steamroller."

Williams came to own the air rights over the building next door in 2001, in return for letting the owner route an emergency exit through his property.

But other property owners at the project site can't follow Williams into court looking for a payday: Their air rights were taken by the state along with their land.

Without Williams' air rights, Ratner can't build anything taller than four stories at the site. He also can't claim the "vacant possession" of the project site he needs before turning over ownership of the NBA's New Jersey Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets are slated to move into the Barclays Center arena in 2012.

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Related coverage...

The Real Deal, AY air rights the latest hurdle for Ratner

A former Prospect Heights property owner is claiming to own the air rights to a part of the site where Bruce Ratner plans to build his new Nets arena and is suing the state for trying to "steal" it.
...

If the court rules in Williams' favor, a state condemnation of his air rights could take up to two years -- time that could devastate the project.

Curbed, The Last Last Holdouts

Bruce Ratner thought he had cleared out the last Atlantic Yards holdout when he struck a $3 million deal with Daniel Goldstein, but it turns out Goldstein has competition for the "last holdout" title.

NY Post, Air-rights suit hits Nets plan

Posted by eric at 10:42 AM

Noticing New York on the Goldstein settlement: the bargain the state enabled Ratner, bad public policy on free speech, and the ongoing battle

Atlantic Yards Report

Michael D.D. White has written a must-read on his Noticing New York blog, arguing that Forest City Ratner received a huge bargain (given the enormous development rights enabled by the state) when it settled with Daniel Goldstein for $3 million, that the developer will seek continuing advantage in the Atlantic Yards fight, that the state inappropriately assited Forest City Ratner in trying to muzzle Goldstein, and that the reporting on the settlement disserved the public.

I mostly agree, with a few amendments. As I wrote 4/30/08, regarding Ratner's purchases of other apartments in Goldstein's building:

While it looks like the developer was being generous, the enormous increase in development rights made it worthwhile--even if he had to pay, which he doesn’t.

In that case, Ratner was directly reimbursed by city taxpayers for the land purchases. In Goldstein's case, there's no more money in that specific kitty--but the developer has since found new ways to gain public concessions, and surely will continue to do so.

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Posted by eric at 9:25 AM

May 4, 2010

In last-minute lawsuit, owner of easement in arena block seeks to preclude claim of vacant possession; his goal is money, not to stop arena

Atlantic Yards Report

Peter Williams, who owned an industrial building-turned-home (occupied by his two adult children, and a third person) in the Atlantic Yards arena block, settled weeks ago with Forest City Ratner.

Now he's brought an unusual lawsuit claiming that the state made a "colossal mistake" in not pursuing eminent domain for the easement bordering and above the Spalding Building at Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street. He acquired the easement in 2001 and owned adjacent 38 Sixth Avenue.

This could stop the Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner from claiming they have achieved "vacant possession" of the arena block when current occupants leave by Saturday.

The easement prevents anything more than four stories from being built at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street--presumably precluding an arena.

Doh! Stupid easements!

Though the lawsuit raises the spectre of requiring a whole new process under the Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL), Williams, a former plaintiff in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain cases, has not displayed a particular ideological bent. Rather, he's publicly said he's in it for the money.

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NoLandGrab: What's a few million when you could be a hero to millions? Don't forget, Ratner had your son thrown in jail — for taking one of Ratner's spycams off your own building!

Posted by eric at 10:55 PM

Bklyn arena opponent sues state for allegedly screwing up condemnation proceedings

The Brooklyn Blog [NYPost.com]
by Rich Calder

Hold the shovels. Again.

A real-estate mogul says he owns some "air rights" above the site of the planned Nets arena in Brooklyn — and that the billion-dollar project can’t be completed until he settles the issue with the developer.

Peter Williams — who has already received a money settlement from developer Bruce Ratner for handing over property he owned at the arena site — today filed a scathing lawsuit accusing the state of fowling up the project’s controversial condemnation process and trying to "steal" his air rights.

Or as Bruce Ratner and his lackeys at the ESDC like to call them, "err rights."

It alleges the state colossally blundered by never condemning air rights Williams has owned since 2001 above and around 24 Sixth Avenue in Prospect Heights when it previously condemned other land owned by project holdouts.
...

If the court sides with Williams, it could take up to two years for the state to be able to "condemn" the air rights and clear the way for the project — time that Ratner doesn’t have.

The project nearly fell apart over earlier legal delays, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s anticipated purchase of the Nets from Ratner is contingent on all the property being free and clear of any hurdles.

Wlliams said he filed the suit because he believes the state "screwed up" and he considers Ratner "a bully." He declined to say how much of a settlement he’s seeking but is open to one.

"I’m not a martyr like Daniel Goldstein," he said, referring to the leader of the project opposition group who last month ended a six-year holdout on his condo by agreeing to a $3 million settlement.

The suit raises the issue of whether air rights should be considered a separate property lot.

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NoLandGrab: While Governor Paterson is threatening to furlough state employees, it sounds like ESDC attorneys will be working overtime.

Queens Crap, "New York State's Colossal Mistake"

This is the footprint of the Atlantic Yards project (in yellow).

The red outline shows a large piece of property that, according to opponents, the state forgot to condemn, which means the entire project is now in really serious jeopardy, if not dead.

And that payment that Bruce Ratner is making to Daniel Goldstein to get him out by Friday is really just a lot of money down the toilet now from Ratner's perspective, because Goldstein really was never the last obstacle. Actually, the last obstacle is the state's own stupidity.

How wonderfully ironic yet completely appropriate is this?

NoLandGrab: It's a actually a tiny lot adjacent to that red parcel (and air space above it), but it might well be large enough to cause Bruce Ratner and the ESDC a monumental (and, might we add, well deserved) headache.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Forgotten Land & People at Atlantic Yards?

Small blunders could be causing some big problems for the Atlantic Yards project.

Two unexpected events have recently arisen inside the footprint of Forest City Ratner’s proposed $4.9 billion development near Downtown Brooklyn, which project shall feature a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets.

Forgotten Parcel Not Codemned?

A piece of property about the size of a standard one-bedroom apartment in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards site was never officially condemned, says attorney Matthew Brinckheroff in an action filed in Kings County Supreme Court on behalf of the property’s owner.
...

“Last week we wrote them and said, ‘You made a mistake,’” Brinckerhoff told the Eagle Tuesday. “ESDC [the state’s Empire State Development Corporation] said, ‘That’s not a piece of property; we already condemned it, even though we didn’t,’ and basically told us to go jump in a lake. So instead of jumping in a lake, we sued.”
...

Brinckerhoff pointed out that in the UDC’s 2006 documents, they clearly state that in the “event of any inconsistency between the street addresses and the tax blocks and lots, the block and lot information shall control.”

He said that under state law, UDC must now hold a public hearing to consider condemnation of this lot and issue its results.

Posted by eric at 8:21 PM

Atlantic Yards: Property Owner Files Legal Action Based on New York State’s "Colossal Mistake"

Seeks to Prevent New York State From Claiming Right to Property It Forgot to Condemn for Forest City Ratner’s Basketball Arena

New York State Does Not Own All The Real Estate Interests In the Arena Block Of The Atlantic Yards Project

Peter Williams Enterprises, Inc. Press Release via Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

New York, NY— On Tuesday, Peter Williams Enterprises, Inc. (“PWE”), a company owned by Peter Williams, filed an action in New York State Court seeking a declaration of its ownership of a tax lot on the block where Forest City Ratner plans to build an arena for its professional basketball team.

PWE owns the property located at 24 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, specifically, the entirety of Block 1127, Lot 7501 (“Lot 7501”). Unlike the other lots located at 24 Sixth Avenue (Lots 1001-1021), which were condemned by the New York State Urban Development Corp (the “UDC”), and recently leased to a Forest City Ratner affiliate, the UDC did not condemn Lot 7501.

Indeed, the UDC did not identify Lot 7501 in either its Notice of Public Hearing, pursuant to Article 2 of the EDPL, dated July 24, 2006 (the “Notice”), or its Determination and Findings, pursuant to EDPL § 204, dated December 8, 2006 (the “Determination”). Both the Notice and the Determination identified the property subject to acquisition by condemnation by block and lot. Both listed Lots 1001-1021as the only lots UDC sought to acquire located at 24 Sixth Avenue. Both expressly provided that the “street addresses are included for ease of reference only,” and that in the “event of any inconsistency between the street addresses and the tax blocks and lots, the block and lot information shall control.” Because Lot 7501 was never identified, it cannot be, and has not been, taken eminent domain.

In the Complaint, PWE’s attorney, Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, explained that: “If defendants want to acquire title to Lot 7501, they must do so through legal means. The UDC must follow the procedures set forth in the EDPL; it must hold a public hearing to consider condemnation of Lot 7501 and thereafter issue the predicate findings and determination. It cannot simply take that which it does not own.”

The Complaint and other documents establishing PWE’s claim can be obtained on request from mbrinckerhoff@ecbalaw.com.

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NoLandGrab: Oops?

Posted by eric at 8:06 PM

“$hhh!” A Thieving Developer Wants Daniel Goldstein Quiet About Its Misdeeds, Meaning the Atlantic Yards Fight Ain’t Over

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White examines Forest City Ratner's headlong attempt to muzzle Daniel Goldstein.

After nearly seven years of fighting to stay in his home Mr. Goldstein, already stripped of his home ownership and facing imminent eviction as eminent domain was being wielded against him to build the basketball arena that is proposed to be owned by Forest City Ratner and a Russian close-to-the-Kremlin oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, agreed to the compensation figure he would receive. That compensation turns out to amount to far less than that value of his property’s development rights and therefore far less than the value of what was taken from him, far less than the value of what we think he should have been entitled to. More on this further in.

The thing that was so odd in this process and about which the media yet failed to report is how important it was to Forest City Ratner to attempt to deprive Daniel Goldstein of his right to speak out against the project. Because of the way it was negotiated, with Daniel Goldstein stoutly refusing to give up his free speech rights, we will never know the exact dollar value Forest City Ratner put on his unrelinquished rights. We would have been thrilled if Mr. Goldstein had played the negotiations in a way that teased out that precise figure before he rejected it but had he been so clever he could have run the risk of appearing unprincipled and insincere to the judge.* Nevertheless, the fact that Forest City Ratner pressed hard to deprive him of his rights, enlisting the weight of the state and Judge Gerges in the negotiations to do so, has to be viewed as highly significant and startling.

(* Mr. Goldstein did find himself in a bit of an ironic PR box: It seems the more principled one is, the more altruistically principled people want you to be. Some thought Mr. Goldstein should have taken none of the compensation that was offered late in the game and should have been led out of his apartment in chain gang-style with the rest of his family.)

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NoLandGrab: If Daniel Goldstein was in it for the money, then Forest City must've been in it for the stupidity. Claiming losses of $6.7 million per month while unable to take vacant possession, wouldn't it have made sense for them to offer him $6 million or $7 million on March 1st, the day that Justice Abe Gerges handed title over to New York State.

Posted by eric at 7:49 PM

May 3, 2010

Precedent uncertain for eminent domain lawsuit

The Court of Appeals will soon re-examine whether the state can, on Columbia’s behalf, seize private property for the “public good” in exchange for market-rate compensation.

Columbia Spectator
by Maggie Astor

Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plan seemed to be approaching the finish line, but last December, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division threw a wrench in the plans, deeming the use of eminent domain for the project illegal.

On June 1, the Court of Appeals—the highest court in New York—will re-examine whether the state can, on Columbia’s behalf, seize private property for the “public good” in exchange for market-rate compensation. The fate of eminent domain could determine the fate of the expansion.

Many players hoping to predict the outcome have turned to the November 2009 Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation case, in which the Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards commercial development in Brooklyn.

To some, the link seems clear: If the Court of Appeals forbade eminent domain in Manhattanville, they argue, it would violate its own precedent. But the plaintiffs here say the legal issues and the projects on the whole are very different.

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NoLandGrab: Alternatively, the Court of Appeals could come to their senses, admit they totally f*cked up, and actually protect New York State's citizens from the abuses of government.

Posted by eric at 9:45 AM

April 29, 2010

Gut Instinct: So Long, Fred

JOSH BERNSTEIN blows a goodbye kiss to Freddy’s

New York Press
by Joshua M. Bernstein

BY THE TIME many of you read this, the end will have come for Prospect Heights dive Freddy’s. Its destruction has been destined for seven years, ever since developer Bruce Ratner announced plans to bulldoze swaths of the central Brooklyn neighborhood and build luxury skyscrapers and a stadium housing the New Jersey Nets, which, happily, just completed one of the losingest campaigns in NBA history.

Sure, the lawsuits, rallies and hamfisted eminent domain gave residents and businesses dwelling in the Atlantic Yards footprint a kernel of David-versus-Goliath hope, but really: Ratner had billions of reasons to shoehorn this project into the neighborhood, doling out political donations like Halloween candy, soliciting sweetheart tax breaks and and enlisting the slobbering boosterism of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Please, come on out and support your Nets, Brooklyn,” I can hear him beg, as local interest flags after another 12–70 season.

But the pleasure I’ll take in watching Marty drown his sorrows in Junior’s cheesecake is trumped by the sadness I feel at Freddy’s closure. This quirky, curios-strewn tavern, where you could catch a banjo player one night, before building dioramas the next and participating in a spelling bee, will serve its final pint on April 30. After seven years of fighting, and staring down the wrecking ball, Freddy’s owners’ resignedly accepted a settlement from Ratner.

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Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

April 28, 2010

Farewell to Freddy's! Beloved watering hole near Yards closes for good on Friday

Courier-Life Publications
by Stephen Brown

Follow the link for some interesting Freddy's history.

Hipsters, old-timers, and barflies will raise their glasses at Freddy’s Bar for the last time on Friday — making a final toast to a Prohibition-era watering hole, but one man won’t be there: the man whose name is on the awning.

Freddy Chadderton, who sold the bar to its current owner in 1996, lives on Long Island — but at age 82, he isn’t looking back at his salad days.

“I had a good run,” he told us this week.

But Chadderton is one of the few people connected with this bar that isn’t crying at least a bit in his beer this week, recalling a neighborhood joint that apparently has to be torn down so that Bruce Ratner can build a basketball arena.

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Posted by eric at 11:15 AM

At panel on eminent domain, Siegel describes abuses, proposes reforms; defender of status quo ignores problems raised in Columbia and AY cases

Atlantic Yards Report

For those of us who have seen civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, victorious so far in the effort to block eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, speak on panels or testify before an oversight hearing, most of his critique yesterday on "The Use (or Misuse) of Eminent Domain in NYC" at New York Law School (video) was not unfamiliar.

Siegel made some compelling points about eminent domain abuses, but more intriguing was the respondent, land use use attorney Ross Moskowitz, who offered a full defense of the status quo, warning of abuses--notably, the potential for holdouts to distort the process--while ignoring the problems raised in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases.

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Posted by eric at 9:51 AM

April 27, 2010

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!...

The New York Times, Eager to Rebuild Willets Point, City Faces Legal Fight From Property Owners

It is one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s signature projects — the sweeping transformation of Willets Point, a slice of Queens that has long been among the city’s most neglected pieces of real estate. And a little over a year ago, it seemed like a done deal.

The City Council approved the proposal, which would sweep aside the car-repair shops, junkyards and small factories in the shadow of Citi Field to make room for 5,500 apartments, parks, office buildings, stores, restaurants and a hotel.

Many of the largest property owners agreed to sell to the city, and the city could use eminent domain to force out those who refused.

But a convergence of a Park Avenue lawyer known for toppling big projects, a sawdust maker bent on keeping the family business where it has been for decades, and a pair of highway ramps that exist only on paper threatens to doom Mr. Bloomberg’s grand vision.

Posted by eric at 1:58 PM

April 26, 2010

Last Atlantic Yards holdout agrees to leave

ABC 7
Darla Miles reporting

Here's a local TV news story from last week that eluded our normally trusty search efforts.

link

Posted by eric at 4:46 PM

Despite FCR's announced demolition plans, building at 752 Pacific may become developer's construction headquarters

Atlantic Yards Report

Though Forest City Ratner executive Maryanne Gilmartin has said in court papers that the developer plans to demolish the building long owned by Henry Weinstein at 752 Pacific Street for parking, another court document suggests that the six-story building, renovated into office space, more likely will serve as offices during the construction phase of the arena.

That makes sense on two levels. First, it would be an expensive and lengthy process to demolish such a staunch building.

(Gilmartin, in paragraph 37 of the affidavit below that's part of the Order to Show Cause, says it would take "several months to perform the work necessary to prepare for an actual demolition" of 636 Pacific Street, the taller but much narrower warehouse-turned-condo building where Daniel Goldstein lives, and approximately five months for the actual demolition.)

Second, Forest City Ratner will be demolishing the similarly staunch Spalding Building, now home to project offices, at Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street, thus leaving a significant gap.

(Photo taken December 2008 by Tracy Collins)

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Posted by eric at 10:49 AM

The denunciation of the ESDC's condemnation push that was never resolved, but surely influenced the Goldstein settlement

Atlantic Yards Report

Why did Forest City Ratner settle with Daniel Goldstein last Wednesday for $3 million? The most obvious reasons were to save the alleged $6.7 million monthly cost of delay it alleged, and to pave the way for Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's purchase of the Nets, which was depending on vacant possession of the site.

Another reason--and a reason for Goldstein to settle--was that Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges pushed for a settlement. He didn't want to adjudicate the case, nor preside over an eviction that could easily have become a media event.

Given the Empire State Developmeny Corporation's initial and ridiculous lowball appraisal of his apartment, Goldstein had to calculate his vulnerability to pursuing the case and getting a check that was worth far less than a replacement apartment.

That said, it would have been of significant interest had the case continued, because, at least according to a response from Goldstein's attorney, the ESDC was way out of line.

Click through to learn why.

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Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

Greg David of Crain's gets it very wrong: "New Yorkers, through their political process" decided "Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city"

Atlantic Yards Report

In a column headlined An eminent name in domain debate, Crain's New York Business editorial director Greg David defends eminent domain for Atlantic Yards while, astonishingly, neglecting to acknowledge how local elected officials were ignored.
...

I always tell that story to my class on the New York City economy when we study commercial development issues. Then I explain how the indomitable Brooklyn gadfly Daniel Goldstein—who last week finally gave up his long fight to stop the Atlantic Yards project—convinced me the mayor was right.

Historically, eminent domain allowed governments to seize land for public purposes such as roads, schools, parks and airports. In Kelo, the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for states and cities to take private property on behalf of private interests for a public purpose such as improving the economy.

The complications are obvious. The government is putting the interests of one private party, in this case Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, above those of another, in this case some existing Brooklyn residents and businesses.

Critics of the Kelo decision say that the doctrine is unfair and creates opportunities for abuse by powerful interests and that developers like Forest City can and should use their resources to buy out the other parties.

But Mr. Goldstein wasn't interested in the money. He grudgingly sold his condo last week only because his choice was to accept a $3 million offer today and move out in two weeks or wait two months for a court to evict him and award him less money. He could have gotten much more months ago, maybe years ago.

He didn't do that because his mission was to impose his vision of what was best for Brooklyn, even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city.

Without eminent domain, he would have succeeded.

Hold on. Goldstein was reacting to the developer's vision, one the city supported from the start. There was no political process, no role for the City Council, no role for any local elected officials. In fact, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff told the New York Observer in December 2007:

“I am a huge believer in the ULURP process. I think it makes sense. It allows the issues to be aired in an appropriate way. If it happened again, and the state were to ask if I would encourage them to take Atlantic Yards through the ULURP process, I would say yes.”

The project was approved by the board of the unelected ESDC and the state funding was upheld by the Public Authorities Control Board--the "three men in a room": the governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader.

Goldstein's comment

Goldstein wrote in response:

Mr. David, your argument almost made some sense until the very end. I wasn't trying to "impose my vision on what was best for Brooklyn even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city."

There WAS no political process. Not a single elected official ever voted on Atlantic Yards. ULURP and NYC's zoning laws were overridden, and the unaccountable, unelected ESDC and MTA made all the key decisions. New Yorkers had no political process to make any decisions about Atlantic Yards.

That is the fundamental problem with Atlantic Yards that so many have been shouting and fighting about all this time.

Furthermore, all of the benefits of Atlantic Yards, including the arena and the housing, could have been built without using eminent domain, without taking my home. All of them. But that wouldn't have been the huge gift to Forest City Ratner that the use of eminent domain has been.

So while I and many others certainly have ideas of what would be good for Brooklyn and what urban planning ideas could work and wouldn't work, I didn't impose my vision on some publicly and politically approved project. I resisted, along with thousands of others and numerous politicians, the imposed vision of one developer.

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Posted by eric at 10:03 AM

An eminent name in domain debate

Crain's NY Business
by Greg David

The former Crain's editor swings and misses — yet again — at the use (and abuse) of eminent domain.

In the aftermath of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain—the famous Kelo v. City of New London case—I tried to explain my uncertain views on the topic in a Dec. 5 column:

“The once-esoteric legal doctrine of eminent domain has put me in the middle of an unusual lobbying blitz. On one side are people who support important development projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn or the expansion of Columbia University, both of which will need to involve eminent domain. On the other is my daughter, who has taken up the issue as part of her American government class and is sure eminent domain needs to be outlawed. More and more, I think my daughter is right.”

At 9:30 that Monday morning, my phone rang. “Hold for Mayor Bloomberg.” Then came the voice, unmistakable and firm. “I couldn't disagree with you more,'' the mayor said. “Without eminent domain, we will get nothing accomplished in this city!”

I always tell that story to my class on the New York City economy when we study commercial development issues. Then I explain how the indomitable Brooklyn gadfly Daniel Goldstein—who last week finally gave up his long fight to stop the Atlantic Yards project—convinced me the mayor was right.

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NoLandGrab: We'll leave it to Norman Oder to dissect this column and its one giant factual error. However, we've written before about how Mr. David never really questioned the abuse of eminent domain, only pretending to do so to avoid a family squabble. In fact, we challenge Mr. David to produce one example of his wrestling with the issue since that December 5, 2005 column.

Historically, eminent domain allowed governments to seize land for public purposes such as roads, schools, parks and airports. In Kelo, the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for states and cities to take private property on behalf of private interests for a public purpose such as improving the economy.

The complications are obvious. The government is putting the interests of one private party, in this case Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, above those of another, in this case some existing Brooklyn residents and businesses.

Critics of the Kelo decision say that the doctrine is unfair and creates opportunities for abuse by powerful interests and that developers like Forest City can and should use their resources to buy out the other parties.

But Mr. Goldstein wasn't interested in the money. He grudgingly sold his condo last week only because his choice was to accept a $3 million offer today and move out in two weeks or wait two months for a court to evict him and award him less money. He could have gotten much more months ago, maybe years ago.

He didn't do that because his mission was to impose his vision of what was best for Brooklyn, even though New Yorkers, through their political process, had decided that Atlantic Yards was in the best interest of the city.

Without eminent domain, he would have succeeded.

Posted by eric at 9:30 AM

April 23, 2010

After 6 years against Atlantic Yards, Daniel Goldstein takes the money and leaves

NY Daily News
by Juan Gonzalez

A must-read from a Daily News columnist who gets it.

Back in 2005, Jim Stuckey, a top aide to real estate mogul Bruce Ratner, gave me a tour of the Atlantic Yards site.

Stuckey proudly pointed to the architectural model in his office, to the new Nets arena, to the 16 high-rise housing towers - most of them market-rate - and to the retail shopping complex.

"Where is Dan Goldstein's apartment on your site?" I asked.

Stuckey placed his finger in the middle of the arena's footprint.

"Then you have a problem," I said. "Until you get Goldstein out, you can't build - and that won't be easy."

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Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily News columnist Gonzalez: DDDB "ignited a much-needed public debate over what kind of city New York wants to become"

New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, in a sympathetic column headlined After 6 years against Atlantic Yards, Daniel Goldstein takes the money and leaves, connects Daniel Goldstein to Jane Jacobs:

Goldstein, a Web designer, was refusing to move. Only two years earlier, he had bought a new condo in the neighborhood for $590,000. He had this wild-eyed idea that the people of a community should be consulted before the government condemns their property to make a rich developer even richer.

Goldstein was a tireless organizer of his neighbors in Prospect Heights. He urged them to resist Ratner and his powerful backers, Mayor Bloomberg, former Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer and Gov. Paterson.

The group those neighbors founded, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, became an amazing grassroots movement.

Back in the 1960s, a little old lady named Jane Jacobs fought Robert Moses, when the legendary masterbuilder sought to bulldoze the Lower Manhattan Expressway through the heart of our city. Now a computer nerd named Goldstein and his group waged their own David-and-Goliath battle against the new masterbuilders.

Posted by eric at 10:37 AM

Brutally weird City Room post suggests neighborhoods with development fights as potential homes for Goldstein

Atlantic Yards Report

A notably trivial post on the New York Times's City Room blog, headlined For Developers’ Foe, Suggestions for the Next Battleground, whimsically suggests that Atlantic Yards opponent Daniel Goldstein might want to move into a development fight elsewhere, such as Manhattanville; New London, CT; and New York University.

The post is so sloppy that, regarding Willets Point, Queens, it claims that "[t]he city headed off an eminent-domain squabble." It hasn't, as a glance at the Willets Point United site would show.

link

Posted by eric at 9:31 AM

April 22, 2010

Last Atlantic Yards Holdout Agrees to Move

Fox 5 New York
Carolyn Gusoff reporting

Daniel Goldstein sure doesn't sound like a man who's been gagged.

Daniel Goldstein waged an epic battle against the huge Atlantic yards project that will swallow up his Prospect Heights home. The battle ended Wednesday with a settlement. He'll get nearly $2.5 million more than he paid for his condo.

But he doesn't sound like man who will be cashing a check for $3 million.

"I have to be thankful that I'm not being completely screwed," he said Thursday. He said his lawyers will get a lot of that money.

link

Posted by eric at 11:14 PM

Last Night's Winner: The Almighty Dollar

Deadspin

Why is it always the sports blogs and writers who see through the hype? We reprint Deadspin's incisive analysis in full.

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like Daniel Goldstein, the last man standing between the Nets and their shiny Brooklyn arena, who just got $3 million to sit down. That stinks.

Goldstein is the founder of "Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn," a rag-tag band of community organizers who opposed the idea of dropping an ugly basketball arena on top of the busiest intersection in Brooklyn. His house also sits on the land that New Jersey Nets owner/scummy real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner needs to fulfill his terrible, terrible dream. Goldstein bought his condo for $590,000. The developer offered him $510,000 to get lost. He sued everyone he could to stay put. Ratner, the mayor, the city, the state, they guy who invented concrete. He became a major thorn in their side—but he lost. A lot.

So with his house seized under eminent domain and the state making plans to evict him, Goldstein is taking the money and packing it in. For $3 million, he is moving out, stepping down as DDDB's spokesman and agreeing in writing to not "actively oppose the project." He had no choice really—his lost cause was truly lost—but at least his fight to stop this swindle wasn't a total negative for him.

And this is an awful, awful swindle. Ratner convinced those in power that a downtown basketball arena was a good idea by hiring Frank Gehry to design a massive complex of offices, apartments, and shops that would rise and glitter above the court. Then Gehry was fired and most—perhaps all—of the buildings except for the arena will never be constructed. (The only thing Brooklyn needs less than a new arena is more empty condos.) The construction will clog one of the most highly-congested areas of New York City, with a giant eyesore that will distort already troubled traffic patterns. Worst of all, it is being paid for by tax-free government bonds—a nice assist for the billionaire Ratner—and built on land seized by the state to give to a private real estate developer. Even George Will (not exactly a well-known defender of the little guy) agrees that this is a terrible abuse of eminent domain that takes from the public to benefit private wealth. Nothing about the Atlantic Yards project can be considered a good thing, unless you're one of business people or politicians who will profit from it.

Nobody wants this. Yet it can't be stopped, because the rich always win.

Goldstein wins too, because at least he will be able buy a new house and hopefully erase most of his legal bills. (He also met his wife while protesting the project, so that's nice.) Ratner wins because that's one less bump to steamroll on his road to dumping this sorry idea on the lap of Mikhail Prokhorov. Mayor Mike Bloomberg wins because he'll get to stand at the ribbon cuttings and brag about the handful of "jobs" he created, although I'm sure he would never leave Manhattan just to watch a basketball game. Jay-Z wins because he's still Jay-Z and now he doesn't have to try and convince his buddy LeBron to move to Newark.

Everyone wins ... except Brooklyn. More traffic, more crowds, more noise, more corruption ... and they now have to root for the Nets. That may be the saddest part of all.

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Posted by eric at 11:06 PM

Daniel Goldstein, Shabnam Merchant and The Fight Against Corrupt Development

COUNTDOWN TO MAIN STREET

Daniel Goldstein and Shabnam Merchant, leaders of the fight against the corrupt development proposed by Forest City Ratner at the Atlantic Yards, negotiated a settlement to leave their apartment quickly. This has been reported in the press as "selling their home." They did not sell their apartment: it was seized by eminent domain. They were able to negotiate the terms of their leaving. They have been leaders in an historic fight, which has helped many of us to understand how developers pull off these deals to steal people's homes and change our cities without our consent. The Development Don't Destroy Brooklyn website has helped to expose every detail of how the process unfolded. This is a great contribution to all of us.

link

Related coverage...

Reason Hit & Run, Eminent Domain Abuse Finally Forces Daniel Goldstein Out

Much like the news that Freddy's Bar is closing at the end of the month, this is sad but not really shocking. These folks were up against an atrocious Supreme Court precedent, the state and city of New York, and a corrupt and politically-connected real estate tycoon. Thanks to their long battle, this shameless case of eminent domain abuse got some of the scrutiny that it deserves.

Field of Schemes, Atlantic Yards opponent takes $3m to vacate site

That whole Zimbabwe sanctions thing notwithstanding, the path to construction of the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn seems to be getting smoother of late. First, Freddy's Bar, which has been a main gathering point for arena opponents and even installed chains last year so patrons could help it resist eviction, announced it was moving to a new location, though owners promised to continue to fight the project. And then yesterday, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn leader Dan Goldstein agreed to take $3 million from developer Forest City Ratner in exchange for vacating his condo apartment by May 7.

Gothamist, Goldstein: "I Refused to Accept Any Kind of Gag Order"

Despite accepting $3 million in exchange for moving out of the Atlantic Yards, longtime Bruce Ratner enemy and last Atlantic Yards holdout Daniel Goldstein insists he is not giving up the fight. "I've not been silenced, and I am not leaving DDDB as it transitions into a new phase of fighting Atlantic Yards," he said in a press release sent out this morning. He claims that at yesterday's hearing with the Empire State Development Corporation, he had no idea he would be offered a settlement, and did not have a press statement ready. However, "Forest City Ratner saw it as a big press event and sent out a press release immediately," which Goldstein says led to biased reporting.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, Forest City reaches settlement with vocal opponent of Atlantic Yards project

The most vocal opponent of a Forest City Ratner Cos. project in Brooklyn has settled with the developer, the New York arm of Cleveland's Forest City Enterprises Inc.

WCBS-TV, B'klyn Arena Holdout: 'I Don't Feel Like A Winner'

Activist Daniel Goldstein isn't popping any champagne corks Thursday even though, as the last holdout, he's getting $3 million to move out of his Brooklyn condo to make way for the controversial Atlantic Yards project.
...

Goldstein fought a five-year battle to stop the project. But since it's going forward he says he's doesn't feel like a winner.

"Ratner's a winner. He's got control of 22 acres in the heart of Brooklyn that he got cheaply on a no-bid deal that makes him a winner," added Ratner. "It's abuse of eminent domain. It's abuse of billions in tax subsidies."

Gideon's Trumpet, The Atlantic Yards Settlement - Lowball Thwarted, or a Big Score Made?

The moral also seems to be that sometimes it may be cheaper to pay off a determined holdout, than to go to the mat with him. It would be interesting to learn what this caper has cost both the city and the redeveloper, considering the cost of litigation and delay.

NJ.com, Come May, will prospective Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov be playing the lotto?

There’s a rumor circulating that Daniel Goldstein’s phone rang as soon as he received his lovely ($3M) parting gift from Ratner Inc. On the line was Brett Yormark, asking him if he wanted to buy a suite. We can officially confirm this rumor as “not necessarily true, but sounds really plausible.”

The Brooklyn Ink, VARYING OPINIONS ON GOLDSTEIN’S HOLDOUT AND PAYOUT

Websites and blogs dedicated to opposing the Atlantic Yards project have published myriad opinions on Daniel Goldstein’s $3 million payout to vacate his apartment.

The following items, which we include solely as part of the Atlantic Yards record, fall into the following categories: Daniel Goldstein was in it for the money (patently absurd); OMG, Daniel Goldstein made a mint (not really, and let's remember how much it was worth to Ratner to settle); Daniel Goldstein shouldn't have settled (moronic — the state already owned his home); Daniel Goldstein should move to another neighborhood threatened by eminent domain (just plain dopey). Proceed at your own risk.

BOCOCA Land, $3 Million? When Do You Want Us Out?

Housing Watch, Brooklyn Development: Atlantic Yards' Last Holdout Gets Monster Settlement

NetsAreScorching, BARCLAYS CENTER FINALLY WITHIN REACH…I HOPE…

Culture Monster [LA Times blog], Yet another chapter in the Atlantic Yards saga

NY Post.com Real Estate blog, New York State not such a great negotiator

Cobble HIll Blog, Open Thread – Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn or What Would You Do with the Money?

City Room, For Developers’ Foe, Suggestions for the Next Battleground

Posted by eric at 10:05 PM

Last Atlantic Yards holdout sells his condo for $3 million

NY Post
by Rich Calder

Goldstein, the most public face of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the group that nearly broke the project's back through mounting litigation, reached the deal yesterday to sell his three-bedroom Prospect Heights apartment to Ratner.

Goldstein paid $590,000 for the condo in 2003 -- only months before Ratner revealed his Atlantic Yards project, which besides an 18,000 seat arena is set to include 16 skyscrapers of residential and commercial space.

Ratner, who purchased the Nets in 2003 and used his pitch of bringing the team to Brooklyn to help get approval for his 22-acre project, is awaiting NBA approval to sell a majority stake in the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

GlobeSt.com, Atlantic Yards Holdouts Reach Agreements

Earlier this week, another prominent holdout, Freddy’s Bar and Back Room, announced that it too had reached an agreement to relocate from the project’s footprint. In a statement, manager Donald O’Finn says, “The owner of Freddy’s has had to consider those employed at Freddy’s as well as his own situation, needing employment and food on the table. He made a difficult decision to pull out in such a way as to keep the contents of the bar and move it into another location. If we wait for condemnation we might sacrifice too much.”

Queens Crap, Atlantic Yards opponent accepts settlement

So who the hell is the winner here?

  • Daniel and his family lost their home as well as 7 years of their lives fighting against this project. Sure they have money, but after paying the lawyer, paying taxes, and finding a comparable home, there really won't be much profit made.

  • Forest City Ratner has lost many millions of dollars and their project has been drastically downsized.

  • ACORN pretty much has lost everything.

  • The MTA is in dire financial straits in part because they accepted a low ball offer from Ratner for the right to build above their train yard.

  • The City (meaning us) is left with a boondoggle project that we will be forced to pay for one way or another over the next few decades. There is more likely to be acres of parking lots than affordable housing and the best case scenario gives us a shitty basketball team, a bunch of permanent but part time minimum wage jobs, and a huge a traffic headache in return for allowing the destruction of a neighborhood that was actually doing fine without intervention.

  • Worst of all, we still have the country's worst eminent domain laws on the books, which will continue to be used on the little guy by corrupt developers and politicians. Hopefully, awareness of the work done by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and other groups fighting this abuse will lead to an eventual change in the law.

THESE BASTARDS, Cheap Blogging Crutch - 4.21.10

It's a Nice Neighborhood, But it Could be Making More Money
The Atlantic Yards project, the ~$4 billion eminent domain "development" that's about to gut my neighborhood, just cut a check to the last holdout, Daniel Goldstein, general in the war against bullshit. And that, as a decidedly lame fictional character once said, is that.

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter, Daniel's statement on yesterday's deal

Yesterday I met Dan at court to follow up his eviction hearing. When I got there I found that after a long negotiation he had made an agreement to leave his condo 10 days earlier than the ESDC wanted in order to receive a reasonable financial settlement- rather than the low ball offer he was proffered. As he was at court as a tenant being forced from the home he had previously owned he wasn't thinking of it as a DDDB press day. As such, when FCR released a statement after the court hearing he was inundated with press calls and unable to get a statement out until late last night.

mole333's blog [The Daily Gotham], Ratner's Plans Progress: Statement From Daniel Goldstein, Victim of Eminent Domain Abuse

Since Bruce Ratner and his businesses, Forest City Ratner (which he officially runs) and the Empire State Development Corporation (which he seems to unoffically own) have been using the court settlment reached by Daniel Goldstein and the ESDC that finally forces him out of his apartment for their own PR purposes, and since they are misrepresenting the situation to pretend eminent domain abuse wasn't used to force Mr. Goldstein and his family out of their home, Mr. Goldstein has released the following statement....

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], The Day: Atlantic Yards Aftermath

This morning, Mr. Goldstein released a statement about the settlement via DDDB, saying that he has not given up his First Amendment rights to protest, and that Forest City Ratner created a media circus by promptly sending out a press release as soon as the settlement was agreed upon, which he did not expect to happen yesterday.

Posted by eric at 10:03 AM

$3 Million Deal Ends a Holdout in Brooklyn

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli

The Times put the settlement story on its front page.

For the past six years, Daniel Goldstein has been at the center of just about every rally, house party, concert and lawsuit opposed to the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project near Downtown Brooklyn.

He wielded a bullhorn and had a lightning-fast e-mail response to every incursion by the developer Bruce C. Ratner on the 22-acre project site at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. As the project advanced, and every one of his neighbors abandoned his building on Pacific Street, Mr. Goldstein remained with his wife and child, vowing never to be dislodged from their seventh-floor condominium.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Goldstein, the last residential holdout in Mr. Ratner’s way, agreed to walk away from his apartment by May 7 for $3 million. Mr. Goldstein, 40, also agreed to step down as spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the main group opposing Atlantic Yards. And he said he would withdraw from any litigation and not “actively oppose the project,” although he said he held on to his First Amendment rights.

“There’s no end to the criticism and opposition to the project,” Mr. Goldstein vowed.

Still, the settlement marked the end of a David-versus-Goliath fight that has captivated Brooklyn for years — or, depending on one’s position on the issue, thwarted its progress. Councilwoman Letitia James, a longtime ally of Mr. Goldstein’s, said that some opponents of Atlantic Yards “will obviously be disappointed, but not dissuaded” from fighting the project.

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Bertha Lewis, described simply as "housing advocate," disses Goldstein; Times ignores ACORN bailout

From the New York Times's front-page article, $3 Million Deal Ends a Holdout in Brooklyn:

Bertha Lewis, a housing advocate who supported the project, bid Mr. Goldstein “good riddance.”

“Low- and moderate-income people had to wait years for housing while he obstructed the Atlantic Yards project,” she said.

Hold on. Affordable housing depends on subsidies, not this project; that's why the Development Agreement, which the Times has chosen to ignore, offers the option to cite an Affordable Housing Subsidy Unavailability.

And since when is Bertha Lewis merely a "housing advocate"? She represented ACORN when it signed the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding with Forest City Ratner. And FCR later bailed out ACORN with a $1.5 million grant/loan.

NoLandGrab: Bertha Lewis is not merely a "housing advocate" — she's also full of crap. Bruce Ratner has owned perfectly habitable buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint for years, but hasn't housed anyone. He could have been building housing for low- and moderate-income people on property he controls in the footprint, but he only cares about building a basketball arena so he can unload the Nets. Daniel Goldstein's building, of course, sits near center court of the planned arena, not in the way of any housing. And where was Bertha when Bruce Ratner evicted several homeless families from their footprint shelter on Martin Luther King day? Some "housing advocate."

Atlantic Yards Report, What has the Atlantic Yards fight been about?

From the New York Times's coverage today, $3 Million Deal Ends a Holdout in Brooklyn:

Mr. [Daniel Goldstein] Goldstein helped build a coalition of 21 groups that said the project’s high-rises and density would overwhelm the neighborhood and make its clogged streets virtually impassable.

From Mr. Goldstein, 3/12/10: What Is Atlantic Yards? A Complete Failure of Democracy:

The sad and depraved history of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project was celebrated yesterday with a ceremonial groundbreaking attended by the elected officials most responsible for greasing its skids. It is nothing to celebrate.

What have they made happen? A bait and switch of epic proportions and a failure of democracy, mixed with corruption, notable even in New York State. Each branch of government--judicial, executive and legislative--has passed the buck to the other. None have acting responsibly or with principle or courage to stop the largest project proposed in Brooklyn's history, which has trampled on too many rights.

The project--entirely dependent upon massive and unaccounted taxpayer subsidies, eminent domain abuse, a giveaway of city streets, a no-bid sweetheart MTA deal, a complete override of all local zoning and numerous zoning regulations--never came before the city council or the state legislature for a vote. No elected official ever voted on the project. The results are a symptom of this.

Posted by eric at 9:16 AM

April 21, 2010

Daniel Goldstein agrees to sell, Round IV

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Goldstein, Foe of Ratner, To Leave Apartment In $3 Million Deal

Goldstein said the fight against Atlantic Yards as such is not over and that the development should not have been proposed in the first place. However, he says, “my main priority now is finding a new place to live for myself and my family.”

Gawker, Last Pure Man in Brooklyn Sells Out

Sellout news! Daniel Goldstein, the last Brooklyn guy who'd refused to sell his homes to make way for the massive and inevitable Atlantic Yards project, is selling his condo to the developer for $3 million—more than five times what he paid for it just seven years ago.
...

Goldstein fought the good fight and we're not knocking him one bit; we would have sold out long before bidding hit the $3 million mark. If nothing else, idealism can be used for economic gain!

set speed aka onehansonplace.com, Daniel Goldstein strikes it rich

The last holdout in the Atlantic Yards fight against Ratner cashes in with $3MM. Well-deserved, since his sweat equity was worth so much more than anyone else's. Wonder where he's going to move to.

The Star-Ledger, Deals with holdouts clear way for Nets' Atlantic Yards arena development, report says

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Atlantic Yards Holdout Agrees to Move

Journalism Now, Can everyone be bought?

NoLandGrab: Funny question, considering the source. If more journalists had dug more deeply into the crooked Atlantic Yards, especially in the mainstream media, Daniel Goldstein would not have been compelled to sell.

Posted by eric at 10:25 PM

DDDB's Goldstein settles for $3M (or less after attorney's fees), agrees to leave May 7, will take a step back from anti-AY activism

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder kicks off round three of the coverage of today's biggest real estate news.

After hours of negotiations following some brief but charged arguments in Kings County Supreme Court today, Daniel Goldstein, the spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn agreed to accept $3 million from Forest City Ratner--far more than the original low-ball $510,000 offer for his three-bedroom condo--in exchange for leaving by May 7 and reducing his prominent role in the Atlantic Yards opposition.

"The agreement today was in part about the value of my apartment, but more so it was about them, ESDC [Empire State Development Corporation], wanting me out quickly," Goldstein said. "They paid to get me out quickly."

Goldstein and his family are the last remaining occupants of a 31-unit building at 636 Pacific Street, in the heart of the arena block. His neighbors also made deals as a group in 2004, taking a significant profit (thanks to public funds reimbursing Forest City Ratner) and agreeing to a gag order.

"I cannot retain the title of spokesman," said Goldstein, who has long been DDDB's most prominent public face and activist, calling attention to "failure of democracy" with the project. "I can do whatever else I want, and it is stipulated that I can maintain my First Amendment rights."

After the settlement made by Freddy's Bar & Backroom, it's an acknowledgment by a vocal opponent of the inevitability of the arena, if not the project as a whole, and the power of the state in eminent domain cases in New York. The courts had already rejected eminent domain lawsuits and transferred title to the ESDC.
...

Was the settlement fair? From the perspective of Forest City Ratner, which claimed delay was costing them $6.7 million a month, it was surely worth the cost, given that they are tamping down a vocal opponent and weakening DDDB.

Beyond that, he agreed to leave faster than had been previously requested and much faster than in most eminent domain cases.

According to a legal motion filed earlier this month, Forest City Ratner claimed it had spent $280 million to buy property for Atlantic yards; unmentioned was that city taxpayers had contributed $131 million.

From the perspective of the ESDC, whose eminent domain counsel was funded by FCR and which worked hand-in-glove with the developer, surely it's worth it.

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Posted by eric at 7:30 PM

Foe of Brooklyn arena project agrees to leave

AP

Here's round two of stories about what it was worth to Bruce Ratner to convince Daniel Goldstein to sell him his home.

The last holdout in a long-running battle with the developer of an NBA arena in Brooklyn has agreed to sell his home on the site.

Daniel Goldstein and his family agreed in court Wednesday to leave their condo by May 7 in a settlement with the developer, Forest City Ratner Cos.
...

Goldstein founded Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which has filed several lawsuits seeking to block the Atlantic Yards development and has been the project's most vocal critic for years.

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More coverage...

Bergen Record, Holdouts' deal clears way for Nets arena in Brooklyn

The Nets’ Barclays Center Basketball Arena drew a critical step closer to a 2012 opening date Thursday, when long-time opponent Daniel Goldstein accepted a $3 million offer on his three-bedroom condominium.

The offer is almost six times the amount offered to Goldstein at the start of several hours of separate negotiations among Goldstein, New York State officials and Forest City Enterprises executives. Judge Abraham Gerges of New York Supreme Court — the equivalent of New Jersey Superior Court — oversaw the negotiations.
...

The windfall did not change Goldstein’s opinion of the $5 billion multi-use project.

“It’s an illegitimate project that never should have gone forward,” Goldstein said. “And it still shouldn’t.”

Daily Intel [NYMag.com], Dan Goldstein, Atlantic Yards’ Last Holdout, Steps Aside for $3 Million

Daniel Goldstein was one of the last seven holdouts in the way of the $4.9 billion dollar project, even though he had technically already been evicted and was being forced to sell by a court ruling upholding the state's right to seize the land under him by eminent domain. As of this morning, he was the only person left living on Pacific Street in Prospect Heights.

NY1, Forest City Ratner Pays Millions To Have Atlantic Yards Residents Relocate

Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner said today it reached a monetary agreement to have the remaining residents relocate from the area of the multimillion-dollar high-rise and sports arena project in Downtown Brooklyn.

Crain's NY Business, Last Atlantic Yards holdout grabs golden goodbye

“I’m not pleased that I’m leaving my apartment; I’m not pleased that the development is going forward,” said Mr. Goldstein, who lives in the three-bedroom apartment with his wife and young daughter. “But there was nothing more I could possibly do to fight this project.”
...

On Wednesday morning, there was a hearing before a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge to set an eviction date for those still in the footprint to vacate. Mr. Goldstein says the judge asked the parties to see if they could strike a deal and three hours later the agreement, which requires him to leave by May 7, was struck.

“I’m not an idiot. I knew this was going to happen,” said Mr. Goldstein. “I just wanted to get a price that I thought was fair.”

He said if he continued to fight, he would just rack up more legal fees and then might only be awarded what the courts decided was fair value. Even though he lost the battle, Mr. Goldstein says he doesn’t have regrets about his stance.

“I feel good that I fought for so long and that we had the presence that we had,” he said.

Gothamist, Update: Holdout No More! Goldstein Will Move for $3 Million

The long-time chief critic of Bruce Ratner and the Atlantic Yards project agreed today to a $3 million deal to move out of his home.

The Brooklyn Ink, AND DANIEL HAS MADE HIS CHOICE WORTHY OF $3 MILLION

The Awl, Founder of Anti-Atlantic Yards Group Is Last NYC Real Estate Winner!

Posted by eric at 6:26 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!...

The Columbia Spectator, Eminent domain appeal set for June

On June 1, at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, the Empire State Development Corporation will appeal the surprise December court ruling that declared the use of eminent domain for Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion illegal, according to the Court of Appeals website.

In January, ESDC—the state body that approved, in December 2008, the use of eminent domain for the University’s Manhattanville project—formally appealed the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division decision of December 2009, which argued that the expansion of a private university does not constitute a “public use,” as required under eminent domain law.
...

The two parties have exchanged legal briefs during the several months since ESDC filed its formal appeal. As the appellant, ESDC filed a brief on March 9, and the respondents will file their own brief on April 23. The respondents include Norman Siegel and David Smith, who represent Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, the only remaining private property owners in the expansion area who have not struck land deals with the University. ESDC will have a final opportunity to respond to the brief on May 10, before oral arguments are heard in Albany on June 1.

“We’re looking forward to the argument before the Court of Appeals,” Siegel said. “We feel strongly that the Appellant Division’s decision should be affirmed. This is an important case challenging the Empire State Development Corporation.”

But the Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of eminent domain in the recent past, which some say could be indicative of its upcoming ruling on Manhattanville.

“ESDC believes that the decision of the Appellate Division with respect to the Columbia Project is inconsistent with established law, as most recently articulated by the Court of Appeals in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., and we expect that it will be reversed,” Elizabeth Mitchell, public affairs officer for ESDC, said in an email, referring to the recent Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.

But Smith said that there is reason to remain optimistic, pointing to the extensive legal research he and Siegel have been doing in preparation for the case.

“Any time you have an appeal of this magnitude, you are endeavoring to do the best job that you can,” Smith said. “We have built a huge record that contains thousands of documents that show the collusion between Columbia and the people who did the blight studies, as well as Columbia and the ESDC.”

...and the Garden State doesn't.

AP via 1010WINS, Appeals Court Reverses New Jersey Eminent Domain Ruling

A New Jersey court has dealt a setback to a shore city's efforts to redevelop its downtown area in the latest chapter in one of the state's longest-running eminent domain disputes.

In a ruling released Friday, a three-judge panel held that the city of Long Branch has not demonstrated that a downtown area it designated as blighted in 1996 is in need of redevelopment.

Property owners sued the city, but a lower court ruled in favor of Long Branch in 2007 and the city filed condemnation proceedings against the properties in 2008.

The Rev. Kevin Brown, whose Lighthouse Mission has been in the middle of the affected area since 1990, said he was "elated" by the decision.

"I knew what they were doing and I knew what they were doing was wrong," he said. "I had to decide to pack up and get out of the way or stick it through, and decided I would stick it through."

New Jersey Eminent Domain Law Blog, Eminent domain won't happen on Long Branch Broadway Corridor

Here the court arrived at a conclusion similar to the decision in City of Long Branch v. Anzalone, and City of Long Branch v. Brower, which both involved the MTOTSA neighborhood. The appellate panel, led by one of the judges who heard the Anzalone case and two who did not, invited Long Branch to revisit the blight issue and attempt to meet “the substantial, credible evidence” standard for proof of blight.
...

The city will not be able to prove blight under this standard. Why not dismiss outright? That’s the law.
...

This does not mean that redevelopment is dead, but it does means that eminent domain abuse, as practiced by some municipalities on behalf of politically connected developers, will not be tolerated. Municipalities will have to be more creative in their redevelopment efforts. This will force real negotiations for acquisition of properties.

Posted by eric at 1:10 PM

Goldstein is now, officially, the last Yards holdout

The Brooklyn Paper
by Andy Campbell

The Atlantic Yards project’s most-outspoken opponent is now officially the last holdout.

Daniel Goldstein, who lives in a Pacific Street condo that’s been condemned by the state and will be torn down by developer Bruce Ratner to make way for his $1-billion Barclays Center arena, earned that status after the developer inked deals this week with seven other residents of the project footprint, who have accepted a relocation deal.

“We have successfully worked to find comparable or better housing for every family in the footprint except one,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, the Forest City Ratner executive in charge of Atlantic Yards. Gilmartin’s statement did not mention Goldstein by name.

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NoLandGrab: Forest City Ratner obviously hasn't been trying very hard. Though they're crying that they're losing $6.7 million a month because they haven't been able to take possession of all the condemned property, the offer on the table for Daniel Goldstein's home is less than what he paid for it seven years ago, and less than half what some other people in his building were paid. It doesn't take a very smart businessperson to figure out that paying another $500,000 for Goldstein's condo will save them several million dollars, but no one's ever accused Forest City of being smart businesspeople — they're just very smart subsidy collectors.

Related coverage...

Brownstoner, ESDC Seeks Final Evictions Today

Based on a post on Atlantic Yards Report, however, [Goldstein's] recalcitrance could have more to do with practicality than principle at this point: He's still being low-balled on the value of his own apartment ($395 per square foot compared to a market average of $475 in Prospect Heights) and has only been offered apartments in two buildings so far. The final screwing in a screwed up process.

Posted by eric at 11:41 AM

Daniel Goldstein and his family are the last residents fighting Atlantic Yards eviction battle

NY Daily News
by Ben Chapman and Erin Durkin

And then there was one.

Daniel Goldstein and his family are now the only residents fighting eviction from the Atlantic Yards site after seven other families agreed to leave by next month.

Goldstein said he'll challenge a motion to kick him, his wife and 1-year-old daughter out of their Pacific St. condo by May 17.

Meanwhile, the last of the seven other families signed an agreement Tuesday with developer Bruce Ratner to leave by May 7.
...

Elizabeth Nazario, 36, who was packing up the Pacific St. apartment she shares with two teenage sons Tuesday in preparation for a move to Sunset Park, said she's happy with the deal. "I don't have any problems with it," she said. "I'm very comfortable with moving."

But neighbor Wanda Candelario, 51, said she didn't want to leave - noting her special needs daughter's school and doctors are nearby. "I'm not very happy," she said. "[But] they told me I had to go."
...

Lawyer Mike Rikon, who represents Goldstein and the storage company, said it was rare to seek evictions so soon after property is condemned - and charged that officials are trying to punish Goldstein for his vocal opposition to the project.

"I've been practicing eminent domain law exclusively for 41 years and I've never seen this," Rikon said. "There is no question it's vindictive and mean."

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Posted by eric at 11:34 AM

Hearing at 9:30 am on "writ of assistance" sought by ESDC to compel Goldstein family and two businesses to leave

Atlantic Yards Report

Daniel Goldstein and his family are the last residential tenants facing eviction in the Atlantic Yards footprint, as the others have settled, according a statement issued by Forest City Ratner yesterday and picked up by the New York Daily News and the Brooklyn Paper.

The seven households either will get apartments in “the first new residential building at Atlantic Yards” or, on average,$80,000, plus $5,000 to assist with relocation, according to a statement from FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin.

Hearing this morning

That leaves Goldstein and two businesses--Pack It Away Storage and Henry Weinstein's office building and adjacent lots--to challenge the Empire State Development Corporation's motion at the condemnation hearing this morning.

It will be held before state Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges at Kings County Supreme Court, 320 Jay Street, 17th Floor, beginning at 9:30 am (and there's usually a considerable wait to get through security).

Accelerated schedule

The ESDC seeks a "writ of assistance" to compel the remaining condemnees to leave the Atlantic Yards footprint by May 17 under threat of eviction.

That's a rather accelerated schedule for eminent domain cases, given that Gerges's opinion was issued March 1, and, as I reported yesterday, the state has both low-balled Goldstein on the value of his condo and shown him apartments that are both much more expensive and with some serious drawbacks.

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Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

April 20, 2010

ESDC/FCR say eviction delay past May 17 would "cripple" Atlantic Yards, but claims of continued losses and jeopardized benefits seem overblown

Atlantic Yards Report

On the eve of a crucial court hearing regarding the fate of condemnees still in the Atlantic Yards footprint, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner (FCR) are arguing that the failure to evict those occupants by May 17 would cause "enormous harm" and significant financial losses to the developer.

It is unclear how many of the six households (15 people) and three businesses yet to reach agreements with the developer will resist the condemnation, but a response to those legal arguments--likely stating that this is unusually swift for a condemnation cast--will be filed tomorrow, before a 10 a.m. hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges at Supreme Court in Brooklyn, 320 Jay Street.

According to my preliminary analysis, several ESDC/FCR claims overstate the damage anticipated, emphasize the costs without acknowledging significant subsidies, and fail to provide sufficient detail to establish the argument for speed.

(Also see my coverage of FCR's claims regarding Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's legal strategy and alternative condos offered project opponent Daniel Goldstein. Note that, beyond those totaled above, some other businesses and residents remain in the footprint, but have reached agreements to leave.)

ESDC affidavit

ESDC attorney Charles Webb summarizes the argument made in an affidavit from the developer:

Delay in achieving vacant possession would halt work on the Project, causing enormous harm by (i) prolonging the time in which FCRC must carry the real property and the Project's overhead without generating income, which costs FCRC $6,700,000 per month, (b) prolonging the Nets basketball team's operating losses of approximately $35 million a per year arising from its New Jersey location, and (c) jeopardizing the delivery of 2,250 affordable housing units, and significant public amenities, including a new transit entrance and eight acres of publicly accessible open space.

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NoLandGrab: The ESDC's and Forest City's claims about financial hardship are completely undermined by their penny-wise, pound-foolish obstinacy when it comes to buying out Daniel Goldstein...

Atlantic Yards Report, After low-balling Goldstein on condo value, ESDC (via consultant) suggests comparable condos from lawsuit-plagued complex

Maybe it is getting a little personal.

Not only have the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and its real estate consultants low-balled Atlantic Yards uber-opponent Daniel Goldstein regarding the value of his Pacific Street condominium, the only alternative apartments it has shown him are either part of a lawsuit-plagued complex or very close to the Atlantic Yards construction zone.

And while the ESDC's consultant provided a list of only five condos, a simple search of a real estate web site turns up dozens of potential purchases in Prospect Heights and adjacent neighborhoods.

The alternative apartments are listed in an affidavit that's part of an ESDC package of legal papers aiming to convince state Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges to evict all condemnees from the Atlantic Yards footprint by May 17. A hearing will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Supreme Court in Brooklyn, 320 Jay Street.

Standoff

Goldstein, the spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), and his family are the last remaining occupants of a 31-unit condo building at 636 Pacific Street, a former warehouse converted in 2002.

The condo is in a crucial spot on the arena block, and Forest City Ratner, which is funding the condemnations, wants him out of there as soon as possible so his building can be demolished for construction.

So it would be in the interest of the state and FCR to ease his departure as quickly as possible, with an offer closer to market price and a longer list of alternatives. That hasn't happened.

NLG: Here's hoping that their mean-spirited parsimony costs Forest City many millions more.

Posted by eric at 11:41 AM

Curtain to fall on last Atlantic Yards holdouts

Expected court order to seal the fate of the remaining 35 residents and businesses; Freddie's [sic] Bar on Dean Street, host of many an anti-project party, to close April 30.

Crain's NY Business
by Theresa Agovino

By May 17, all the people that live in or run businesses in the Atlantic Yards' footprint will be evicted, if the Empire State Development Corp. has its way.

On Wednesday, the ESDC will ask Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Abraham Gerges to sign an order that will remove all occupants in the area where Forest City Ratner is slated to build a massive commercial, residential and retail project anchored by an 18,000-seat arena for the Nets on a 22-acre site. There are currently 32 residential occupants and 3 businesses remaining on the property acquired by the ESDC. Freddie's [sic] Bar on Dean Street, which hosted countless protests against the project over the last several years, will finally close its doors on April 30.

An ESDC spokeswoman said that the agency couldn't predict what date the judge would set or whether he would make a decision on Wednesday. However, she said that the agency didn't believe the date would be significantly later than May 17.

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NoLandGrab: Forest City Ratner is "slated" to build an arena — it's anybody's guess as to the rest of it. And is it that hard for Crain's and Theresa Agovino to spell "Freddy's" correctly, a bar that's been around since Prohibition and which has figured prominently in the six-and-a-half-year-old Atlantic Yards saga?

Posted by eric at 11:11 AM

Last call for Brooklyn's Freddy's Bar as it bows to Atlantic Yards

NY Daily News
by Erin Durkin

Call off the sheriff.

Atlantic Yards holdout Freddy's Bar, facing eviction to make way for developer Bruce Ratner's megaproject in Brooklyn, will shut its doors at the end of the month and reopen at a new location, its manager said Monday.

Patrons had vowed to chain themselves to the bar and force law enforcement to physically eject them, but now they say they'll go peacefully.

"I love this fight, but ... I'm sick of this sword of Damocles thing," manager Donald O'Finn said. "I want to get on with it."

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FreddysCampbellBrooklynPape.jpg

Additional coverage...

The Brooklyn Paper, Freddy’s Bar, eminent domain poster child, to close on April 30

The bar will serve its last tear-filled beer on April 30.

The announcement signals a much-less colorful conclusion for the beloved dive, which has spent the last few years as a jocular, though no less serious, foil to the developer. Through the seven-year Atlantic Yards saga, Freddy’s earned plenty of media coverage for a welter of stunts, including taking Brooklyn Lager off the menu after the Williamsburg-based brewery signed a deal with Ratner; decapitating effigies of eminent domain and banks with a guillotine covered in Pabst Blue Ribbon labels; and having barflies don oversized masks and give interviews as key “villains” like Ratner, Borough President Markowitz and Mayor Bloomberg.
...

O’Finn added that “Freddy’s Next Bar” will continue to oppose Ratner’s mega-project.

“As far we’re concerned we’re not through — we’re just moving to another corner of the ring!” he said.

Grub Street, Freddy’s Bar Gives Up the Fight, Will Move to New Location

Amid a few parting shots at developer Bruce Ratner, O’Finn reveals that within two or three months, the doomed bar will hopefully open at a new address (still not locked down) on Fourth Avenue near Union Street.

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter, Freddy’s

Yesterday it was announced that Freddy's Bar is moving. For the last few months the fighting Freddy's have been doing yeoman's work in bringing attention to the situation. While there were no shortage of people willing to chain themselves to the bar in order to save it, the responsibility of throwing all of the bartenders out of work was a bit much to bear. They struck a deal to save the bar by moving it to a new location.

Reason Hit & Run, Last Call at Freddy's Bar

Freddy’s, the great Brooklyn bar that has been fighting the good fight against New York’s eminent domain abuse in the Atlantic Yards case, will be closing its doors at the end of the month, with April 30th set as the last day of business.
...

Bad news, but hardly shocking, given that Freddy’s, homeowner Daniel Goldstein, and the other heroic resisters were battling the combined forces of New York state, New York City, the Borough of Brooklyn, the Empire State Development Corporation, and politically-connected developer Bruce Ratner.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], The Day: Freddy’s Closes, Hot Bird Opens

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, Freddy’s Bar Moving to Park Slope’s 4th Avenue

Posted by eric at 10:16 AM

April 19, 2010

No sleep at 752 Pacific: ESDC tries to take possession by cutting lock; Weinstein replies in kind; then tenants and subtenants show up

Atlantic Yards Report

It's been a wild and woolly few days at 752 Pacific Street in Prospect Heights, where, not long after property owner Henry Weinstein got his tenants and subtenants evicted on April 15, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) tried to take control of the property that night and those tenants also returned today.

A changed lock

Late on the night of April 15, Weinstein told me, he passed by the building and was surprised to see half the lights on the sixth floor illuminated. He'd shut off the circuit breakers, so he thought a timer might be at work.

The locks were secure. The next day, however, he couldn't get into the building.

"Unbeknowsnt to me, someone had cut off my lock and replaced it," Weinstein said. That was the ESDC, whose counsel told him that the agency, not Weinstein owned the building.

On Saturday, April 17, Weinstein spoke with an employee of Grubb Ellis, the managing agent, who told him that a guard and been hired and, if he wanted to get into the building, he could get a key when the workweek began.

Weinstein said no, that he had legal possession of the building. So, on Sunday, he cut off the new locks and installed his own--after first showing the 77th Precinct the paperwork that indicated he had possession.
...

ESDC position

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell told me, "It is our position that ESDC was within its rights to have the locks changed at 752 Pacific on April 16th as ESDC became the owner of the property as of March 1st. Yesterday Mr. Weinstein broke the lock at 752 Pacific Street and replaced it with his own. For the time being ESDC will not seek to change the locks again. ESDC's motion for a writ of assistance as to 752 Pacific Street, among other properties, will be heard this Wednesday before Justice Gerges. We will apprise Justice Gerges at that time of what has recently transpired with respect to the property."

The ESDC wants Gerges to set May 17 as a final date to compel condemnees to leave the footprint, though a few, including Weinstein, are expected to oppose it.

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NoLandGrab: The ESDC's predilection for acting in bad faith is matched only by its predilection to act like a sullen teenager. "For the time being ESDC will not seek to change the locks again?" That's an actual statement from a state agency? Good grief.

Posted by eric at 10:21 PM

Unable to wait and protest condemnation, Freddy's plans to close on Dean Street after April 30 and move to a new location

Atlantic Yards Report

Despite a media-friendly plan announced last December to install "chains of justice" so bar-goers could chain themselves to the bar to resist condemnation, Freddy's Bar & Backroom, the much-lauded Prospect Heights dive bar and no-cover eclectic art space, will close for relocation after a April 30 event and celebration, and prepare for relocation.

Patrons and supporters of Freddy's will laud the spirit of resistance--fighting a government and developer with far bigger resources--but must confront a fundamental hurdle.

"Unfortunately, in order to assure our capacity to keep Freddy's alive in another location, and keep people employed," manager Donald O'Finn said, "we have to move the contents of the bar in a particular timely fashion to 'lock down' the next space, and thus we will not be facing an eviction situation in which a protest by chaining ourselves could happen."
...

"The owner of Freddy's has had to consider those employed at Freddy's as well as his own situation, no one being billionaires here, needing employment and food on the table, he made a difficult decision to pull out in such a way as to keep the contents of the bar and move it into another location," O'Finn explained. "If we wait for condemnation we might sacrifice too much."

Presumably the settlement offer was deemed sufficient, or at least a good start. The Empire State Development Corporation has asked a judge to set a May 17 deadline for condemnees to leave, though some are expected to resist that at a hearing in Kings County Supreme Court on April 21.

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Posted by eric at 8:14 PM

Freddy's Bar is not closing, it's moving

Here's the full statement issued today by Freddy's Bar & Backroom manager Donald O'Finn.

Freddy's Bar is not closing, it's moving.

We are presently in negotiations with a landlord who is not a billionaire at 4th Ave and Union Street.

We will be having a Victory party on April 30th to celebrate what the little guy has been able to do in fighting a billionaire and the corrupt government agency that he controls. We feel we have dealt fatal blows to Ratner's organization. The nets will not be sold to an international criminal, because the NBA can't afford to be associated with organized crime.

Freddy's Bar is not giving up the fight, we stand in solidarity with Prokhorov's sanctions-busting victims in Zimbabwe, and with the people of Yonkers who are paying the price for a Ratner bribery scandal. We will continuing to stand against the corruption that has dominated our lives for the last 7 years, and are looking forward to moving out from under this sword of Damocles.

Forest City Ratner will leave Brooklyn a thousand years before Freddy's Bar does. . . they have missed mortgage payments on their Metrotech Center, and the Yonkers and Zimbabwe sanctions busting scandals are criminal acts. The question is will they run out of money first, or face prosecution first. I am sure that both will happen.

The move is about the employees, and the business. We're little guys. We can't run our business into the ground as Ratner has and still survive. We have a lot of mouths to feed and we are not billionaires. The move is strategic. Very soon "Freddy's Next Bar" will be standing tall, and Ratner will be in rubble, with no stadium, and hopefully with justice and karma finding him. This is a guy who closed a family homeless shelter in the dead of winter.

In order to assure our capacity to keep Freddy's alive in a another location, and keep people employed... we have to move the contents of the bar in a particular timely fashion to "Lock down' the next space, and thus we will not be facing an eviction situation in which a protest by chaining ourselves could happen. The Chains ("The Chains of Justice") have served their purpose...to raise awareness of corruption, and they will move with us, forever installed on that bar as a symbol of a united community and that community's power for affecting change.

The owner of Freddy's has had to consider those employed at Freddy's as well as his own situation, needing employment and food on the table. He made a difficult decision to pull out in such a way as to keep the contents of the bar and move it into another location. If we wait for condemnation we might sacrifice too much. I can't yet confirm the location since everything is moving very fast, and it is not locked down yet, but the area we are hoping to secure is on 4th Ave near Union Street.

We hope to open this new space as soon as possible, 2 or 3 months hopefully. The email address will not change... nor the web address.

Freddy's has been the culmination of everything I am and everything I ever wanted in a bar.

I could not be prouder of Freddy's, it's community, and it's accomplishments.

Freddy's is not an address, it is an idea.

I'll See you at "FREDDY'S NEXT BAR"...the first one is on me!

Posted by eric at 6:40 PM

Freddy’s Bar an Atlantic Yards Holdout No Longer

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Photo: Amy Greer/NoLandGrab

Freddy's Bar & Backroom, the unofficial clubhouse of the Atlantic Yards resistance movement, has been forced to throw in the towel in order to survive.

It seems the "chains of justice" will not be necessary.

Freddy's, the insurgent dive bar in the footprint of the Brooklyn Nets arena-to-be, is set to close at the end of the month. According to an announcement sent out Monday by manager Donald O'Finn, the bar will forgo a confrontation with a sheriff and a demolition crew, and will move to an undisclosed new location near Fourth Avenue and Union Street.

This contrasts with earlier statements made by bar diehards who promised to stand until the bitter end—installing "chains of justice" with handcuffs to the bar—but now the inevitability of the property takings, apparently, has set in.
...

The bar and its clientele have been virulent critics of the planned arena and related Atlantic Yards development, acting as a ground zero of opposition, posting various news articles of developer Bruce Ratner's troubles throughout the years. The bar even stopped carrying beer from the Brooklyn Brewery after its owner made clear his support for the Atlantic Yards project.

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Related coverage...

Fork in the Road [Village Voice blog], Freddy's Fight Comes to an End: The Bar Will Close May 1st, BUT Will Relocate to New Space This Summer

Following a fake eviction notice from its landlord last month, Freddy's Backroom & Bar is now really and truly being kicked out of its Dean Street space at the end of the month. Freddy's will open its doors in Prospect Heights for the last time on May 1st (with a victory party being held April 30), but manager Donald O'Finn promises that the bar is not dead: it's moving to new digs on Fourth Avenue and Union Street.

"Freddy's has been the culmination of everything I am and that I always wanted in a bar," says O'Finn, who helped lead the effort to stop Bruce Ratner's development project in order to save his bar, as well as his neighbors' homes and businesses. "We made a lot of progress in the fight against eminent domain and did a lot of harm to The Atlantic Yards Project... And we are proud of that."

Eater, Freddy's Bar, Defeated by Atlantic Yards, Plans Relocation

After a December eminent domain ruling in favor of Bruce Ratner, the man behind the giant 22 acre Atlantic Yards development, the owners of well known Brooklyn dive within the footprint o' death, Freddy's Bar, prepared for a massive fight against the bulldozers. They dug their heels in, called out the media, and promised they would chain themselves to the bar before letting it get leveled for this massive entertainment complex.

Not so much anymore.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards, the Sword of Damocles

After trying Bruce Ratner bobbleheads, a PBR guillotine, and the old Chains of Justice, anti-Atlantic Yards agitator Freddy's Bar is moving. The bar's owners report they're in negotiations with a landlord at Fourth Avenue and Union Street and hope to reopen in two or three months, avoiding eviction from their current spot. The owners are "looking forward to moving out from under this sword of Damocles," but to keep the anti-AY sentiment alive, they're taking the Chains of Justice with them, "forever installed on that bar as a symbol of a united community."

The Brooklyn Ink, FREDDY’S FINDS A NEW LOCATION

Freddy’s Bar, one of the most vocal opponents of the Atlantic Yards project, will be moving to new digs in the Gowanus/Park Slope area at Fourth Avenue and Union Street. Bar loyalists had earlier threatened to chain themselves to the establishment at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue to prevent destruction of the watering hole in the name of making room for the impending Brooklyn Nets complex, the Observer reports.

Cobble Hill Blog, Freddy’s Bar & Backroom Moving to Fourth and Union

Barflies, freaks, misfits and malcontents rejoice! The evil forces of “Eminent Domain” will not kill the legendary Freddy’s Bar & Backroom which sits in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards development project. The bar announced today that they’ll moving to a new location at Fourth Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope.

Resistance 3.0, Freddy's Bar Closing and Opening New Location

Our last show at Freddy's went great so we inquired about another gig. This is the response we got...

I have good news & bad news.
The bad news is..... Freddy’s last day of business @ this address will be April 30th, so all bookings after that date unfortunately have to be canceled, I am very sorry.
Good news.....We are not closing, we are moving!
& we will re-open! Better than new!
We will continue to do live music and events and have the best party in town.

Posted by eric at 6:20 PM

April 15, 2010

Justice Gerges visits the footprint to look at AY site properties (and encounters an eviction unrelated to the case before him)

Atlantic Yards Report

Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges took a walk this morning around the Atlantic Yards footprint, visiting the properties that face condemnation, a requirement in any such case.

It was scheduled before a hearing was set April 21 in Kings County Supreme Court regarding timing issues. The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) will argue that Gerges should require occupants to vacate their properties no later than May 17; lawyers for the condemnees will resist that as premature.

Presumably the visit will help Gerges assess valuation issues as well as the legitimacy of the ESDC's argument for urgency in the process.

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Posted by eric at 11:59 PM

Detailing Columbia University's Eminent Domain Abuse

Reason Hit & Run
by Damon Root

Armin Rosen, a Columbia University student journalist and senior editor at The Current, the university’s “journal of contemporary politics, cultural, & Jewish affairs,” has a long and highly detailed account of Columbia’s eminent domain abuse in its attempt to control the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville, where the university wants to build a fancy new research campus.
...

There’s plenty more ugliness to the story, including overwhelming evidence that the Empire State Development Corporation (the state agency which wields the power of eminent domain) actively colluded with Columbia in order to produce the very conditions that would then allow the state to seize property on the university’s behalf. Thankfully, New York’s courts have actually been paying attention. In a sharp ruling last December, the state’s Supreme Court Appellate Division condemned Columbia and the ESDC’s actions in no uncertain terms.
...

The next step is the state’s highest court, which I'm sad to say recently gave the thumbs up to eminent domain abuse in the Atlantic Yards case. Perhaps this time they’ll get it right.

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Posted by eric at 11:20 PM

In Boston, the mayor criticizes "developer's blight" and threatens eminent domain

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember how Vornado's Steve Roth explained the strategy of sitting on a property in Manhattan to hasten blight and extract more concessions?

Well, now he's meeting his match--a mayor who's willing to take the wheel rather than let the developer drive.
...

Chances of that happening with Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards site? Very unlikely.

link

Posted by eric at 11:16 PM

Mayor Battles Vornado in Boston

The Wall Street Journal
by Christina S.N. Lewis

Here's an unlikely twist — the mayor of a big U.S. city using the threat of eminent domain against (mega)developer blight!

Real-estate mogul Steven Roth is widely respected as the chairman and driving force behind Vornado Realty Trust.

But not in Boston.

The city's mayor, Thomas Menino, sent a scathing letter to Mr. Roth last month in which he threatened to have the city seize a major development site from a Vornado-led group for failing to build there in a timely way.

The mayor's threat represents a new front in the use of "eminent domain," a legal process under which private owners can be forced to sell their property to a city or state to make way for a project in the public interest. The tactic is often viewed as a bane to small, private owners and a boon to cities and developers. But in this case, Boston is threatening to use the process to force a developer to build—and being hailed by the public for it.

Roth has admitted publicly letting past project sites lie fallow in order to force cities to up their subsidy offers.

The New York Observer quoted Mr. Roth as saying at a lecture at Columbia University, "Why did I do nothing? Because I was thinking in my own awkward way that the more the building was a blight, the more the governments would want this to be redeveloped, the more help they would give us when the time came."

Mr. Roth also said that he was waiting for the "price to go up a lot" before he built, according to the article.
...

The controversy doesn't appear to have hurt Mayor Menino. He turned a former political liability into a gain, and the public and local businesses are now backing his unconventional approach.

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NoLandGrab: Here's hoping that Menino is sincere, and that this isn't all some charade to further line Vornado's pockets. In fairness to the Boston mayor, it does sound like he's serious.

Posted by eric at 12:56 PM

Home at The Atlantic Yards

Dossier
by Katherine Krause

After years of lawsuits, protests and fighting it looks like Bruce Ratner’s mega real-estate plan Atlantic Yards is actually going to happen. It will be the second largest construction project in NYC, after the World Trade Center. The courts ruled that eminent domain, which is typically used in cases of highways or airports, could be used to take away private citizens homes and businesses so that we could have more condos and the Brooklyn Nets. Alexa Williams and Sean Ilnesher are among the last people left who have been trying to stay in their house, despite the mail not being delivered, cameras being placed on their property and their electric being shut off. To illustrate why they want to stay in their building, which will soon be turned into a parking lot, they painted a mural this weekend with simply the word “home.” The video after the jump is a sweet and up-lifting documentation of a sad moment for both them and for Brooklyn.

Untitled from katherinekrause on Vimeo.

link

Posted by eric at 12:31 PM

479 Dean now vacant

Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Posted by lumi at 5:43 AM

April 14, 2010

A mural inside the footprint offers a simple statement: "home"

Atlantic Yards Report

DDDB points to a new mural at 38 6th Avenue, a former industrial building turned residence that would be demolished for the Barclays Center arena.

And who are the residents? Alexa is Alexa Williams, an artist who lives in the building, sandwiched between Freddy's Bar & Backroom (to the south) and the Spalding Building, used by Forest City Ratner for offices and to house the Community Liaison Office, to the north.

The owner of 38 Sixth Avenue is a firm controlled by her father, Peter Williams Enterprises, the lead petitioner in the pending case asking that the Empire State Development Corporation be compelled to issue a new Determination & Findings to pursue eminent domain. A hearing is scheduled for May 12.

Sean is Sean Ilnseher, a location manager for television shows.

link

Posted by eric at 11:02 PM

April 13, 2010

ESDC pushes for eviction order by April 21; lawyer for some condemnees says timeline is unlikely, given judge's desire to avoid role of sheriff

Atlantic Yards Report

After yesterday's hearing on the case challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) 2006 Determination & Findings to pursue eminent domain, I also inquired about a hearing April 9 before Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges regarding the condemnation process.

Bottom line: the ESDC wants to get an eviction order after an oral argument in court on Wednesday, April 21; attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff thinks it's unlikely.
...

What happened April 9

Brinckheroff said that the lawyers discussed "very specific details of the valuation process," including the provision of advance payments, which are necessary in order for people to seek new premises even though they may no longer have title to their property.

ESDC lawyer Charles Webb, according to Brinckerhoff, said such payments would be available within two weeks of fulfilling certain conditions.

"They also presented an order to show cause," said Brinckerhoff. "They want to make a motion requesting an order allowing them to get the sheriff to evict everybody. That was made returnable for argument on April 21."

Soon or later?

That could lead to a writ of assistance, essentially an order of eviction issued by the court. "There's a very strong argument that it's incredibly premature," Brinckerhoff said. "Normally that's a process that takes many, many months."

The ESDC's justification, he said, is that "the developer is losing something like $7 million a month" on carrying the property. (He later said he wasn't certain of the figure; I haven't seen the document yet.)

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NoLandGrab: If that's the case, than the ESDC and Forest City Ratner could solve the problem by making reasonable compensation proposals to the property owners, rather than the ridiculous low-ball offers they've put forth.

It's actually somewhat comical that the state and city have been profligate with Ratner, but now that only a handful of property owners remain, and they're this close to completing site assemblage, they open their wallets — and moths fly out.

Posted by eric at 2:09 PM

April 8, 2010

April 12, 9:30 AM. Oral Argument in Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Related Case

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Legal arguments in the following lawsuit will take place on Monday, April 12th, at 9:30 AM in Manhattan.

PETER WILLIAMS vs. NYS URBAN DEVELOPMENT CORP
9:30 AM
New York County Supreme Court
80 Centre Street
[Map]
Manhattan

Oral argument on Article 78 lawsuit seeking to compel the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to make new Eminent Domain Procedure Law (204) findings and determinations.

A number of property owners and tenants in the footprint brought this lawsuit in January 2010 arguing that the eminent domain takings were based on a 2006 approved plan that no longer exists. If the property seizures are going to occur, they must be for the drastically altered current plan—a basketball arena and one building—not for the project originally conceived with the promise of 2,250 affordable housing units, 16 towers and 10,000 jobs. The case argues that the ESDC must make new findings and determinations under the States's Eminent Domain Procedure Law.

link

Posted by eric at 10:26 AM

April 4, 2010

In profile of Justice Stevens, another reflection by author of Kelo opinion that it was settled law but lousy policy

Atlantic Yards Report

One flaw in a 3/22/10 New Yorker profile of soon-to-retire Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, headlined After Stevens: What will the Supreme Court be like without its liberal leader?, was a failure to mention Stevens's controversial opinion in the 2005 Kelo v. New London eminent domain case, which prompted most states (though not New York) to pass laws tightening the practice of eminent domain.

Today's New York Times profile of Stevens, headlined At 89, Stevens Contemplates Law, and How to Leave It, partially remedies the situation:

Often, he added, the law requires a certain result, as in the court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed local governments to use the power of eminent domain to take private property for business development.

“The Kelo case was one of my most unpopular opinions, and that was one where I thought the law really was pretty well settled on the particular point,” he said.

Asked if he would have answered the question presented in the case differently had he instead been a legislator, Justice Stevens said probably yes.

“One of the nice things about this job is that you don’t have to make those decisions,” he added. “Very often you think, in this particular spot I don’t have to be deciding the really hard case about what should be done. Which is one of the reasons why the function is really quite different from what people often assume.”
...

The question, then, is why legislators have not acted more prudently.

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Posted by eric at 10:28 PM

April 2, 2010

Banks, Basketball, and Property Rights

Through eminent domain, the future home of the NBA laughing-stock Nets will soon be the former home of proud Brooklyners.

Pajamas Media
by Scott Bullock

Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock represented the plaintiffs in the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case.

On March 11, Barclays Capital took out a full-page ad in the front section of the Wall Street Journal to declare that it is “proud” to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Barclays Center in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. If Barclays had even a modicum of respect for private property rights and the free market, it would be deeply ashamed.

The future home of the NBA laughing-stock Nets will soon be the former home of proud Brooklyners. These folks are losing their homes and businesses through eminent domain for a basketball court and other private development projects of billionaire developer Bruce Ratner.

Ratner did not have much difficulty courting virtually the entire New York political establishment to his side. All he had to do was claim that a sports arena and luxury residences would generate more tax revenue than neighborhood pubs and modest condos. With the promise of extra taxes, officials became all too eager to declare this up-and-coming neighborhood “blighted” and condemn the properties on Ratner’s behalf. Ratner also succeeded in hiring the scandal-ridden ACORN to provide political cover for the development project by loaning the group $1 million and giving it $500,000 outright. And because the Nets have been hemorrhaging money, Ratner also partnered with Mikhail Prokhorov, the unscrupulous billionaire Russian playboy, who now owns a share in the Nets and in the arena.

Is this what Barclays meant by the “teamwork and excellence” mentioned in its ad?

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NoLandGrab: Two minor corrections — there's no way in hell that Bruce Ratner is a billionaire, and ACORN was already bought off prior to the million-dollar loan and half-million-dollar "grant."

Posted by eric at 11:49 AM

April 1, 2010

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Chinese Farmer And Son Light Themselves on Fire To Protest Land Sale, And The Shanghai Bulldozers Pause For Just Two Hours

Business Insider
by Joe Weisenthal

Moral amnesia is one of those signs of a telltale bubble that doesn't show up in official statistics.

When people become indifferent or ignorant about actual human suffering, that might be all you need to know.

So it is with that in mind that we present this Shanghai Daily piece (with key parts bolded by us) that's just chock full of moral amnesia in real-estate crazy China.

Behold:

Farmer Tao and his 92-year-old father set themselves on fire when a 100-strong team led by a township chief set out to tear down their home and their pig farm.

The farmers had found the compensation they were being offered far too low.

The son died and the father was injured - but, according to Beijing Times, that did little to distract the team from their destructive mission.

Yes, the incident caused a two-hour delay, but the home and the farm were pulled down while the remains of the victim were still lying nearby.
...

One report suggests that officials there wanted to have the demolition completed before April 1, when a new relocation law would make forced relocation more difficult. This is likely an exaggeration of their respect for law.

That a villager chose to end his life in such a violent way can only dramatize the futility of any resistance.

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Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

March 19, 2010

IF YOU CAN’T DEFINE IT, YOU CAN’T USE IT: PART 2, MY NEIGHBORHOOD, BLIGHT OR WRONG?

Affordable Housing Institute: US
by David A. Smith

The second in a two-part series on the spurious use of "blight" to justify eminent domain takings.

As we saw yesterday, using as our text a protracted City Journal editorial essay by Nicole Gelinas, when eminent domain is used for economic development (ED4ED) with a private developer as the implementing party, the potential for mischief is simply enormous – because the law of economic gravity creates political pressure that disenfranchises the economically disadvantaged.
...

When the state tries to crowbar a small property holder off his land, the contest is unequal, and the politically weaker are at an enormous disadvantage.

This is a civil-rights problem, both in its abstract sense and in racial or ethnic terms, because when power is unequal, it is normally the racially disadvantaged who lose, which is why Justice Thomas so articulately dissented in Kelo.
...

The same power dynamics are at work in the cases being contested today, such as the billion-dollar Brooklyn struggle over Atlantic Yards.
...

In the twenty-first century, things are different because of the information revolution. The combination of the Freedom Of Information Act and the internet has enabled citizen journalism, neutralizing the previous power imbalance of the media, to the point where Norman Oder, an individual with no credentials other than a burning desire to uncover the truth, can out-investigate the (conflicted) New York Times with reporting worthy of a Pulitzer.

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NoLandGrab: To be fair, Oder had decades of experience as a journalist, and some coursework in the law, to go along with his doggedness.

Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

March 18, 2010

IF YOU CAN’T DEFINE IT, YOU CAN’T USE IT: PART 1, THE BLIGHT-LINE TEST

Affordable Housing Institute: US
by David A. Smith

This must-read Part 1 of a two-part series examines the use of eminent domain for purposes of economic development or urban renewal and its reliance on the murky definition of "blight." It includes a fascinating explanation of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Berman vs. Parker, a ruling that, in the ensuing half-century-plus, has been bastardized to justify just about any property condemnation. Compare the conditions outlined in Berman to conditions today in Prospect Heights to see just how twisted blight definitions have become.

Indeed, what seems an intractable policy problem – when is ED4ED (eminent domain for economic development) permissible, and when must it be prohibited? – can be reduced to a problem of boundary –what is blight? In turn, the entire problem, over which so many hours of legal wrestling have been held, can be solved easily – the fuzzy boundary has to be construed against the party with power, so either define blight objectively and observably, or eliminate it as a valid reason.

To see why, we must descend the rabbit hole of current jurisprudence, in particular the way ‘blight’ has been redefined out of all observable meaning (Part 1 of this post), and then resurface elsewhere to see how ED4ED is requisite for urban improvement (Part 2), and hence how to reconcile the competing pressures.
...

Under Berman, a Supreme Court enraptured with the promise of economic development allowed the District of Columbia Redevelopment Authority to demolish and rebuild a large chunk of southwestern Washington, based on the finding of ‘blight’, which in the 1954 decision was concluded to exist because:

“64.3% of the dwellings were beyond repair, 18.4% needed major repairs, only 17.3% were satisfactory; 57.8% of the dwellings had outside toilets, 60.3% had no baths, 29.6% lacked electricity, 82.2% had no wash basins or laundry tubs, 83.8% lacked central heating.”

I think anyone today would agree that even in 1954, properties without indoor plumbing, central heating, or running water, constituted blight. Indeed, under today’s laws – absent in 1954 – those buildings could be condemned as unsanitary.

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NoLandGrab: Fast forward 56 years, and now "blight" means you might have a couple feathery cracks in your sidewalk or your pristine home is built to less than 60% of its allowable size. Oh, and Bruce Ratner has designs on it.

Posted by eric at 12:28 PM

March 13, 2010

Land grabbers

World Magazine

On Dec. 27, 2009, Brooklyn staged a revolt. Standing next to a 9-foot-tall guillotine made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, the manager of Freddy's Bar and Backroom read a screed from a scroll. He excoriated a developer who is using eminent domain to claim private property in the surrounding neighborhood, then stood aside as an executioner with a hood and a scythe read a death sentence: "Eminent domain, you are hereby condemned, having become a thief and a traitor." Spectators cried, "Off with its head!" as the guillotine blade fell and a head (or more precisely, a white ball with "Eminent Domain Theft" painted in red letters) rolled.

The message was clear: Don't mess with a neighborhood dive bar, or with New Yorkers who have saved to buy their own homes in a city where two-thirds of the population still rents. Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) is planning to put a $4 billion development project where Freddy's Bar and Backroom now stands. FCRC predicts that the Atlantic Yards development project will generate $5.6 billion in new tax revenues over the next three decades—but homeowners and bar-goers believe it will just seize their homes and gut their neighborhood.

link

Posted by steve at 7:19 AM

Atlantic Yards Ground Breaking

WNYC Radio's Brian Lehrer Show

Nicoles Gelinas joined Brian Lehrer Friday morning to discuss the Atlantic Yards groundbreaking and the abuse of eminent domain.

link

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, On Brian Lehrer: the Manhattan Institute's Gelinas vs. AY on eminent domain, blight, and affordable housing (and Ratner as a creature of the state)

Yesterday, WNYC talk show host Brian Lehrer opened up a segment on Atlantic Yards by suggesting that listeners might be surprised that opponents of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards are not just political liberals but are joined by conservatives like his guest, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute.

Actually, he had it backwards--as a caller pointed out. Conservatives have long been opposed to eminent domain, while liberals--leading the narrow 5-4 Supreme Court majority in the controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London eminent domain case--have been much more willing to defer to state power.

The curious thing is that, in New York, where the balance tilts enormously to the state, those who might be politically liberal in general have found themselves opposing particularly egregious cases of eminent domain and thus aligned themselves with those on the right.

"It’s not unusual to see strange bedfellows, if you realize the common ground is distrust of government power," former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel, who's challenged the Columbia University expansion, said in December.

Posted by eric at 12:46 AM

March 9, 2010

Campaigning for Governor

WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show

Another Republican candidate for Governor, former Congressman Rick Lazio, hems and haws about Atlantic Yards and eminent domain on yesterday's Brian Lehrer Show.

The brief "yes or no" question begins around the 16:20 mark.

Lehrer: "Do you support eminent domain for Atlantic Yards?"

Lazio: "Uh, hffff, uh, I, I, I, I say yes, but a qualified yes, and I need to look at that plan more carefully to make sure that this is being done in a way that is..., that doesn't undermine the historic neighborhood...."

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NoLandGrab: We would hope that after "careful" review, Mr. Lazio's "qualified yes" might become an unqualified no.

Posted by eric at 12:47 PM

Redlich Condemns Atlantic Yards Decision

Redlich for Governor

Libertarian (and Republican) gubernatorial candidate Warren Redlich draws a stark contrast with equivocating sitting Governor David Paterson when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

Governor candidate Warren Redlich condemned the latest Atlantic Yards court decision. Justice Abraham Gerges upheld the seizure of homes and businesses so that developer Bruce Ratner can build apartments, office space and a sports arena in Brooklyn.

In Redlich’s view, Atlantic Yards is a symptom of the state’s problems: “Politicians reward and protect insiders, like we keep seeing in the Capitol. Eminent domain can be used, sparingly, when government takes private property for public purposes such as a road. But the Kelo decision and projects like Atlantic Yards grossly abuse eminent domain to benefit private developers connected with political leaders.”

While other states have acted to curb eminent domain abuse, New York’s legislators and governors have done nothing. New York taxpayers fund the violation of property rights in such cases as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and West Harlem in Manhattan, for the benefit of developers. Redlich would amend eminent domain laws to protect property owners.

Redlich also calls for abolishing the involved state agencies, including the Empire State Development Corporation and others. Eliminating “economic development” spending would save approximately $3 billion in the state budget.

link

Posted by eric at 12:40 PM

March 8, 2010

Census of Places that Matter, art opening, and the (upcoming) "vanished site" of Freddy's

Atlantic Yards Report

Someone asked me if Freddy's Bar & Backroom, fated for demolition after a court approved eminent domain, could be landmarked, and the answer is, of course, no: it's not a building of particularly architectural merit inside or out and, if the terra cotta Ward Bakery couldn't be landmarked, Freddy's sure can't.

But Freddy's, which in its Backroom last night held an opening for an art retrospective over 13 years, does deserve a spot--anyone can enter it--in the Census of Places that Matter, the very democratic list published as part of the Place Matters project created by the cultural organization City Lore and the Municipal Art Society, a design/planning organization.
...

I checked the Census to see if any place in the AY footprint had been entered. Freddy's was absent, but someone had written up 24 Sixth Avenue:

This was the former factory of the Spalding Company, where they used to make spaldeens, the pink rubber balls that were an iconic presence in urban America. Everywhere kids used to play games like stickball with spaldeens. Anyone who grew up in New York up to the mid-80s probably remembers them. There's a Spalding banner painted around the building along with words like football, basketball, etc.

That banner was removed when the building was renovated into loft condos earlier this decade--and now the sturdy handsome building is also slated for the wrecking ball.

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Posted by eric at 10:50 AM

It’s time so seize the eminent domain debate in Massachusetts

MYSouthEnd.com
by Shirley Kressel

Sound familiar?

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that has taken no action to restrain eminent domain-the government’s ability to seize property rights with due monetary compensation but without the owner’s consent-after the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision finding eminent domain for private use constitutional. It seems self-evident that forcibly taking property from one owner and giving it to another for financial gain is unfair-even un-American; yet, our legislature seems reluctant to take up the Court’s suggestion that states may enact their own restrictions. The reason is a lingering-but mistaken-belief that eminent domain is an indispensable tool for economic development and tax base enhancement.

But the opposite is true. The evidence has been clear since 1964, when Martin Anderson, then with MIT/Harvard’s Joint Center for Urban Studies, published a book titled The Federal Bulldozer, an analysis of the economic impacts of eminent domain as used in urban renewal. He provided clear documentation that in the years since private-benefit eminent domain became government policy in 1949, it had cost the taxpayers hugely more than it produced, and boded to remain a liability for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Boston is today still pock-marked with several hundred acres of land taken, cleared and held tax-exempt by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, land where people and businesses would have supported vibrant community life and paid taxes for these forty or fifty years. Eminent domain drove out residents, broke up communities, and decimated the small-business base.
...

It’s only logical that eminent domain-like other unfair public subsidies-would have negative effects. First, this kind of government intervention props up bad business plans and encourages overblown, risky projects that would be weeded out by the private markets, often leaving the city to clean up a big mess. Aside from the empty lots scarring the city, Filenes, Columbus Center and North Point are three recent grandiose local plans that were given all sorts of land, regulatory and tax favors, only to collapse of their own overreaching weight. Pfizer, the corporation for which the City of New London seized and destroyed Suzette Kelo’s home and neighborhood, recently decided "nevermind," and moved out of town altogether, showing again, as the Wall Street Journal reported, "the futility of eminent domain as corporate welfare." Read Nicole Gelinas’s City Journal story of the Atlantic Yards project in New York, where decay and disinvestment are the result of "a half-decade’s worth of government-created uncertainty, which stopped genuine private investment in its tracks."

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NoLandGrab: Why is it that the most "liberal" states, like New York and Massachusetts, give rogues like Bruce Ratner the longest leash?

Posted by eric at 9:28 AM

March 6, 2010

Blogs Jump the Gun On Evictions

These two blog entries incorrectly state that eviction notices have been delivered to businesses and residents living in the Atlantic Yards footprint. Check out the comments section in each to read the corrections.

Village Voice, Freddy's Gets Evicted, Vows to Return
By Chantal Martineau

The crew at Freddy's has been trying to keep their minds off the Atlantic Yards project that promises to destroy their bar, focusing instead on an upcoming retrospective of its artists, set to open this Sunday. But earlier this week, what appears to be the last appeal obstructing the eminent domain seizures was denied, and the project was given the green light. Then, yesterday, Freddy's Bar & Back Room got the notice it had been bracing for: the premises must be vacated within 30 days.

Brooklyn Born, Signs ahead: Atlantic Yards ready to steamroll over brooklynites

Several blogs are posting that residents in the way of eminent domain abuse aka "Atlantic Yards" ave been given 30 day eviction notices in the wake of a judge's clearing the project to proceed.

Posted by steve at 6:05 AM

March 3, 2010

Billionaires vs. Brooklyn's Best Bar: Eminent Domain Abuse & The Atlantic Yards Project

reason.tv via YouTube

Must-see TV.

link

Posted by eric at 2:14 PM

Nets arena groundbreaking set for next week after court ruling

Field of Schemes

It's not quite all over but the shouting, but just about: A New York state judge approved a court petition by the state (over landholder objections) to use eminent domain to seize land for the Nets' planned Brooklyn arena on Monday, clearing the way for construction to begin. Street closings are set to begin next Monday, with a ceremonial groundbreaking on March 11; as for evicting the remaining residents and businesses occupying buildings marked for demolition, the state Empire State Development Corporation says it "anticipates an orderly relocation taking place over the course of the next few months."

Barring a surprise injunction in one of the other remaining lawsuits, then, it looks like the Atlantic Yards project, or at least the Barclays Center piece of it, will be opening in Fall 2012 as planned — not as planned originally, mind you, but if you keep making enough predictions, one of them will be right.

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Related coverage...

Gothamist, Atlantic Yards Developer Will Break Ground On March 11

Regulars at Freddy's Bar, who have already built a PBR guillotine and chained themselves to the bar to protest the pending demolition of their watering hole, said they won't give up without a fight. "There's chains on the bar and a lot of people will be buying handcuffs," said project opponent Steve de Seve. It's unclear if they'll also try to use those handcuffs to arrest Ratner, as they planned to do last month.

The Brooklyn Paper, Ratner to break ground next week!

Bruce Ratner will officially break ground on his $1-billion Barclays Center on March 11, days after a crucial judicial ruling in his favor and slightly more than seven years after the project was first announced.

The ceremony in Prospect Heights will likely include Mayor Bloomberg and Atlantic Yards cheerleader-in-chief, Borough President Markowitz, wielding the ceremonial shovels.

If all goes as planned, the event will be the so-called “end of the beginning” of a project that was unveiled in 2003 and mired in delays and controversy since.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], The Day: a Groundbreaking and an Emmy Nomination

Atlantic Yards is once again on our minds, with the news that developer Bruce C. Ratner plans to break ground on March 11.

Posted by eric at 12:45 PM

March 2, 2010

Atlantic Yards Land Grab: The Morning After

Here's a round-up of today's headlines related to yesterday's court decision transferring title to several private properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint to the Empire State Development Corporation — a placeholder for developer Forest City Ratner.

GlobeSt.com, Judge Okays Atlantic Yards Land Seizures

"The Atlantic Yards project has had a long and tortuous history, including numerous court challenges in several forums," a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge wrote Monday. Justice Abraham Gerges made this observation in the course of turning back one of these challenges; he ruled Monday in favor of the state in its December 2009 petition to seize properties within the footprint of the $5-billion Brooklyn mega-project.

Runnin' Scared, Atlantic Yards is a Go: Streets Close March 8, Evictions Expected Soon

​Get those shackles ready, Freddy's: Judge Abraham Gerges has denied what appears to be the last big appeal of the eminent domain seizures for the Atlantic Yards project.

Several businesses, including Freddy's, are denied all relief; others, including condo owner Daniel Goldstein, may file claims regarding compensation, but cannot expect to keep their property.

The judge swatted away several procedural claims, including an "unclean hands" claim of wrongful conduct in pursuit of the seizures: "Neither Ratner nor any of the affiliated companies involved in the Project are parties to this vesting proceeding, nor will a desire to realize a profit be construed as sufficient to establish conduct that is immoral, illegal or wrongful to any fair-minded person."

Daily Intel [NYMag.com], Atlantic Yards Project Gets Green Light From Judge

State officials said occupants will be evicted from their homes over the course of the next few months, though construction will begin in some areas before then. And — whaddya know? — these residents weren’t too pleased with the ruling. “It feels like I live in a state run by crooks,” Daniel Goldstein told the Daily News. And patrons of Freddy’s Bar have pledged to chain themselves to the storefront to protest the eviction.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards: It Begins

Arena signage is up and dirt has been pushed around, but the official ground-breaking ceremony for the Barclays Center will be March 11, according to the Daily News.

Brownstoner, Ratner to Break Ground on March 11th

Reactions from those who stand to be displaced by eminent domain ranged from angry to belligerent.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Atlantic Yards Enters the Property Theft Phase

Ratner's intergovernmental operative, aka political lobbyist spent weeks, we assume, coming up with a sound to rhyme with -tion, and he did: -tion and -tion.

From the Daily News:

"Today's court ruling marks the transition from the obstruction to the construction phase," Forest City Ratner executive vice president Bruce Bender said Monday.

Bender ought to be wondering when the Ridge Hill federal investigation will transition from ongoing to closed.

Anyway, he's wrong. Today marks the transition from the proposed property theft phase to the actual propety theft phase.

Reason Hit & Run, "When the most powerful forces in state government collude with the real estate industry, injustices will happen, and today is a result of that."

More ugly news for the Brooklyn property owners fighting eminent domain abuse in the Atlantic Yards project. Yesterday Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Abraham Gerges granted New York state’s petition to seize the holdout homes and businesses on behalf of real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner, who plans to build a new basketball stadium for the abysmal New Jersey Nets (a team Ratner co-owns).

Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn, Judge Gives Ratner the Go-Ahead for Land Grab

Everyone’s talking about yesterday’s decision by a State Supreme Court judge approving Ratner’s use of eminent domain and giving him the go-ahead for land grab.

Battle of brooklyn via Kickstarter, Title is transferred but a lawsuit could still throw a wrench in the works

Today Judge Gerges transferred title of the remaining properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint to the ESDC who will lease the entire project site- including the now de-mapped city streets - for $1.
...

Dan and Shabnam knew this day was coming and handled it all very well.

Daily Transom [Observer.com], Atlantic Yards Might Actually Start Next Week

Break out the virgin shovels and the pile of pre-loosened dirt.

After years of delays--which saw a host of courts rule on a litany of lawsuits--Bruce Ratner isn't wasting any time holding a groundbreaking for Atlantic Yards.

Posted by eric at 11:17 AM

Atlantic and Flatbush time lapse

Atlantic and Flatbush time lapse from tracy collins on Vimeo.

Video by Tracy Collins.

Atlantic Avenue & Flatbush Avenue, looking east
Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Park Slope
Brooklyn, New York

March 1, 2010
1:30 - 2:30pm (approx.)

This intersection would be the northwestern corner of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development and the site of its 18,000-seat Barclays Center Arena for the NBA Nets.

Posted by lumi at 6:06 AM

In decision by Gerges allowing condemnation, unwillingness to evaluate significance of changes in AY benefits

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reviews Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges's decision and explains why NY State and developer Forest City Ratner can continue to move the goal posts for the Atlantic Yards timeline and public benefits, as long as no one in the judiciary seems to be able to stop them.

It may be that no court agrees to evaluate whether the changes in the benefits to the Atlantic Yards project are significant.

That's the import of Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges' decision upholding condemnation for the Atlantic Yards project. Gerges claimed that the claims should have been filed by October--an analysis that attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, representing those resisting condemnation, said was wrong, as described below.

And Gerges's decision portends a similar outcome in a parallel case still pending, aiming to compel the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to issue new Determinations and Findings (D&F) as a precursor to the use of eminent domain.
...
What about the revised MTA deal that allows for a far longer time to acquire the site? The ESDC noted that a challenge to the deal had already been rejected in December.

Gerges wrote:

Moreover, petitioner asserts that the MTA business arrangement has no relevance to the validity of the 2006 D&F because those findings relate to the public purposes of the Project, which have not changed. They also note FCRC's obligations to ESDC are dictated not by a transaction with the MTA, but by the 2009 MGPP and the implementing agreements between FCRC and ESDC. The essential terms of the Development Agreement obligated FCRC to construct the Project as described in the 2009 MGPP and to use commercially reasonable efforts to do so by 2019.

Gerges wrote that challenges to condemnation on grounds of bad faith and/or lack of public purposes should be raised--as they had been--in a challenging to the finding of eminent domain, rather than the condemnation action.

Also, he agreed that the case known as Leichter, involving changes to the Times Square plan, disallowed challenges to a revised AY plan.

Gerges wrote:

It has already been determined that the petition adequately sets forth the public uses for which the subject property is needed. The court also finds, as argued by petitioner, that the public purpose to be served by the Project was not changed by the 2009 MGPP. Moreover, to the extent that the Project has changed, the above discussed holdings in Leichter and Toh Realty clearly establish that petitioner is not obligated to begin a de novo review proceeding... In this regard, it must also be noted that the numerous judicial challenges to the Project resulted in extensive delay, as was the case in Leichter. More significantly, it cannot be disputed that the economic conditions in which the Project was proposed in 2002 have changed drastically in that the world-wide economy is now in one of the worst downturns in history.

article

Posted by lumi at 5:51 AM

Judge Approves Seizure of Homes for Ratner

Brit in Brooklyn

AK-626PacificSnow.jpg

A Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge today ruled for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) allowing for the seizure of private homes and businesses on the Atlantic Yards Footprint.

[Right]: One of the threatened apartment buildings in the footprint, home to Daniel Goldstein and his family.

link

Posted by lumi at 5:39 AM

March 1, 2010

Go-ahead in Atlantic Yards land grab bid

Metro
by Amy Zimmer

DanielShabnamSita.jpg

Let the construction finally begin: Bruce Ratner’s $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project can move forward after a state Supreme Court justice yesterday rejected a group of building owners’ and tenants’ challenge of the state’s use of eminent domain. Their legal fight against the project, claiming the condemnation was not for a public benefit but for the pockets of a private developer, lasted six years.

The Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency seizing the land, already announced permanent street closures to start next Monday.

The decision was a blow to many opponents, perhaps none more visible than Daniel Goldstein, the lone holdout in a Pacific Street condo in the project’s 22-acre footprint that will bring the arena and more than a dozen skyscrapers to Brooklyn.

article

Posted by eric at 10:54 PM

Final Atlantic Yards holdouts to lose their property

NY Post
by Rich Calder

Reality is starting to set in for the final holdouts of the embattled Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

A state judge ruled today that the state can seize property from 12 private landowners who refused to sell to developer Bruce Ratner, so he can move forward with his long-delayed, $4.9 billion plan to build an NBA arena, housing and office towers in Prospect Heights.

Ratner, who received state approval for Atlantic Yards in Dec. 2006, is now finally planning a ceremonial arena groundbreaking — March 11 — so his New Jersey Nets can move there by 2012. However, the timetable for the project’s 16 skyscrapers remains unclear because of the national credit crunch.

"I woke up this morning owning my home but by the afternoon I was told the state now owns it," said Daniel Goldstein, a holdout who became the public face of an opposition group that nearly killed the project by using the legal system to hold up construction.

Goldstein said his group isn’t giving up yet – they can still appeal the judge’s ruling and a few outstanding lawsuits could potentially halt development – but conceded he and his family must finally begin looking for a new place to live. Goldstein moved into the condo in 2003; months later Ratner announced his plans for Atlantic Yards.
...

Bruce Bender, an executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, said the "ruling is a major milestone that signifies Atlantic Yards is progressing, that construction will accelerate and that long-awaited benefits will begin to materialize in Brooklyn."

article

NoLandGrab: And who will be surprised when the lion's share of the "benefits" accrue to Forest City Ratner?

Posted by eric at 10:37 PM

Judge rules against Atlantic Yards opponents, putting NJ Nets closer to Brooklyn move

The Star-Ledger

The Nets will play their next two seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark after working out a deal to leave Izod Center and the Meadowlands. But the team still plans on being in a new arena in Brooklyn by the start of the 2012 season.

link

Posted by eric at 10:32 PM

Another legal win for B'klyn arena developers

AP via WCAX.com

Developers could soon break ground on the massive Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn that includes a new arena after lodging another legal victory.

A Brooklyn State Supreme Court judge on Monday rejected a challenge by homeowners and businesses to the state's use of eminent domain for the $4.9 billion, 22-acre project.
...

Opponents lamented the judge's decision, but said two other court cases could stop the project "dead in its tracks."

article

Posted by eric at 10:28 PM

Judge gives Atlantic Yards project the green light; Ratner plans to break ground Mar. 11

NY Daily News
by Erin Durkin

Developer Bruce Ratner is planning to break ground in Brooklyn next week on a new Nets arena after a judge handed private property to the state for the Atlantic Yards project.

"Today's court ruling marks the transition from the obstruction to the construction phase," Forest City Ratner executive vice president Bruce Bender said Monday.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges tossed a challenge to the eminent domain condemnation - a final blow to property owners who fought the wrecking ball for six years.

State officials said the occupants would be evicted in the next few months - but Ratner plans to hold a ground-breaking ceremony March 11.
...

"It feels like I live in a state run by crooks," said Daniel Goldstein, set to get the boot from his Pacific St. condo.

"Our state government ... has bent over backwards to give Bruce Ratner whatever he wants, including my home, and the homes of other citizens."

Patrons at Freddy's bar have threatened to chain themselves to the storefront to battle the eviction.

"There's chains on the bar and a lot of people will be buying handcuffs," said Freddy's regular and opposition organizer Steve de Seve.

"People aren't just going to put up with this ruling."

article

Additional coverage...

NetsAreScorching, GROUNDBREAKING SET FOR BROOKLYN

Expect preliminary construction work around the site to start heating up, in the meantime, according to the report. Evictions won’t begin until a few months.
...

A spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corporation said an “orderly” relocation is expected, but those who fight eviction will be forcibly removed by the Sheriff’s office.

Posted by eric at 10:19 PM

Flashback quote of the day: from Poletown to Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

"It is hard to imagine an economic development program that is structured in a serious way that would not survive a 'public purpose' challenge."

--Stephen Lefkowitz, former general counsel to the New York State Urban Development Corporation (now Empire State Development Corporation), National Law Journal, 6/1/81, as quoted in the 1989 book Poletown: Community Betrayed, about a notorious eminent domain case in Detroit.

Now a partner in the law firm Fried, Frank, Lefkowitz has worked on Atlantic Yards as well as MetroTech, Yankee Stadium, and many other projects.

link

Posted by eric at 10:11 PM

Atlantic Yards Project Clears Latest Hurdle

NY1 News

A state supreme court judge ruled Monday in favor of the developers of the Atlantic Yards project, saying they can seize control of 53 Prospect Heights properties surrounding the proposed Brooklyn site for the sports arena and development.

Supporters, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, hailed the decision, saying the project will increase affordable housing, provide solid jobs and bring a world class arena to the borough.

Not necessarily in that order.

In order for the Atlantic Yards project to move forward, Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic, and Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth and Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenues will be permanently closed to traffic starting next Monday.

link, with video

Posted by eric at 7:05 PM

State Owns Atlantic Yards; Brooklyn Homeowners’ Titles Taken

Judge Orders Transfer of Title After State Exercises Eminent Domain

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Ryan Thompson with Samuel Newhouse

Those who own businesses or homes in the footprint of Atlantic Yards do not own them anymore.

The land of Atlantic Yards has been condemned. And title to that land has transferred, a Brooklyn judge ordered Monday morning.

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Abraham G. Gerges confirmed Monday afternoon that his judicial orders not only granted the right for the state to take title from the private landowners, but also effected the actual transfer of title to the state.

“New York state now owns my home,” said Daniel Goldstein, Pacific Street resident and spokesman for lead opposition group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). “Technically, a court ruled that … it’s okay for the state to steal my home and give it to Bruce Ratner.”
...

After years of lawsuits and litigation, after loud protests and verbal fights, after restructuring, refinancing, renaming and resizing, the Atlantic Yards process has yet to overcome all legal hurdles. Just when it seems the path is clear, another legal challenge rises up to block the construction cranes from building a project that was originally announced over six years ago.

article

Posted by eric at 6:57 PM

Judge Approves Land Seizures for Atlantic Yards

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

The property seizures necessary for a new Brooklyn Nets basketball arena have been approved by a judge, clearing a path for a groundbreaking on the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project.

The action, for which the Brooklyn judge granted a state petition seeking the title of properties within the project's footprint, is one of the final few legal challenges opponents of the project and holdout landowners had thrown at the state in an attempt to block, or delay, the development.

In a project marked by incremental movements toward the start of construction, this one has a tangible effect: On March 8, the state announced, it will finally create its "superblocks," forever shutting down the streets within the project's footprint to make way for the development. In a statement, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn said the affected property owners and tenants "will be considering all of their legal options in light of today's ruling."

There are two other cases still pending that would stop the project, however they are not viewed by government officials or executives at Forest City Ratner, Atlantic Yards' developer, as likely to be successful.

article

Posted by eric at 4:48 PM

Nets arena foes lose another court case

Bergen Record
by John Brennan

The New Jersey Nets inched another significant step toward Brooklyn on Monday, as a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled against every objection raised in a lawsuit by opponents of the proposed basketball arena, housing and commercial project known as Atlantic Yards.
...

The ruling moves project developer Forest City Ratner and Nets owner Bruce Ratner closer to exercising eminent domain to evict the plaintiffs, as well as to receiving state approval to close several streets in the neighborhood near downtown Brooklyn, where the project is scheduled to be built. The Nets hope to begin play in their new Barclays Center arena in the fall of 2012, but construction must begin in earnest by this summer to allow for such a franchise shift.
...

Gerges wrote that even if Goldstein’s cynicism about the actual public benefits proves to be well-placed, that is not the issue for the court. Instead, the court must simply find whether the state “rationally could have believed” that the use of eminent domain would lead to the achievements of the goals of the developers and the state.

Goldstein had pointed to a September 2009 analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office that the arena would be a money loser for the city and that the developers are permitted to take up to 25 years to fulfill promises related to the construction of affordable housing at the project.

Gerges ruled that Goldstein has until Sept. 1 to file claims related to efforts to use eminent domain to take his condominium.

article

Posted by eric at 4:36 PM

Judge Clears Hurdle for Atlantic Yards

City Room
by Charles V. Bagli

A justice in State Supreme Court paved the way Monday for the transfer of private land to the developer Bruce C. Ratner for his long-delayed $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, after rejecting a challenge by local property owners to the state’s use of eminent domain.

Homeowners and business opposed to the condemnation, which was approved by the State Court of Appeals in November, had argued that the state and the developer had failed to meet the legal requirements for condemnation, which they argued would enrich a private developer rather than create a public benefit.

Justice Abraham G. Gerges, however, denied all of their motions in an 82-page decision.

The land is being seized by a state entity, the Empire State Development Corporation, and will be controlled by Mr. Ratner’s company, Forest City Ratner.
...

But many of the 6,000 apartments that are to accompany the arena will have to wait. Although Mr. Ratner has pledged that at least 30 percent of the units would be reserved for moderate- and middle-income families, the developer said that it is difficult to finance residential construction in the current market. It may also take many years for a single neighborhood to absorb so many new apartments.

article

Posted by eric at 4:32 PM

Court upholds AY eminent domain ruling

The Real Deal

Eminent domain has prevailed once again for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project in a New York State Supreme Court ruling today that clears the way for construction to begin on the Nets' new Barclays Center arena. According to the ruling, by Judge Abraham Gerges, the state can seize properties in the way of the project because the 14 claims brought forth by opponents of the plan had no "merit." Among the claims: that the state has not explicitly said the land slated for condemnation will be used for the public and that the project plan had been illegally modified.

article

Posted by eric at 4:28 PM

Judge Rules Against Atlantic Yards Opponents

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

The state of New York has taken title to property owned by Daniel Goldstein and other holdouts living in or running businesses in the footprint of the future Atlantic Yards basketball arena.

Judge Abraham Gerges of state Supreme Court in Brooklyn said that all rules were followed when the Empire State Development Corporation moved to condemn the properties. The homeowners had raised a number of objections, one of which was that the project had changed substantially since getting state approval three years ago.

The ruling authorized the state to take title to the properties that remained in private hands but are needed for the arena. But it still could be weeks or months before the state compensates the owners and residents are ordered to leave.

link

Posted by eric at 4:25 PM

It came from the Blogosphere... (Condemnation edition)

Curbed, Revenge of the Megaprojects

A State Supreme Court ruled this morning that eminent domain can go ahead in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards project, despite opponents' claims that the project plan had been illegally modified. The ruling applies to the buildings developer Bruce Ratner says he needs to seize immediately, including Daniel Goldstein's apartment building and the PBR guillotine-building Freddy's Bar. It's unclear exactly when Ratner will take the property, so, Freddy's folks, better pile those PBR cans while you still can.

NoLandGrab: The state is taking title, not "seizing" the actual property immediately. That won't happen for some time — if the remaining legal challenges fail.

Drinkers Unite - Barclays Boycott, Fightin' Freddy's Handcuff Catalog

Fightin' Freddy's is compiling a catalog of places to order handcuffs.

They say they are going to take Freddy's Bar. We say, get your handcuffs and come out for the (un)eviction party. We don't know the date yet. So order today. This catalog does not want to exclude anyone, so if you have a favorite handcuff website send it along. The Chains Of Justice are mounted on the bar at Freddys so you can keep drinking while we're fighting this unfair law.

Brownstoner, BREAKING: Judge OKs Eminent Domain Seizure at Yards

The Brooklyn Paper is reporting that State Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges this morning ruled against property owners in the footprint of the Barclays Center, paving the way for Forest City Ratner to begin construction on arena. In one fell swoop, the judge rejected 14 claims by the owners as being meritless.

NetsDaily, Brooklyn Judge Rules Condemnation Can Proceed

Critics had asked Judge Abraham Gerges to halt the process, claiming project plans had changed and a new plan was needed. The ESDC expects to move quickly to condemn the properties. Land must be cleared before the Nets sale to Mikhail Prokhorov can be finalized.

ProBasketballTalk, Brooklyn Arena another step closer to reality

Great news Brooklyn -- you're that much closer to having a six-win team play in your back yard. Break out the champagne and Beluga caviar.
...

Brooklyn has had a professional sports team in the past, it's time they once again got to enjoy the play of some bums.

The Cleveland Leader, Dodgers Move & Ratner Arrival - Which is Worse Brooklyn?

With the Ratners having run Cleveland for the past eight or so decades, Roldo Bartimole knows whence he writes.

The departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a blow to the people of Brooklyn, N.Y. but the arrival of a Ratner might be more devastating to Brooklyn citizens.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Judge Rejects Eminent Domain Challenge to Atlantic Yards

Posted by eric at 4:07 PM

Gerges dismisses challenge to condemnation; no barrier to project construction; streets to close March 8

Atlantic Yards Report

After a month, Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges has dismissed a challenge to the condemnation of property needed for the Atlantic Yards project.

While there are other extant legal challenges, there's no bar to construction, and Forest City Ratner has said it would mobilize large numbers of workers shortly after the decision.

It was followed shortly afterward by a community notice stating that Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues and Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue and between Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues would close on Monday, March 8.

That's one-week notice; at a community meeting last week, a Department of Transportation official was unwilling to specify how much notice would be needed, while City Council Member Letitia James, a project opponent, asked for two weeks.

ESDC statement

The Empire State Development Corporation issued a statement:

ESDC is pleased with today’s ruling on the Atlantic Yards condemnation hearing by Justice Gerges of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, and is looking forward to moving ahead with a project that will bring an arena, open space, affordable housing, transportation improvements and thousands of jobs to Brooklyn.

The streets condemned by ESDC will be closed as of 6:00 am, Monday, March 8, 2010, giving the community a full 7-days notice in addition to the public notice first issued in early January. ESDC is coordinating with Forest City Ratner Companies and the Brooklyn Department of Transportation to update the relevant message boards and otherwise provide notice to the community. While no formal notice period is required under law, in hearing from the community and working with the Department of Transportation, ESDC believes this additional notice period will help the community prepare for anticipated traffic changes while not overly delaying the commencement of principal construction of this eagerly anticipated project.

In terms of those residents occupying condemned property, ESDC has been and will continue to work with occupants to relocate them and anticipates an orderly relocation taking place over the course of the next few months.

Click through for a statement from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Posted by eric at 3:54 PM

BREAKING! Judge rules against Yards property owners, paving way for construction

The Brooklyn Paper
by Stephen Brown

State development officials can seize properties in the footprint of developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project through eminent domain, a state court ruled on Monday morning, removing the most significant legal hurdle remaining before construction can begin on the Barclays Center arena.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges ruled this morning that 14 claims asserted by condemnation opponents — including the timing of the condemnations, the legality of a modification of the Atlantic Yards project plan and even the state’s failure to use the words “public use” in a section over why the land is being condemned in the first place — had no “merit.”

Gerges’s ruling applies to properties that Ratner says he needs immediately to begin construction, including the home of project holdout Daniel Goldstein on Pacific Street and the building housing Freddy’s Bar on Dean Street.

The case was argued on Jan. 29. Gerges’s ruling was strictly on procedural grounds, contending that “the court is required to direct the immediate filing and entry of the order granting [the condemnations] unless there is merit to any of the [landowners’] defenses.”

With Gerges’s ruling, the street closures around the Barclays Center site will likely proceed quickly, though it is unclear when the actually taking of property will occur.

article

Posted by eric at 12:21 PM

February 25, 2010

“Eminent Domain as Central Planning”

Not Another F*cking Blog!

This photo of 493 and 495 Dean Street was used in the article, Eminent Domain as Central Planning, by Nicole Gelinas. The article was published in the Winter 2010 issue of City Journal.
...

These homes were determined to be “blighted” and would be demolished for Atlantic Yards. A high rise building would replace them (and 3 other homes, 2 of which have already been demolished).

link

Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

February 24, 2010

Eminent Domain as Central Planning

Wielding creative definitions of blight, New York runs roughshod over property rights and uproots viable neighborhoods.

City Journal
by Nicole Gelinas

Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, industrial and forlorn for much of the late twentieth century, was looking better by 2003. Government was doing its proper job: crime was down, and the public-transit commute to midtown Manhattan, where many Brooklynites worked, was just 25 minutes. That meant that the private sector could do its job, too, rejuvenating the neighborhood after urban decay. Developers had bought 1920s-era factories and warehouses and converted them into condos for buyers like Daniel Goldstein, who paid $590,000 for a place in a former dry-goods warehouse in 2003. These new residents weren’t put off by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s railyards nearby, and they liked the hardwood floors and airy views typical of such refurbished buildings. They also settled in alongside longtime residents in little houses on quiet streets. Wealthier newcomers joined regulars at Freddy’s, a bar that predated Prohibition. Small businesses continued to employ skilled laborers in low-rise industrial buildings.

But Prospect Heights interested another investor: developer Bruce Ratner, who thought that the area would be perfect for high-rise apartments and office towers. Ratner didn’t want to do the piecemeal work of cajoling private owners into selling their properties, however. Instead, he appealed to the central-planning instincts of New York’s political class. Use the state’s power to seize the private property around the railyards, he told Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz. Transfer me the property, and let me buy the railyards themselves below the market price. I’ll build my development, Atlantic Yards, around a world-class basketball arena.

New York, in short, would give Ratner an unfair advantage, and he would return some of the profits reaped from that advantage by creating the “economic benefits” favored by the planning classes. Architecture critics loved Frank Gehry’s design for the arena. Race activist Al Sharpton loved the promise of thousands of minority jobs. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) loved the prospect of administering the more than 2,000 units of “affordable” housing planned for the development, as well as the $1.5 million in loans and grants that Ratner gave it outright. When the state held public hearings in 2006 to decide whether to approve Atlantic Yards, hundreds of supplicants, hoping for a good job or a cheap apartment, easily drowned out the voices of people like Goldstein, who wanted nothing from the government except the right to keep their homes.

article

A version of this article appeared as an op-ed in Sunday's New York Post.

Posted by eric at 9:23 PM

"THIS BUILDING IS NOW VACANT... THANKS."

Photo by Tracy Collins, via Flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

"POSTMAN, THIS BUILDING IS NOW VACANT, AND IS SLATED FOR DEMOLITION. PLEASE SEND ALL MAIL FOR FORMER TENANTS OF 624 PACIFIC STREET BACK TO THE POST OFFICE FOR FORWARDING. THANKS. 02/03/10."

624 Pacific Street near 5th Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

This building would be demolished for Atlantic Yards.

Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

February 20, 2010

How 'eminent domain' makes blight

New York Post
By Nicole Gelinas

This piece uses the dealings around the proposed Atlantic Yards project as the prime example why eminent domain law needs to be changed in New York. The article concludes with the results of underhanded dealings in Prospect Heights:

Eminent-domain abuse is a symptom of a deeper problem: The belief that central planning is superior to free-market competition. To cure yourself of this notion, stroll around Atlantic Yards, past three-story clapboard homes nestled near corniced row houses -- "blighted" residences. You'll peer up at Goldstein's nearly empty apartment house, scheduled to be destroyed.

And you'll see how Ratner's wrecking balls have made the neighborhood gap-toothed. A vacant lot now sprawls where the historic Ward Bakery was.

Today, Prospect Heights displays what the state wants everyone to see: decay. But it's isn't the work of callous markets that left the neighborhood to perish. It's the work of a developer wielding state power to press property owners to sell their land "voluntarily." Meanwhile, true private investment has been choked off, since everyone knows the state's aiming to hand everything to Ratner.

link

Posted by steve at 10:36 AM

February 17, 2010

Times analyzes more "liberal" Court of Appeals under Lippman; eminent domain (and the role of Silver) get a pass

Atlantic Yards Report

A New York Times article running tomorrow on the state Court of Appeals tries to make a point about Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, but eminent domain--which might complicate the argument--gets ignored.

The article, headlined Judge Puts Liberal Imprint on New York’s Top Court, begins:

Gov. David A. Paterson nominated Jonathan Lippman to head the New York Court of Appeals in January 2009, making him the chief judge of the state. The choice was a gamble: the judge, a longtime court administrator, did not have a long history of deciding cases, and there was almost no record of his political views.

Now, a year in, the parameters of the Lippman court are coming into focus: he has helped turn the Court of Appeals into a scrappier, more divided and more liberal panel, its rulings and court statistics show. To get the rulings he wants, the decisions show, the new chief judge has built alliances case by case with each of the four judges who were nominated by the last Republican governor, George E. Pataki, cracking the conservative majority.

Looking more closely

I posted most of the following as comments on the Times's web site.

While the court may have moved to the left in certain areas, on the contentious issue of eminent domain--which now challenges ideological boundaries--the court most recently displayed great deference to the state, which is hardly a "left" position.

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NoLandGrab: While deference to the state may not be a lefty position, permissiveness on the use (and abuse) of eminent domain is completely in step with liberal orthodoxy. Remember, the five most liberal Supreme Court justices at the time were in the majority onKelo, while the four most conservative justices firmly opposed New London's taking.

Posted by eric at 10:15 PM

Julia Vitullo-Martin's cognitive dissonance

Willets Point United

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

...as we have been pointing out, the EDC proposed development would create new environmental hazards-like 80,000 new vehicle trips a day in and out of the new development. [Julia] Vitullo Martin, a shill for development who castigated the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory deal, scoffs at the suggestion: "When asked about Lipsky's concern that developing the area would create 80,000 new vehicle trips in Flushing every weekday, therefore clogging traffic and increasing the city's carbon footprint, Martin chuckles. "I don't believe that's worthy of a response," she says.

Interestingly, Julia is opposed to the Atlantic Yards development plan in part because of the unmitigated traffic impacts that would result. Yet laughs at the notion that Willets Point, a project 3 times larger than Atlantic Yards, would have any impact.

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NoLandGrab: Regular readers of this blog will see the irony in Richard Lipsky calling anyone "a shill for development." The alleged eminent domain opponent warmly embraced just such a prescription for properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint when he was cashing Bruce Ratner's checks as an, ahem, paid consultant.

Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

February 16, 2010

"If the blight comes through": why reform of state eminent domain laws is overdue, and notes from Senator Perkins's workshop Saturday

Atlantic Yards Report

So, if laypeople of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) board can determine blight in Prospect Heights even if they never visit to Brooklyn, it's a mighty subjective science.

Which is why state Senator Bill Perkins's effort to reform the state's eminent domain laws is long overdue--and will be a tough battle.

For those closely following eminent domain in New York, there wasn't a huge amount new at the workshop Perkins sponsored Saturday in Albany, but--when the video becomes available--it was a good introduction to the issue.

Flashback from Radio Golf

Before I offer a summary, let's flash back to August Wilson's play about urban redevelopment, Radio Golf, on Broadway in 2007. During the play, the Bedford Hills Redevelopment Agency aims to get the city to designate certain properties as blighted.

"If the blight comes through," project supporters say at several points and, eventually, it does.

Because it, like Atlantic Yards, was a wired deal.

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Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

February 13, 2010

State Senator Seeks to Reform Use of Eminent Domain

WNYC
by Matthew Schuerman

This item about Senator Perkins' attempt to reform New York eminent domain law mentions how Prospect Heights does not need the proposed Atlantic Yards project to prosper.

State Sen. Bill Perkins is trying to restrict the state's powers to take private property. The Upper Manhattan Democrat says the current law allows government to take advantage of small property owners.

Current law says blight is anything that's "substandard," "insanitary," or "deteriorating." But that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In West Harlem, where Columbia University has plans to expand, a state agency said buildings with loose awnings and unpainted brick walls qualified as blighted.

Perkins, who represents the area, wants to raise the bar. His legislation says a building must be abandoned or unfit for habitation or meet other criteria before being considered "blighted." He'd also require even civic projects -- such as the planned basketball arena at Atlantic Yards -- be located in blighted areas rather than supplant healthy neighborhoods.

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Posted by steve at 7:56 AM

Perkins to host workshop Saturday to discuss eminent domain reforms

Here's a way to get your activist fix on this Saturday from the comfort of your own home.

State Senator Bill Perkins, who just introduced a bill to reform the state's eminent domain laws, notably blight, will host a workshop on the issue tomorrow in Albany from 1-2:30 pm.

It should stream live at this link.

It doesn't look like any defenders of the status quo will participate. The witness list:

  • Christina Walsh - Institute for Justice
  • Amy Lavine - Government Law Center at Albany Law School
  • Anna Adler - New York State Trial Lawyers Association
  • Tara Quinlan - New York State Trial Lawyers Association

Walsh's organization has called New York one of the country's worst abusers of eminent domain and Lavine has advised Perkins on the reform bill.

The Trial Lawyers Association does not, as far as I can tell, have a position on eminent domain, but its members generally represent individuals against institutions and businesses, and thus presumably would be sympathetic to greater protections for those facing condemnation.

Posted by steve at 7:30 AM

February 10, 2010

The fight over blight

DJC Oregon
by Edward Sullivan and Carrie Richter

Five years after the dust has settled from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the private homes of Fort Trumbell, in the city of New London, Conn., have been removed, the land has been cleared, and Pfizer, the employer slated to move in and improve the city’s tax base, has similarly gone with the wind. Yet the ghosts of Kelo remain. Upon first issuance, the Kelo decision caused an uproar, spurring 43 states, including Oregon, to pass regulations precluding the condemnation of land for private purposes. New York, however, was not one of them. The appellate courts of New York have recently issued two diverging decisions that considered the meaning of “blight.” Those decisions might be instructive to other states, including Oregon.

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Posted by eric at 9:29 PM

Freddy's, late night II

Photo, by kmhinkle, via Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Atlantic Yards, etc., fully taken into account, I actually believe Freddy's can carry on merrily for years to come. I'm looking forward to it.

NoLandGrab: Freddy's is under threat of eminent domain, for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by lumi at 7:42 PM

February 9, 2010

Would the Court of Appeals permit reargument of the Atlantic Yards case, given the Columbia appeal? It's a long shot, and we should know soon

Atlantic Yards Report

The unusual, long shot effort to get the state Court of Appeals to reopen the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case it dismissed in November could see a result as early as today, when the Court of Appeals resumes issuing decisions. Or it could linger for weeks or months.

Should the court agree to reargument of the appeal, or to simply hold it in abeyance until the not dissimilar Columbia University case is resolved, that could stay the pending decision by state Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges on an unusual challenge to the actual condemnation.

But if the court dismisses the motion, that would remove one of the few potential roadblocks--all long shots--to transfer of title should Gerges rule in favor of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Forest City Ratner is proceeding--mostly--as if none of these cases poses a threat; it has signed contracts for arena construction and has continued utility work and demolition, but has not announced an official groundbreaking.

The Columbia opening

Let's recap. The AY case, known as Goldstein v. ESDC, was dismissed 6-1 in late November, with the majority opinion stating that it was the role of the Legislature, not the courts, to narrow the definition of blight and the dissenting judge saying the court was much too deferential to the ESDC.

Nine days later, a lower court, the Appellate Division, blocked the ESDC's use of eminent domain in the Columbia University expansion, in a case known as Kaur v. ESDC. While the ruling was 3-2, the two-judge plurality opinion slammed the ESDC for its use of consultant AKRF, its reliance on underutilization as an indicia of blight, and its indulgence toward a private developer.

While the fact pattern in the Columbia case is different from the AY case, the issues of underutilization and deference to the agency are similar. Then again, Judge James Catterson's plurality opinion ignored any reference to the judge-decided AY case, a glaring omission leaving open the option for a complete reversal.

But the Court of Appeals had already ruled against the ESDC in another Columbia case--regarding the agency's unwillingness to hand over documents requested via the Freedom fo Information Law--and may be disposed to looking carefully at its actions.

Courts, as institutions, are generally reluctant to admit that they just made mistakes, so the petitioners in the AY case have an uphill climb.

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Posted by eric at 10:59 AM

February 8, 2010

Perkins introduces bill to reform eminent domain by redefining blight; had provisions been enacted earlier, AY would have been blocked

Atlantic Yards Report

As previewed (Gotham Gazette, New York Times), State Senator Bill Perkins has introduced a sweeping bill (S. 6971) to redefine eminent domain by redefining blight--currently subsumed under the amorphous terms "substandard and insanitary."

Thus environmental consultants like AKRF inevitably find blight when so requested by agencies like the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

The bill, which likely will gain both supporters and critics, is clearly a response to the efforts to use eminent domain in the cases of Atlantic Yards, Columbia University, and Willets Point. The bill's provisions aren't retroactive, but if they were, they almost certainly would've have precluded the use of eminent domain for the AY site.

New York is one of few states--perhaps seven--that failed to enact any reforms regarding eminent domain after the Supreme Court's controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, and the libertarian Institute for Justice, which brought the Kelo case, considers New York "one of the worst" states in the country when it comes to eminent domain abuse.

Underutilization

Notably, the bill eliminates the opportunity for condemning authorities like the ESDC to cite underutilization--as it did in the Atlantic Yards and Columbia cases--as an indicia of blight.

Given that AKRF deemed properties occupying less than 60% of allowable development rights (Floor Area Ratio, or FAR) as blighted, that could potentially doom broad swaths of the city.

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Posted by eric at 10:29 AM

A Crystal Eagle Award for me: "a champion of property rights" vs. "a champion of good government"

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on his collection of an award from the Owners' Counsel of America.

I traveled on the OCA's dime to the OCA meeting this past weekend in Scottsdale, AZ, to accept the award and speak about my work. (The amount of time I spent in transit was about the same as the time I spent awake in Scottsdale.)

I had qualms about being described, at least according to some OCA members, as a "champion of property rights."

I responded that I was a "champion of good government" and if that, in the context of examining eminent domain in New York makes me appear to be a "champion of property rights," so be it.

After all, I started looking into Atlantic Yards as a media critic and then expanded into reportage and commentary; eminent domain wasn't on my radar screen.

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Posted by eric at 10:08 AM

February 7, 2010

Oops! Where Did That Blight Go? Sidewalk Cracks Are Just Too Damn Easy To Fix!

Noticing New York

This blog post, a sequel to an earlier entry, points out the absurdly low standard used by the Empire State Development Corporation, the tool of developer Bruce Ratner, to allow a declaration of blight. The earlier post contained photographs of sidewalk cracks that could have been sufficient to call a neighborhood blighted.

It turns out that one of the cracks on Montague Street has now actually been repaired, but that wouldn't necessarily keep the ESDC from proclaiming blight, especially if there was a politically-connected developer who had his eye on the property:

The point is that, according to the ESDC, this quick and ready fix isn’t supposed to be the way that city residents deal with the “blight” of sidewalks cracks in their neighborhood. What ESDC believes should happen instead is that all the property on the entire block should be seized from the owners, all the buildings torn down and replaced by a politically-connected developer who will be assisted with extravagant public subsidies for which the developer will not have to bid. No matter, ESDC is still ahead in its determined race to find "blight" where and whenever it wants: Although this property owner on Montague Street quickly effected this repair the owner did not coordinate with the neighbors up and down the street (and on rest of block) to fix some of the other cracks we documented. . . .

. . . So according to ESDC, their property can still be wrested from them and torn down despite their vigilant efforts at maintenance.

link

Posted by steve at 8:14 AM

February 6, 2010

More blight on Vanderbilt Avenue? Not if you ask Time Out New York

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote last month about the dubious notion of finding blight adjacent to a thriving shopping strip on Vanderbilt Avenue.

Here's another piece of evidence, from Time Out New York:

Woodwork: Vanderbilt Avenue’s position as one of Brooklyn’s emerging bar strips just got stronger with the addition of this soccer-oriented drinkery. Fans of the other football can catch all the games on three 50-inch flat-screen televisions—including early-morning broadcasts. Those with less of a passion for the sport will find other reasons to visit: Chef-owner Ross Greenberg (Aquavit) has an ambitious food menu, including homemade pickles, five-cheese truffled macaroni and cheese, and various proteins (chicken, beef, fish) cooked en papillote. The drink collection is just as serious, with a focus on small-batch whiskies, organic wines from worldwide soccer regions and hard-to-find international craft beers. 583 Vanderbilt Ave at Dean St, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (718-857-5777)

The location (formerly Indigo Blu) is catercorner to the shopping strip previously shown and directly across the street from Block 1129 of the Atlantic Yards footprint, slated to contain 1100 surface parking spots.

link

Posted by steve at 7:11 AM

February 5, 2010

Looking back at the legal battles: the eminent domain cases over nearly three-and-a-half years

Atlantic Yards Report

With news on the Atlantic Yards front slow on a mid-winter Friday, Norman Oder decided to take a look back at the three-and-a-half year legal battle over the project's use of eminent domain.

The legal battles regarding the Atlantic Yards project are epic and, while nearing conclusion, hardly over. Here are some flashbacks to the arguments over eminent domain, first in federal court, later in state court.

I'll write at another time about the other cases, including those challenging the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) environmental review, the revised Metropolitan Transportation Authority deal for the Vanderbilt Yard, and the ESDC's approval of the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

Legal papers are posted on Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's web site.

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Posted by eric at 1:11 PM

February 4, 2010

Jay-Z Asked To Call Off Nets Attack On Homeless Families AFP Article Highlights Worldwide, Embarassing New York City

MartinLutherKingHomeless

A group calling itself MartinLutherKingHomeless has asked iconic Brooklyn-born-and-bred entertainer and Nets minority investor Jay-Z to add his voice to efforts to reopen the Prospect Heights homeless shelter closed on January 15th to make way for a parking lot.

An article appearing today in hundreds of publications worldwide in several languages about homeless children in New York, NY has prompted community groups in the area of one shelter featured in the article to reach out to New York's most famous entertainer to help them improve New York City's image in the world by re-open[ing] the family homeless shelter closed by his billionaire business partner. Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (F.U.R.E.E.), Friends of 227 Abolitionist Place, Picture the Homeless, Prospect Heights Action Coalition,and neighboring Freddy's Bar have joined in contacting Jay-Z, whose song, Empire State of Mind is at the top of the charts, to ask if there is something he can do to help re-open the shelter. Jay-Z is most likely unaware that the shelter was closed by billionaire Bruce Ratner, a business partner of Jay-Z's. The two are co-owners of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. The Barclays Center stadium, which will house the Nets, if it is ever built (and doubts are high on that) necessitated that the shelter be closed and torn down to make a parking lot.

The Pacific Dean Family Homeless Shelter, at 603 Dean St. was closed at Mr. Ratner's request on January 15, which is Martin Luther King's Birthday. Closing an important shelter serving African-American and Caribbean-American families in the dead of winter and on Dr. King's birthday has outraged the local community.

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Posted by eric at 4:45 PM

Marty till the break of dawn!

Brokelyn

Marty Markowitz, property rights advocate?

Yep, Brokelyn was one of the 60 individuals and groups honored by Marty at his State of the Borough address last night, an esteemed bunch that included novelist Amy Sohn; Brooklyn Flea founders Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby and the owners of the new Elvis-inspired Graceland Brooklyn hair salon, Corvette Hunt and Bethany Paul.
...

We were also honored to share a stage with Mohamed Salem, Brooklyn’s only known Muslim owner of a kosher deli (salami aleikum!) and Mohammed Hashan, a sandwich-shop employee who refused to return Lindsay Lohan’s lost Blackberry without first demanding to see her ID. “To make sure that something valuable was really in the hands of its rightful owner—that’s Brooklyn values!” Marty proclaimed.

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NoLandGrab: 'Cause the last thing we'd want to have happen in Brooklyn is for one person's private property to be taken and transferred to another private party. Right, Mr. Brooklyn values?

Posted by eric at 4:32 PM

Eminent Domain Changes Seek to Limit State's Power to Seize Property

Gotham Gazette
by David King

Gotham Gazette publishes a lengthy piece today on the potential for eminent domain reform in New York State, well worth a read.

When Henry Weinstein bought a commercial building at 752 Pacific St. in Brooklyn 1985 he never expected that 20 years later the government would want to take it away and give to a developer. Weinstein said that he would be shocked if his land was being taken for a hospital, a bridge or a library. But seeing it seized to make way for Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project shakes his faith in the government. "This is the most un-American thing I have ever experienced," he said.

As New York City has reshaped itself over the past decade, the government has given private developers, such as Forest City Ratner, a powerful tool -- an eminent domain law that allows them to seize land from other property owners. Now some politicians believe the law needs change to protect property owners, such as Weinstein.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky has put together a package of legislation that would create a commission to review the state's eminent domain process, give land owners fair compensation for their property and establish an ombudsman who would help land owners whose property is targeted by eminent domain. Later this week Sen. Bill Perkins will unveil legislation that he says would change the state's eminent domain laws to better protect property owners. The situation in the legislature, along with a recent appellate court ruling that found the process the state used to take land for a Columbia University satellite campus in upper Manhattan was unconstitutional, could result in the first major changes to New York's eminent domain laws in more than 30 years.

The possibility that the state might finally redo its eminent domain laws -- laws that have remained the same as other states updated theirs -- has caught the interest of civil rights lawyers, property owners and advocates. But developers, real estate interests and some politicians fear changes could make it more difficult for the state to improve blighted neighborhoods in desperate need of investment, infrastructure and jobs.

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NoLandGrab: Thank goodness for those altruistic developers and real estate interests whose huge profits are only an incidental consequence of their selfless improving of "blighted" neighborhoods. Thank you, kind sirs.

Posted by eric at 10:25 AM

February 3, 2010

Children lead way in record New York homelessness

AFP
by Sebastian Smith

Why does it take the French wire service AFP to point out the irony in New York City's eviction of homeless families at the behest of Bruce Ratner while facing a homelessness crisis of epic proportions? We're lookin' at you, New York Times.

Kariana, aged three, has a lonely existence in the New York homeless shelter her parents moved into last year. Lonely, but not alone -- there are nearly 16,000 children just like her.

Homelessness in New York has soared as a result of the damaged US economy and children make up almost half of that growing population.
...

New York's homelessness commissioner Robert Hess said record numbers are taking advantage of the city's guarantee to shelter.

"Given this terrible economic downturn we've seen -- the worst in our lifetimes, certainly here in New York -- we're seeing an unprecedented number of families with children coming into the shelter system," he told AFP in an interview.

Figures for January showed a total of 37,487 homeless people in the city, including 8,850 families with children. There were 15,853 children.

"We had 51 percent more applicants this year than two years ago of women with children," Hess said. "We've been adding capacity right and left in order to meet that demand."

By "adding capacity," Hess means "closing a homeless shelter on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in sub-freezing temperatures so Bruce Ratner can create more facts on the ground before building a huge parking lot that might not be replaced for decades."

But activists paint a less hopeful picture of a city awash in money and run by multi-billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, yet unable to care for its poor.

Maria Walles, who has been in and out of shelters with her husband and daughter since 2007, joined a handful of other homeless last week to protest outside the offices of Bruce Ratner, a major developer.

He is due to demolish a homeless shelter as part of a glitzy sports arena project in Brooklyn, one of the many works transforming formerly gritty areas of New York. The shelter, which housed some 80 families, was shut on January 15.

"I think it's dead wrong. My heart says, 'wow,'" Walles said. "Why close a shelter now when it's winter? All we asked was for it to be kept open until spring."

The city responds that it is always increasing shelter space, even going as far as renting from landlords of upscale apartment buildings erected in the boom years and left empty by the recession.

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en español

en français

NoLand Grab: Are they joking? That program does far more to bail out the real estate speculators who overbuilt during the Bloomberg-fueled condo bubble than it does for homeless families.

Posted by eric at 1:10 PM

Your weekly newsbriefs: Judge studies AY condemnation papers

Courier-Life Publications

State Supreme Court Judge Abraham G. Gerges last week delayed a final approval ruling for the state’s planned seizure of property to make way for the $4-plus billion Atlantic Yards project.

Gerges told lawyers for both property owners and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that he will look over all the submitted papers and documents and rule “expeditiously.”

Sources closes to the project said the ruling should come within two weeks.

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NoLandGrab: Funny, we don't recall seeing a Courier-Life reporter in the court room. Perhaps one of the folks sporting "Jobs, Housing & Hoops" buttons was working as a stringer.

Posted by eric at 10:07 AM

January 30, 2010

DDDB Statement: Condemnation on Hold

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

We were heartened today, but not surprised, that Judge Gerges chose to reserve his decision on the ESDC's petition seeking to condemn private properties to make way for Forest City Ratner's basketball arena and parking lots.

It's clear that Judge Gerges appreciates the gravity of the issues at stake in this case, and that he'll weigh very seriously the arguments put forth today by counsel and in the motion submitted on behalf of the property owners and leaseholders fighting to retain title to their homes and businesses.

We're confident that after he reviews the facts, he will agree with the respondents and dismiss the state's petition, denying the ESDC and Forest City the right to take title to our neighbors' businesses and homes.

link

Posted by eric at 4:59 PM

A “Kelo” Grows In Brooklyn

Loopholebill's Weblog

This blog entry is an impassioned plea for reform of eminent domain in New York State.

Here’s a quick law-lesson – - – in 2005 the Supremes ruled that Connecticut could grab private homes and businesses for the building of a research place for a drugs company. Now, fast-forward to late 2009 and lo and behold the New York High Court ruled that New York can grab around 20 acres of private Brooklyn land to build a sports arena for ( are you ready??? ) the New Jersey Nets plus, commercial and residential stuff. How the hell??? You ask… Well, after Kelo, many states changed their Constitutions to stop this crap but NY did NOT, so the developers won and the li’l property owners get some money.
NYT 27 Nov 09, p. A.3

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Posted by steve at 6:56 AM

January 29, 2010

Condemnation on hold after judge promises prompt review of claims; streets unlikely to close on February 1

Atlantic Yard Report

No, the Atlantic Yards condemnation case was not going to be simple, after all.

After nearly two hours of oft-contentious oral argument before Kings County Supreme Court Judge Abraham Gerges--argument that, according to counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) went well beyond the proceeding at hand--the judge chose not to rule on the motions and counter-motions filed in the last two days.

"While the court will proceed promptly, the parties are entitled to a review of their claims," Gerges said at the end of the hearing, promising to "proceed expeditiously."

That means, most likely, that streets planned for closure February 1 will not close, even though developer Forest City Ratner seeks the closure of Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues for sewer work needed before arena construction will go forward--and has said it wanted that street closed even if the case was delayed.
...

Gerges was not unskeptical about the claims raised by attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, representing several footprint property owners and leaseholders, who argued that changes in the project after the ESDC's 2006 approval of the eminent domain Determination & Findings (D&F) were so significant that a new D&F was required.

Weren't such issues supposed to be dealt with in other cases, the judge asked.

Brinckerhoff pointed out that other courts considering AY-related cases had relied solely on the record as of December 2006. "The fact that they changed the project so much has to be considered by someone," he said.

He suggested, by way of example, a situation in which a D&F had been approved but there was absolutely no financing for a project. In such a case, despite the D&F, he said, a condemnation court would not have transferred title.

He said: "The question is: where on the continuum from nothing changing to everything changing do we get heard?"

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Posted by eric at 3:53 PM

January 28, 2010

DDDB MEDIA ALERT — Tomorrow: Atlantic Yards Condemnation Proceeding Oral Argument

Property Owners and Leaseholders facing condemnation for Atlantic Yards project will seek dismissal of New York State's petition to take title of their properties for transfer to Forest City Ratner

Brooklyn, NY- At 9:30 a.m. on January 29, Brooklyn property owners and leaseholders will seek dismissal of the state's petition to condemn their homes and businesses in New York State Supreme Court in Kings County. The state is attempting to gain title to these private properties in order to transfer them to developer Forest City Ratner for its Atlantic Yards project.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn continues to offer its full support to the property owners and leaseholders in their ongoing legal effort to defend their homes and businesses against Forest City Ratner's ill-conceived, politically corrupt project. Today, their attorney, Matthew Brinckerhoff, returned a motion to dismiss the state's petition, challenging both the substance of the petition and the procedure by which the Empire State Development Corporation is attempting to seize title to their properties, which, unfortunately for Forest City, continue to stand in the way of its taxpayer-subsidized basketball arena and its thousands of parking spaces.

The respondents' Motion to Dismiss and Verified Answer point out, among many defects in the ESDC's papers, that the ESDC seeks to condemn this property to support a plan long ago abandoned by the developer in favor of a much-altered project that the state freely admits - but not in front of a judge - could take 25 years to build. The papers also demand dismissal of the proceeding because the ESDC has failed to set forth the public benefits of the project, although it's expressly required by the law to do so.

DDDB and the property owners and leaseholders continue to hold out faith that the judicial system will finally expose the gross, irreparable flaws in the Atlantic Yards project, and in the governmental abuse of the public trust, and will refuse to grant Forest City Ratner the private property that it covets.

The Motion to Dismiss returned by Mr. Brinckerhoff is available for download at:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/26006140/Atlantic-Yards-Motion-to-Dismiss-Condemnation

The Verified Answer returned by Mr. Brinckerhoff is available for download at:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/25998255/Atlantic-Yards-Condemnation-Answer

WHAT:
Condemnation Hearing for Title Transfer of Private Properties Sought by Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner Companies for Atlantic Yards Project

WHEN:
Friday, January 29, 2010
9:30 a.m.

WHERE:
New York State Supreme Court, Kings County
320 Jay Street
IAS Part 74
Room 17.21
Brooklyn, New York
[Map]

WHO:
Attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP, representing Peter Williams Enterprises, Inc.; Pacific Carlton Development Corp.; Daniel Goldstein; and Chadderton's Bar & Grill, Inc., d/b/a Freddy's Bar & Backroom

Posted by eric at 9:41 PM

As condemnation hearing approaches Friday, plaintiffs organized by DDDB file challenge, aiming to stop process of taking property

Atlantic Yards Report

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) is inviting supporters to Come Out for the Condemnation Hearing Tomorrow, at which the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) will pursue what is usually a simple procedure: taking title to properties in a condemnation case.

Property owners and leaseholders organized by DDDB, as noted below, have filed a challenge to the ESDC's petition.

The hearing will be at 9:30 am before Judge Abraham Gerges in Kings County State Supreme Court, IAS Part 74, 320 Jay Street, Room 17.21, Brooklyn.

Complication and challenges

Though developer Forest City Ratner and others assume that title will pass tomorrow, paving the way for street closings and more, nothing with Atlantic Yards has been simple.

Indeed, the attorney representing some of those facing condemnation will not be there to argue about valuation--usually the main variable at issue--but about fundamentals.

article

Additional coverage...

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Atlantic Yards Condemnation In Court Friday

When the ESDC takes the land from private businesses and homeowners, it is required to pay them “just compensation” for their land. What “just compensation” equates to in monetary terms must be determined by a court.

Posted by eric at 9:30 PM

2010 Coalition to Preserve Community demonstration

Photo, from a Flickr photo set by Tracy Collins.

Tracy Collins captured the action at today's Coalition to Preserve Community protest outside the Manhattan offices of Governor David Paterson and the Empire State Developerment Corporation. Demonstrators called upon the Governor to place a moratorium on eminent domain takings.

The complete slide show, featuring some familiar Brooklyn faces, is below.

Posted by eric at 8:11 PM

January 27, 2010

COALITION TO PRESERVE COMMUNITY PRESS RELEASE: Protest at Paterson/ESDC Offices Tomorrow, 1/28/10

On Thursday, January 28, 2009, from 11:30 AM until 1:00PM, members of Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC) and its supporters will gather in front of the offices of Governor David Paterson and the Empire State Development Corporation at 633 3rd Ave. (between 41st and 40th Streets) to demand that ESDC reverse its decision to appeal the historic ruling of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division against the State’s seizure of private property for Columbia University’s expansion of its 116th street campus into West Harlem. Representatives from various neighborhoods facing development plans using eminent domain will join CPC members to call on Governor Paterson to declare a moratorium on eminent domain. Letters supporting both demands will be delivered to his and ESDC’s offices.

On December 3rd the Appellate Division by a 3-2 vote ruled “the exercise of eminent domain power by the New York State Urban Development Corporation (d/b/a ESDC) to benefit a private elite education institution is violative of the Taking Clause of the U.S Constitution, article 1 & 7 of the New York Constitution and the first principles of the social contract.” In a scathing decision, the court detailed a riveting account of Columbia University’s collusion with the State to gain 100% of a 17-acre parcel between 125th St. and 133rd St. and 12th Ave. and Broadway for an expansion projected to cost 6 billion dollars.

Two separate lawsuits challenging the eminent domain determination were filed by property owners in the development footprint, Nick Sprayregen, Parminder Kaur, Amanjit Kaur, and P.G. Singh. Sprayregen was represented by noted civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and attorney Philip Van Buren. Protesters will offer their continued support for property owners whom Columbia is smearing as selfish hold-outs preventing progress rather than owners entitled to decide the future of their own properties. CPC will point out Columbia’s elitist agenda and its manipulation of its political and financial connections.

Siegel and Sprayregen will address the audience. Invited speakers also include State Senator Bill Perkins, who within a day of the court ruling called on Governor Paterson to order a statewide moratorium on the use of eminent domain pending legislative revision of the much-abused New York State condemnation laws. Support will be offered by and for businesses and residents in East Harlem, Queens, Brooklyn and elsewhere who are facing eminent domain abuse as part of huge gentrification developments.

Members of CPC will be picketing to support this historic victory for neighborhoods throughout New York City decimated by eminent domain abuse and to show their vital resistance to oppression by both private and government institutions. We demand NO APPEAL; NO EMINENT DOMAIN; NO DISPLACEMENT OF RESIDENTIAL TENANTS AND WORKERS; NO BIOHAZARD LEVEL 3 LABS; FULL DISCLOSURE OF PAYMENTS BY COLUMBIA TO ESDC AND RELEASE OF FOIL DOCUMENTS ORDERED BY THE COURT.

Posted by eric at 12:42 PM

January 26, 2010

A Woman Burns

The New York Times
by Roger Cohen

Hypocrisy alert! In a must-read, Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen decries eminent domain abuse in China, but substitute "Brooklyn" for "Chengdu" and "New York State" for "China," accept that Daniel Goldstein is likely not considering self-immolation, and hope that government thugs won't beat Freddy's patrons chained to the bar, and things don't sound very different at all from the Atlantic Yards and Columbia University projects the paper cheers on its editorial page.

Oh, yeah, there is one difference: the Chinese land grab that Cohen recounts was for the building of a road — a traditional public use — not for a private basketball arena.

We were seated in the courtyard of Tang’s simple home, adjacent to her sister’s house, now reduced to rubble. Chickens strutted about. Tang had just emerged from the hospital. A large reddish scar cut across her forehead. She was nervous. It can be dangerous in China to speak out, to speak truth to power. Tang stood up and raised her shirt to reveal severe bruising all down her left flank.

Tears filled her eyes. She averted them. Her younger sister was called Tang Fuzhen. She’s dead now.

On that day, Nov. 13, as Tang Fuzhen yelled at the demolition brutes to stop the violence against her siblings, as she pleaded with them to leave her house intact, she doused herself three times in gasoline, saying she would set herself on fire, right there on the roof, if the beating of her family continued.

The blows continued to rain down and the self-immolation of Tang Fuzhen, 47, was added to the long list of victims of explosive Chinese development.

The nexus of that growth often comes down to real estate: Who owns it, who gets the sweet deals on it, who gets ousted, and who among Communist Party officials and their developer cronies pockets the big bucks from the infrastructure, business and residential projects that have turned China into a monumental construction site.
...

Tang Fuzhen was a successful woman. She and her husband had been in Jinhua for more than a decade, building a clothing wholesale business called Aoshiwei. They had been courted by local party officials to install their company in the area and, according to local press reports, had invested close to $450,000 in a three-story building with a factory on the first two floors and their home on the third. They had a son studying in Britain and a teenage adopted daughter.

Although once touted as model entrepreneurs — profiled in newspapers and on local TV — they had, since 2007, run into a familiar conflict in China stemming from the confluence of murky property rights, soaring real estate prices, land-hungry businessmen and rampant corruption linking party officials with developers.

“Land use is a huge issue because, in the absence of property taxes, local city authorities have to keep selling land and developing land to stay afloat financially,” one Western official told me. “Chengdu gets about 30 percent of its city budget from sales of land owned by the state or the military. The government has to keep monetizing the land through long-term leases, and of course corrupt officials want to make money by getting bribes and other gifts from the buyers.”
...

For Tang Fuzhen, who was estranged from her husband, the building local authorities coveted was at once her home and her factory. She derided the offers of compensation, a mere fraction of the market value. Official and market prices often bear no relation to each other in China. But the city, determined to build a road to a new water treatment plant, would hear none of her protests.

The conflict came to a head on that roof. Tang Fuzhen burned for a long time. Wei Jiao, her niece, was in the ambulance with her.
...

Her suicide was caught on video by a neighbor and spread across the Internet. An outcry ensued. A local inquiry found the demolition process legal, but deemed the eviction “mismanaged” and a city official was fired. Professors at Beijing University Law School wrote to the People’s Congress, in theory the highest legislative body, suggesting changes to the law to ensure compensation is adequate, that it’s paid before demolition, that violence is never used, and that owners can sue to contest eviction rulings.

These reforms are urgently needed. They would bring development and individual rights into some balance and slow the fast-money corruption machine. But the entrenched interests behind brutal expropriation are enormous.

Across China, I sensed great anger at the raging real estate game in which the party plays such a central role. On a vast half-built development in Chongqing, a dozen banners had been draped from windows: “Try to support our peasant brothers in getting the blood, sweat and tears money owed to them by the developers.”

Here in Chengdu, on entire city blocks marked for demolition, there were banners urging China’s leaders to “reflect the wishes of the people” by reforming the way land is acquired.

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NoLandGrab: Just like in New York State, except here, The New York Times is blind to the problem.

Posted by eric at 4:28 PM

January 25, 2010

Grounds Shifting

The Architect's Newspaper
by Matt Chaban

In 2005, when the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London in favor of the Connecticut town, it had a ripple effect across the country, with some 43 states changing their eminent domain statutes.In New York, the decision seemed to reverberate in a different direction. Instead of reform, a wave of new eminent domain–driven projects sprang up.

One—Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards arena cum condos plan—verges on groundbreaking while another—Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville campus—has just lost a crucial court case, with others—Willets Point, a casino for Niagra Falls—on the horizon. Now, a clutch of Albany pols are preparing to begin changing what some consider the worst eminent domain laws in the country.

Leading the charge is state Senator Bill Perkins, whose district covers much of Harlem. “I think the forces are coming together for change to take place,” Perkins said. “There is, from my observation, growing interest on a grassroots level.” As chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Perkins oversees the main executor of eminent domain in New York, the Empire State Development Corporation.

Among those joining Perkins is fellow senator James Alesi, a republican who represents the rural areas surrounding Rochester. “After many decades, it is time for an overhaul for what has become a double-edged sword of beneficial economic development but also deleterious theft,” said Alesi at a January 5 hearing held on eminent domain reform, the first of many planned in the coming months across the state.

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Posted by eric at 9:27 PM

January 22, 2010

Activists Rally Against Closure of Homeless Shelter to Make Way for Barclays Center

The Indypendent
by Ann Schneider

About twenty people gathered to protest the city’s decision to shut down a homeless shelter on Dean Street in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn this past Monday night.

Chanting “Governor Paterson, hear our roars, house the homeless, open the doors,” activists representing Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and F.U.R.E.E., along with other community members, spoke out against the city’s plan to tear down the Pacific-Dean shelter—which housed 88 families—to make way for a parking lot for the Forest City Ratner sports stadium, otherwise known as the Barclays Center.

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Posted by eric at 11:11 AM

January 21, 2010

Eminent Domain is Alive and Well

Real Estate Economy Watch
by Steve Cook

This error-prone article gets one thing right — New York is one messed-up state when it comes to eminent domain abuse.

Much of the attention lately has focused on New York, one of the few states that has not passed legislation in the wake of the Kelo decision and continues to allow condemnations for economic development purposes. In 2002, Columbia University announced plans to expand its campus onto 17 acres in West Harlem, which would displace 400 residents and light industrial businesses employing more than 1,600 people. Last month Columbia University lost an appellate court decision on the grounds that it had failed to make a case for the use of eminent domain.

The New York Nets basketball team, however, won the court’s approval to build a new home for the team in the much-litigated Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, a case that is being appealed to the state supreme court. Hundreds of families live in the project’s 22-acre footprint. In another Brooklyn project, the Barclays Bank Center on Prospect Heights, the denizens of a local bar have vowed cuff themselves to the “Chains of Justice” that manager has conveniently installed on the bar. “Because people like bars and people hate banks,” explained the manager.

link

Posted by eric at 4:31 PM

Senator Schumer’s Block Is (Super) “Blighted”! (And Back to You, Marty)

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White finds that the homes of New York's senior Senator and Borough President are both endangered by characteristics of blight.

Visit the sidewalks of Senator Chuck’s Park Slope home we did and, lo and behold, it is pretty seriously blighted. There were sidewalk cracks all over the place. In fact, the problem was not confined to the sidewalks outside the senator’s apartment building: Right across the street there were still more cracks. It seems then that, like Atlantic Yards, tearing down just the senator’s block alone would not suffice: This was a case calling for superblocking! Tear down both blocks together and that way the sidewalks and streets between them could be gifted as extra real estate to the developer allowing it to build more buildings with extra density. After all, isn’t getting rid of all those sidewalks that are so peskily prone to cracks the best way of dispensing with the epidemic crack problem entirely?

As we said, our last post mentioned the report of similar blight at Marty Markowitz’s new home and since it is a quick trip from Senator Schumer’s by bike we thought we would go see for ourselves. Yes, indeed, there are lots more sidewalk cracks to ogle outside of Marty’s new home. The day we were there (the 16th) there was considerable disruption involving gas line work directly outside of Marty’s home but we were able to take in the scene nevertheless.

link

NoLandGrab: Markowitz, especially, should be careful, since he could trip and fall on one of his own cracks, and have to sue himself.

Posted by eric at 11:18 AM

Atlantic Yards foes protest homeless shelter closing

NYPost.com
by Stephen Witt

Steve Witt rewrites the press release.

A homeless shelter shuttered days before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday became a cause célèbre among elected officials and opponents of the Atlantic Yards project.

The Pacific Dean Shelter, 603 Dean Street, which housed about 80 families, was closed Jan. 15 to make room for the $4 billion-plus 22-acre project.

About 30 protestors from the neighborhood, along with City Council Member Letitia James, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and pop singer Crystal Waters, who sang her hit “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless),” protested last week in front of the shelter and down the street from it at Freddy’s Bar (which is also facing condemnation for the project).

This part is Witt's own touch.

Ironically, back in 2002, before the city and developer Bruce Ratner announced the Atlantic Yards project, members of the community protested the shelter coming into the neighborhood.

article

NoLandGrab: Even more ironically, Witt has been one of those promoting the myth that only newly arrived (white) gentrifiers oppose the Atlantic Yards project, so how could they have even been around to protest the shelter's opening in 2002?

Related coverage...

The Real Deal, Community rallies around Brooklyn shelter closed due to eminent domain

A homeless shelter serving a predominantly African-American population at 603 Dean Street in Downtown Brooklyn, within the planned Atlantic Yards development area, was shut down yesterday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, through the use of eminent domain, sparking outrage in the community.

India Times, TODAY: Pop Star Crystal Waters comes to Brooklyn this Saturday

Someone on the sub-continent is reading NoLandGrab.

Since Barclays is in England, and has no branches in New York, Crystal Waters (who resides in England) is asking Barclays Bank to have a heart and request that the City keep this shelter open, at least until the spring....

Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

January 20, 2010

In Times article on blight reform, city lawyer recognizes opportunity for "thoughtful change," AKRF relies on Thor's flack

Atlantic Yards Report

A New York Times reporter attended the January 5 public hearing held by state Senator Bill Perkins on eminent domain, and the article, Lesson on Limits of Eminent Domain at Columbia, offers a reasonable overview of the criticism of and support for current eminent domain laws.

(The article appears on the Real Estate page in the Business section, though it more readily could appear on the front page or in the Metro section, given that it's an important public policy issue. Still, it contains an atypically responsible double disclosure: Forest City was The New York Times Company’s partner in the development of its headquarters building on land on Eighth Avenue that was acquired by the state through eminent domain.)

Notably, the Times cites strenuous opposition from the Bloomberg administration as blocking any effort to reform state eminent domain laws in the wake of the Supreme Court's controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London decision--but a Bloomberg official says the city would not oppose “thoughtful change” in the eminent domain laws.

And ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF, which works simultaneously (Columbia University expansion) or consecutively (Atlantic Yards) with project applicants and the Empire State Development Corporation, is apparently feeling a bit of heat, relying on a public relations consultant to issue a boilerplate statement in its defense.

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Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

The NY Times, Lesson on Limits of Eminent Domain at Columbia

Despite business ties to Forest City Ratner and having benefitted from the use of eminent domain, the Times takes a look at the showdown brewing over the use of eminent domain in New York City.

Noticing New York, U.S. Supreme Court to Get a Doubleheader on NYS Eminent Domain Abuse? Pretext and Lack of Due Process PLUS No “Just Compensation”

We certainly don’t want to see the basketball arena or any portion of the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly proceed one step further. Politicians and public agencies need to come to their senses and halt it immediately. But if Atlantic Yards did proceed a few more steps we wonder if it could just be possible that, as a result, New York State would be presenting the U.S. Supreme Court with an eminent domain doubleheader, two giant eminent domain cases to be concurrently heard that would jointly define the limits of the Supreme Court’s unpopular 2005 Kelo eminent domain decision.

City Journal, Eminent Domain as Central Planning
Though not yet published on line, the Manhattan Institute's City Journal magazine has an article, by Nicole Gelinas, about eminent domain and megaproject like Atlantic Yards.

From the Coalition to Preserve Community, the group fighting the Columbia University land grab in West Harlem:

St. Mary’s Church, 521 W. 126TH Street.

And join us for a demonstration on Thursday, Jan. 28th @ 11:30am – 1:00pm at the office of the Empire State DevelopmentCorporation (633 3rd. Ave, btw. 41st & 40th Streets) as we tell Governor Patterson and Empire State Development Corporation:

NO APPEAL for eminent domain abuse,
ACCEPT THE COURT RULING

Posted by lumi at 5:39 AM

January 19, 2010

empty beds in an empty room in an empty shelter

Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Pacific-Dean Shelter
603 Dean Street near Carlton Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

This homeless shelter was recently vacated and would be demolished for Atlantic Yards.

NoLandGrab: The building is being condemned via eminent domain.

Posted by lumi at 7:46 PM

Martin Luther King Weekend Family Shelter Closing Midnight Vigil

Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse via YouTube

New York City Councilmember Letitia James speaks at the midnight vigil to see if Governor Paterson will re-open the family homeless shelter the state closed by Eminent Domain on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Community groups have been requesting a temporary retroactive moratorium on Eminent Domain to keep the shelter open until Spring.

link

Posted by eric at 2:17 PM

Taking Atlantic Yards Delayed ‘Til Spring

Another Lawsuit In Court Tuesday

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Ryan Thompson

The court proceeding required for the state to take control of the land at Atlantic Yards, which the New York Court of Appeals ruled can be done via the constitutional use of eminent domain, has been postponed, according to the watchdog blog Atlantic Yards Report.

“The Atlantic Yards condemnation case, which was supposed to go to court on January 29, has now been postponed to March 17, with a change in judges from Abraham Gerges to Bert Bunyan,” the blog reports. However, an update on the blog reports that Justice Gerges was never formally assigned. Justice Gerges is a lifelong Brooklyn resident who once served as the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court. He currently presides in the Criminal Term at 320 Jay St.

The Atlantic Yards condemnation case is to be heard in the Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term, 360 Adams St. However, it is not unusual for judges in Brooklyn to preside over both criminal and civil cases, when necessary.
...

When the ESDC takes the land from private businesses and homeowners, it is required to pay them “just compensation” for their land. What “just compensation” equates to in monetary terms must be determined by a court.

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Related coverage...

Curbed, ANOTHER ATLANTIC YARDS DELAY

Atlantic Yards haters will be able to raise a pint at Freddy's for a couple more months: Norman Oder reports that the court hearing necessary for the state to condemn and seize the land within the megaproject's footprint has been postponed. The hearing was supposed to take place on Jan. 29, but now E.D.-Day (eminent domain, duh) will be March 17. That's enough time to build at least a dozen more beer-can guillotines!

Posted by eric at 2:07 PM

TISH JAMES PRESS RELEASE: CM James, Pop Singer Crystal Waters, Advocates Hold Midnight Vigil To Keep Homeless Family Shelter At Barclays/AY Open

Midnight Vigil held outside of homeless family-shelter closed prematurely by Eminent Domain for the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards Project - groups fight to keep open till Spring, and to reverse the Eminent Domain taking of the building

Elected officials and homeless advocates vow to lie in front of bulldozers to save shelter - civil disobedience may escalate to stop Eminent Domain takings

(Brooklyn, NY) - After a weekend of protests, at midnight on the MLK holiday a group of 30 angry community members, politicians, and homeless and family group members were outside the Pacific Dean Shelter until midnight last night to see if Governor Paterson would enact an emergency moratorium on Eminent Domain that would re-open the shelter. The Moratorium was requested by New York City Council Member Letitia James, who, along with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, made the request to Governor Paterson this weekend.

Unbelievably, the shelter, which serves mostly African-American and Caribbean-American families who are without shelter, was closed, in the middle of winter, on Martin Luther King's birthday, sending shockwaves throughout the Prospect Heights and Fort Greene communities. In advance of last night's vigil, protesters held a rally at nearby Freddy's Bar, itself facing eminent domain eviction, on Sat. Jan. 16, in the middle of the MLK weekend, complete with pop singer Crystal Waters, who sang her hit Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless). They want the shelter to remain open until Spring, when the weather will be kinder to homeless couples and their children.

The much-needed shelter was instead condemned by Eminent Domain by Gov. Paterson's Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) at the request of the highly contested Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project. The project is run by Bruce Ratner, the controversial developer who is currently embroiled in 3 indictment investigations involving alleged bribes to Yonkers City Council Members who subsequently changed their votes against a Ratner project, Ridge Hill, to votes for it. Many believe Ratner's political connections have been delaying his being charged in the ongoing Federal investigation. He is among the top 5 highest lobbying and campaign contribution spenders in New York State. Ratner plans to tear down the shelter for a parking lot for Barclays Center's construction. But community members, including one state senator say no way.

"I will put myself on the ground in front of the bulldozers. I will do anything I can to stop this," said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery at the rally to reverse the Eminent Domain closing of the shelter on Saturday.

link

It has been a busy Martin Luther King holiday weekend for those fighting to keep the shelter open till Spring, with the closing on Jan 15 - Dr. King's actual birthday, the rally with Crystal Waters on the 16th, calls to the Governor on the 17th, and finally the vigil as the clock counted down to midnight to see if Ratner and the Governor were going to stand by their decision to close the shelter, on this, of all Winter weekends.

The lack of response from the Governor on the Martin Luther King Birthday closing of the shelter has the protesters saying they will escalate their civil disobedience against those who refuse to let the shelter stay open till Spring.

Posted by eric at 2:00 PM

State appeals anti-eminent domain ruling

After a court ruling declared the use of eminent domain illegal for Columbia's Manhattanville campus, the Empire State Development Corporation is formally appealing the decision.

Columbia Spectator
by Kim Kirschenbaum

Those "rabid obstructionists" at the Empire State Development Corporation are using the legal system to try to stop the courts from stopping them from abusing eminent domain.

The Empire State Development Corporation is officially going forward with its appeal in favor of eminent domain in Manhattanville after losing in a surprise court decision in December.

On Jan. 8, ESDC—the state body that approved the use of eminent domain for Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion project in December 2008—formally appealed the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division’s decision last month that ruled that such use is illegal.

The Appellate Division ruling declared eminent domain—the process by which the state can seize private property for “public use” in exchange for market-rate compensation—illegal in the 17-acre expansion zone, dealing a major setback to the University’s campus development plans. The ruling argued that the expansion of an elite private university does not constitute a public use, and condemned alleged “collusion” between Columbia and ESDC in determining blight in the area.

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Posted by eric at 1:49 PM

January 18, 2010

A scolding from Norman Siegel about the history of the Urban Development Corporation, founded after Martin Luther King's assassination

Atlantic Yards Report

Thanks to the full video from the January 5 state Senate oversight hearing on eminent domain, it's worth a look at the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) historical explanation for its blight studies, and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel's forceful comment, in which he suggested that the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.--whose 1968 assassination spurred the establishment of the agency--had been perverted.
...

Let me end on a personal note," Siegel said, with emotion. "Sitting here on 125th Street, walking around this building, seeing some of the names and the icons from this community, listening to the people from ESDC speak. On April 4, 1968, when Martin King was assassinated, our governor, Nelson Rockefeller, in the memory and to continue the legacy of Martin, he created the Urban Development Corporation, which is now the Empire State Development Corporation.

"There were great hopes, and great dreams, and visions of what UDC was supposed to be. I remember that. As a young kid in Brooklyn, who went south in the civil rights movement, and met with Dr. King, worked with SCLC many times--today, this agency, in the name of Martin Luther King and Nelson Rockefeller, is doing exactly the opposite of what the UDC was supposed to be set up for. The UDC was supposed to be set up in the memory of Dr. King in order to clear quote slum areas and create affordable housing for poor people and people of color."

article

Posted by eric at 7:28 AM

homeless shelter emptied

Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Pacific-Dean homeless shelter
603 Dean Street near Carlton Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

This homeless shelter for almost 90 families at 603 Dean Street was vacated on January 15, 2010. It will be demolished and this entire city block would be used as a "temporary" parking lot for the Barclays Center arena of Atlantic Yards.

A protest against the closure was held at Freddy's Bar on January 16, 2010.

Posted by lumi at 5:24 AM

473 Dean has been served

Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Condemnation notices
473 Dean Street near 6th Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

473 Dean Street would be demolished for the Barclays Center arena of Atlantic Yards.

To read the notices, click here to view the photo in its original size.

Posted by lumi at 5:06 AM

January 17, 2010

In Concurrence with George Will

2log

The only way to do this justice was to reproduce the entire post.

My pal and occasional 2ommenter Aaron reveals an excerpt of his epic ode against eminent domain:

[from Act II, Battle of the Backroom]

DINGMAN
At Prospect Park the sections are prepared!

BEVERIDGE
At Bergen Street they're straining at the leash!

VITALE
Students, workers, everyone
There's a river on the run
Like the flowing of the tide
Brooklyn coming to our side!

SMITH
The time is near:
So near it's stirring the blood in their veins!
And yet beware
Don't let the beer go to your brains!
For the comp'ny we fight is a dangerous foe
With the men and the money we never can match
It is easy to sit here and swat 'em like flies
But the NBA will be harder to catch.
We need a sign
To rally the people
To call them to arms
To bring them in line!

ANGELILLO
Let us pledge ourselves to hold this bar and backroom!
Let them come in their legions
And they will be met
Have faith in yourselves
And don't be afraid
Let's give 'em a screwing
That they'll never forget!

HALL
This is where it begins!
And if I should die in the fight to be drunker
Where the fighting is hardest
There will I hunker
Let them come if they dare
We'll be there!

BRUCE RATNER [Offstage]
You at the barricade listen to this
No one is coming to help you to fight
You're on your own
You have no friends
Give up your beers - or die!

HOLLANDER
Damn their warnings, damn their lies
They will see the people rise!

ALL
Damn their warnings, damn their lies
They will see the people rise!

link

Posted by eric at 1:48 PM

January 16, 2010

Up and Down, "Blight" Is Everywhere: Just Glance Down “At Any Point” and Find “Blight” Smiling Back to You

Noticing New York

Due to lax New York standards, it seems that blight can be found everywhere in Brooklyn

Why is there "blight" everywhere? Because those are the new rules being used by government agencies (as represented by the Empire State Development Corporation- our leading imaginer of “blight”): “Blight” is anywhere where there is a crack in the sidewalk (and property perhaps not yet built to the full percentage of its currently permitted zoning- which is almost everywhere and potentially anywhere.)

Where do ESDC’s crack eminent domain arguments take us? According to pictures published Wednesday in stories that respectively appeared in both the Brooklyn Paper and the New York Times they lead just about anywhere and everywhere one might go in this city.

link

Posted by steve at 10:18 AM

Robin Hood in Reverse

City Journal
By John K. Ross, Dick Carpenter

This article summarizes a study of eminent domain and that finds that "... eminent-domain abuse in New York disproportionately affects ethnic and racial minorities and those less well-off and less educated." A call is made for the New York legislature to fix eminent domain use in New York.

In November, New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the use of eminent domain to take homes and small businesses to make way for wealthy developer Bruce Ratner’s so-called “Atlantic Yards” development: 16 mammoth skyscrapers centered around a basketball arena. The court accepted the Empire State Development Corporation’s contention that the area was “blighted”—based on a study that Ratner paid for himself and which wasn’t even initiated until years after the project was announced.

The court didn’t go so far as to embrace the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows governments to condemn property for economic-development reasons alone, regardless of whether the property is blighted. And just a few weeks later, a lower court rejected a similar attempt to condemn “blighted” properties in West Harlem on behalf of Columbia University, which was seeking to obtain a 17-acre site for expansion. But this limitation offers little comfort to property owners in New York State, which remains the nation’s worst abuser of eminent domain. Thousands of properties remain at risk for condemnation under the absurdly lax blight standards given a green light by the state’s highest court.

...

Following Kelo, 43 states passed reforms to rein in eminent domain abuse. New York did not. In 2009, legislators in Albany introduced dozens of bills, ranging from strong reforms such as forbidding condemnation for private projects to superficial remedies like requiring another round of hearings, an additional vote on projects, and the creation of a “comprehensive redevelopment plan” prior to condemnation. As in every legislative session since Kelo, bills languished in committee.

The Court of Appeals ruling should be a clarion call to state legislators that they cannot avoid the issue any longer. The court’s deference to blight designations, and the punitive nature of eminent-domain abuse, suggest that mere procedural reforms will not suffice. To protect New York property owners, eminent domain for private development must be brought to an end.

link

Additional information...

The Institute for Justice's study can be found here.

Here's a summary of the proposed Atlantic Yards project:

In 2003, developer Forest City Ratner announced plans to build a basketball stadium and 16 office towers on 22 acres in Brooklyn. The project will displace some 330 residents, 33 businesses with 235 employees, and a homeless shelter.[17] The plan was approved, despite competing offers from other developers that would not have relied on eminent domain and would not have required an estimated $1 billion in public subsidies.[18] The neighborhood, which consists of warehouses converted into condos, light industrial businesses and a still-operating Prohibition-era bar, has been declared blighted because it sits next to an unused rail yard owned by the state.[19]

Posted by steve at 9:35 AM

January 15, 2010

Blight vs. blight: a battle of the sidewalk cracks

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, aren't those cracks [at Brooklyn Borough Hall] --cracks that are being fixed--worse than the "cracked and uneven" sidewalk (below) cited by blight-seeking consultant AKRF in the Atlantic Yards Blight Study?

article

Posted by lumi at 5:36 AM

Brooklyn Drinkers Say No to Eminent Domain Abuse

Reason: Hit & Run
By Damon Root

Earlier this week, two of the Brooklyn activists fighting the Atlantic Yards' eminent domain abuse case appeared on Fox News’ Fox & Friends to explain why real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner has no right to seize their beloved neighborhood bar Freddy’s. Check out the clip below for promises of civil disobedience (including patrons chained to the bar!) and for some classic advice from Judge Andrew Napolitano, who says, “I’m not suggesting you break the law, but...

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Posted by lumi at 5:12 AM

January 14, 2010

Brooklyn Borough Hall Is Blighted and Needs To Be Condemned By Eminent Domain

BoroughHallSidewalk.jpg Sidewalk cracks were cited as evidence of blight in developer Bruce Ratner's EIS, therefore, the plaza in front of Atlantic Yards' Cheerleader in Chief's office must be blighted, too.

From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:

Everyone knows what that means: It is blighted and needs to be seized by eminent domain and demolished, post haste.

The Brooklyn Paper reports:

A salt on Borough Hall
By Andy Campbell

Walk safely, Marty! The plaza around your Borough Hall office is now an obstacle course of disaster!

The salt-covered sidewalk outside looks like it’s been through a Moscow winter, what with wide cracks and chunks of slate sidewalk breaking away on the north side of the building near Court Street.

Posted by lumi at 6:50 AM

Pop Star Crystal Waters comes to Brooklyn this Saturday to help City Council Member Letitia James convince the City to keep a homeless family-shelter, scheduled to be closed by the City on Martin Luther King's Birthday, open until Spring

The shelter is slated to be demolished for a parking lot for Barclays Bank's Barclays Center sports stadium construction vehicle parking. Crystal Waters’ hit, She's Homeless, will be performed in protest of the shelter closing and this massive development project

(Brooklyn, NY) - Crystal Waters, whose 1990s hit song “Gypsy Woman” is about a homeless woman that sings for her supper (“la da dee laa da da”), is coming to the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project site this Saturday to help homeless families in Brooklyn by fighting to keep a crucial family-shelter open, which is located in the footprint of the proposed Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project.

“I don't know which is colder, Brooklyn in January through March, or what the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project and the City and State of New York are doing to the homeless families on January 15. Keep this shelter open till it's warm out,” said Council Member James.

The shelter has beds for 88 families, ranging from couples to families with small children. It is scheduled to be shut down by the City of New York, and condemned by eminent domain at the request of Barclays Bank's Barclays Center (a basketball arena), and its developer Bruce Ratner on January 15. Since Barclays is in England, and has no branches in New York, Crystal Waters (who resides in England) is asking Barclays Bank to have a heart and request that the City keep this shelter open, at least until the spring - so that families who become homeless in New York’s cold winter will have access to an indoor place to sleep. During these hard economic times, let’s consider all homeless individuals, especially the many families and children who are struggling.

The City claims that families currently residing at the Pacific Avenue and Dean Street homeless shelter will be relocated. Even if the claim is to be believed, this is not the point. New York’s shelter system will still lose beds and facilities for homeless children and their parents who will need shelter from the cold, specifically during the harsh New York winter. The Barclays Center, (whose owners have decided a parking lot for its construction vehicles is more important than Brooklyn’s homeless families) is slated to be used as an arena for the New Jersey Nets, (some think the Nets is the worst team in the NBA; the team was purchased in 2009 by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov). And, even the City’s Independent Budget Office has found that this publicly subsidized arena would be a net financial loser for New York City if built.

“Owners of the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project are forcing the City to close this critical family-shelter, and allowing the state to take it by eminent domain in the dead of winter, and on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend. This is absolutely wrong and unnecessary. The community believes that nothing at all will be built in place of this homeless shelter - possibly for years and decades…if ever. Taking away beds for our City’s most vulnerable residents is simply unconscionable,” said Council Member James.

Ms. Waters will perform her song, Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless), with local homeless people to raise awareness of what owners of the Barclays Center are doing, and to encourage Barclays Bank to ask the City and State to keep the shelter open until Spring, when the weather warms up. The press conference and performance will be at Freddy's Bar, which is itself fighting eviction because of the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards project.

What:

Pop Star Crystal Waters in Brooklyn to support City Council Member Letitia James and homeless families. Her hit, She's Homeless, will be performed 2pm.

Who:

Singer Crystal Waters, Council Member Letitia James, public officials, residents, and homeless advocates

Where:

Freddy's Bar, 485 Dean Street in Prospect Heights - Corner of 6th Avenue - (718) 622-7035 - (2or 3 to Bergen St. Station)

When:

Saturday, January 16, at 2pm

Crystal Waters Gypsy Woman (she's homeless)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KztNIg4cvE

Picture of the shelter
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tracy_collins/4158273109/in/pool-atlanticyards

Picture the Homeless
http://picturethehomeless.org

Posted by lumi at 6:22 AM

January 12, 2010

NFT: Zagat Rated, NoBarclays Center

Photo, by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Freddy's Bar & Backroom
Toast to George Will &
Barclays Bank Boycott Launch
January 10, 2010

Posted by lumi at 4:08 AM

Atlantic Yards project was not properly presented

The Washington Post, Op-Ed By Charles Ratner

LOL — now the bully feels misunderstood. The eminent domain-abusing subsidy-swilling CEO of Forest City Enterprises is whining about columnist George Will's scathing piece on Atlantic Yards:

Yet he concluded that a "politically connected developer" is the recipient of largesse because the state agency leading the development can use eminent domain to obtain the remaining properties of individuals who refuse to sell. And he failed to note that my company controls 85 percent of the 22-acre site.

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NoLandGrab: Ratner "failed to note that" his company acquired the private property it owns in the footprint UNDER THREAT OF EMINENT DOMAIN.

Posted by lumi at 3:47 AM

January 11, 2010

Bitter Battle Brewing at New York bar

Fox News

Donald O'Finn and Steve de Seve visited Fox & Friends this morning to tell the story of Freddy's Eminent Domain Revolt.

link

Posted by eric at 3:12 PM

January 8, 2010

At Senate hearing on eminent domain reform, forceful criticism of the status quo and the ESDC's answers, but reform won't happen overnight

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers another in-depth report on Tuesday's State Senate hearing on eminent domain.

They should have stuck around.

Though three representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), answering questions about contracting with AKRF and the operation of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), faced persistent (if not all too lengthy) scrutiny from state Senator Bill Perkins during the first hour of an oversight hearing Tuesday, they left before hearing others offer forceful criticism of both the agency's performance and the state's notoriously condemnor-friendly eminent domain laws.

After all, the ESDC representatives who spoke--Executive VP Darren Bloch and General Counsel Anita Laremont--not only admitted no qualms about hiring AKRF but were unwilling to suggest any ideas for reforms.

(The third representative, Executive Director Peter Davidson, was silent. He's their boss, but didn't join the ESDC until September.)

Assessing the ESDC

That left Perkins highly critical of their performance.

Asked about the ESDC's responsiveness, he said, "The word does not apply. Clearly, intellectually, they cannot be telling the truth that they think it's OK for AKRF, paid by Columbia for a blight study, can be the best choice for a similar kind of study by the agency. I can't believe that they believe it's no glaring conflict."

What about their openness to legislative reform?

"Upon being asked, do you have any ideas about how to do this better, to have more respect and credibility in the community... they were silent, evasive, and I thought irresponsible because, after all, they have an opportunity to be a part of change, in terms of trying to do this better," Perkins said. "So I don't think we're going to get what we're looking for from them that way… They like the status quo."

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Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

Atlantic Yards Drives Freddy's Mad

Curbed.com

Freddy's Bar, the Dean Street dive in the Atlantic Yards footprint soon to be seized by the power of eminent domain despite the bar's attempts to decapitate it, is feeling emboldened by a pair of recent events: the scathing anti-Atlantic Yards column written by George Will, and the connection of developer Forest City Ratner to a White Planes bribery scandal. Though none of this is enough to derail the project, it didn't stop Freddy's from issuing the most epic e-mail in the history of the Atlantic Yards Resistance.

The email starts:

Freddy's Bar is in a State of Revolt against New York State's Eminent Domain Law.

Click here to read the rest.

Posted by lumi at 5:19 AM

January 7, 2010

Brooklyn Shelter To Close For Atlantic Yards Development

WNYC Radio
by Matthew Schuerman

The Pacific Dean shelter lies on the eastern end of the Atlantic Yards footprint. It was long expected to close, although the property won't be developed into apartment towers for several years. In the short term, developer Forest City Ratner will use the land to store the construction vehicles that will build a basketball arena. That's expected to start later this year. As many as 80 families with children stay in the shelter. The Department of Homeless Services says it's already placed most of them in permanent housing and will move the remaining 20 to 25 families into other comparable shelters. Homeless advocates say the closure comes at an inopportune time, given that record numbers of poor families need living spaces.

link

NoLandGrab: The building that houses the shelter is being taken by eminent domain — the owner hadn't wanted to sell — so the city is obligingly evicting the residents.

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council has established a fund to assist in the relocation of shelter residents. For more info and to make a donation, click here.

Posted by eric at 10:45 AM

At hearing, ESDC representatives defend use of consultant AKRF; Perkins slams "egregious conflict of interest" given simultaneous work for developers

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder presents much of the back and forth between State Senator Bill Perkins and the Empire State Development Corporation at Tuesday's hearing. Here's the set-up.

The ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF came in for a drubbing Tuesday at the public hearing on eminent domain called by state Senator Bill Perkins on reform of eminent domain laws and, particularly, the recent Appellate Division decision blocking the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion.

In response to Perkins's persistent questions, ESDC officials acknowledged that AKRF always produces studies that allow the agency to find blight and that they choose AKRF through sole-source contracts despite any concern about the consultant's integrity, such as working for the developer at the same time.

(That occurred in the Columbia case; with Atlantic Yards, AKRF's work for Forest City Ratner and the ESDC was merely consecutive.).

Though they acknowledged there was no checklist to determine blight, the ESDC officials claimed that AKRF's reports were objective, factual reports on neighborhood conditions, allowing laypeople--the ESDC board--to use their "general expertise" determine blight.

And they wouldn't acknowledge any problem with their procedures nor suggest any reforms, saying that was an issue for the legislature. They described a Catch-22 situation in which they expressed an interest in hiring consultants other than AKRF but were forced to rely on AKRF because it was more capable of providing studies that would stand up in court.

That left Perkins incredulous, criticizing the ESDC board's "rubber stamp" actions and proposing that Gov. David Paterson, who in 2005 joined him in 2005 in calling for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain, intervene, "particularly the egregious conflict of interest of using the consultants that the developers are using."

article

Posted by eric at 10:05 AM

At Senate hearing, ESDC general counsel defends BALDC, but isn't even sure she's on the board; Perkins skeptical of PACB avoidance

Atlantic Yards Report

The state Senate hearing Tuesday chaired by Senator Bill Perkins mainly concerned eminent domain reform, blight, and the curious case of ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF.

But some significant questions also were raised about the murky Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), which issued $511 million in tax-exempt bonds for the arena.

Notably, a BALDC board member--Anita Laremont, the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) general counsel--seemed unsure she was on the board, and offered questionable explanations about why the BALDC was created and why review by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) was not required.

(Photos by Tracy Collins)

And while the BALDC was described as "lessening the burdens of government," it also appears to be a way to avoid some governmental responsibilities, given that all the board members are governmental officials. "We know that the effort was to avoid PACB and to avoid scrutiny or accountability," Perkins said after the hearing.

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Columbia Spectator, Perkins kicks off hearings on eminent domain reform

Posted by lumi at 6:58 AM

Noticing New York Testimony at Senator Perkins’ Hearing on New York State Patterns of Eminent Domain Abuse

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White publishes the testimony he delivered yesterday at the eminent domain hearing held by State Senator Bill Perkins, and relates Perkins's opening remarks:

Here is some of what [Perkins] said in his opening statement to the effect that something is seriously amiss in this state when it comes to the conduct of our public officials:

The Appellate Division’s Kaur decision only affirms the need for reform. The decision noted a pattern of bad faith.

* * *

In fact, conservative columnist George Will recently published an article titled, “Avaricious Developers and Governments Twist the Meaning of "Blight.”. In it he addressed what he called the, “life-shattering power of eminent domain.” He talked about ESDC.s actions in this case and also in the Atlantic Yards case. He concluded that these are examples of “pre-textual takings” where government uses “trumped-up accusations of blight to concoct a spurious “public use. for a preconceived project.” In fact, the Kaur decision notes that the property in question was not considered blighted until Columbia decided it wanted to own it. As Mr. Will puts it, “liberty is under assault…this time by overbearing American governments.”

I could not have put it better myself. When you get someone who skews to the left as much I do, an upstate Republican like Senator Alesi, and a conservative icon like George Will to agree on public policy…you have certainly created strange bedfellows. Clearly, something is amiss. Property rights are not safe. If you own property in an area targeted by the government and you do not want to sell, you are now a hostage. You are being mugged. It’s like you have no future. It makes no sense to improve your property. You can’t sell it on the open market. It’s hard to find tenants. Everybody, including you, knows that your property is marked for destruction. That is a problem.

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Posted by eric at 12:04 AM

January 6, 2010

Who Has the Right to Say What's Blight? Bill Perkins vs. ESDC Darling

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

Blight is in the eye of the beholder — especially if that beholder is AKRF.

State Senator Bill Perkins is apparently not happy about the state's choice of consultants.

One consultant, specifically: AKRF, the New York-based firm that has established itself as the unchallenged king of environmental review in the city and state, dominating the field of government contracts.

The source of angst for Mr. Perkins is Columbia University's proposed 17-acre expansion into West Harlem and the state development agency's selection of AKRF to do a blight study. The blight study is a necessary step for eminent domain in the project, though the state's selection of AKRF has taken significant heat from the courts, which recently dealt the school a tremendous blow by blocking the use of eminent domain for the expansion. Among other factors, the use of AKRF was cited as a concern given that Columbia also used the firm to do its environmental review (the state intends to appeal the ruling).
...

The dual use of AKRF for environmental review and blight studies has happened before, notably in the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, though it was criticized repeatedly by the courts in the case of Columbia, which said AKRF's objectivity could be compromised.

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Posted by eric at 4:10 PM

Resolve to be a better person this year — with our list!

The Brooklyn Paper

[R]esolutions don’t need to be difficult. That’s why we’ve prepared this list of 10 cultural promises that you can definitely keep in the new year, easy ways to suck the marrow out of Brooklyn without feeling guilty in the morning.
...
3. Go to Freddy’s Bar

Yost-BPcap.jpg

You never fully appreciate something until it’s gone — so don’t make that mistake with Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, as good a saloon as you get in Brooklyn nowadays. Slated to be torn down to make room for Bruce Ratner’s basketball arena (whatsamatta, Bruce, you don’t think people want a bar outside an arena?), this Prohibition-era speakeasy offers a classic worn bar and booths that hail from the days when Americans were small. But manager Donald O’Finn brings just enough modern touches (like an endless loop of film montages on one of the TVs, and a steady stream of great musicians coming through) so that the place doesn’t feel like a nostalgia act. Go to this bar now before it’s too late.

Freddy’s Bar [485 Dean St. at Sixth Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 622-7035].

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Posted by lumi at 6:22 AM

January 5, 2010

Jan 5. Senator Perkins' Hearing on Eminent Domain and Reforming New York State's Heinous Laws

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

PUBLIC HEARING NOTICE: NEW YORK STATE SENATE

Senate Standing Committee
Corporations, Authorities and Commissions
Senator Bill Perkins, Chair

Unconstitutional: What the Appellate Division’s Eminent Domain Ruling Means for the Columbia Expansion

Location – Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building
163 W. 125th Street, 2nd Floor Art Gallery
New York, New York 10027

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 – 4 P.M. to 7 P.M.

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Posted by eric at 2:19 PM

Atlantic Yards holdout Daniel Goldstein says he has a backup plan in case state takes condo

NY Daily News reporter Ellen Durkin reports that Daniel Goldstein has started to think about Plan B, should he and his family get the boot.

Goldstein said he's sticking with the fight to stop developer Bruce Ratner's project - but he has begun to think about a "backup plan" if the state takes his condo by eminent domain to make way for a new Nets arena.
...
If he does get the boot, Goldstein wants to stay in Brooklyn - but not near Atlantic Yards. "We definitely do not want to be anywhere near this project, whatever form it takes," he said.

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Posted by lumi at 5:33 AM

ESDC representatives will testify at state Senate hearing on Columbia, eminent domain; four AY questions suggested

Atlantic Yards Report

Today's state Senate oversight hearing, "Unconstitutional: What the Appellate Division’s Eminent Domain Ruling Means for the Columbia Expansion," might get interesting: three representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) the state agency pursuing eminent domain in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases, are scheduled to appear as witnesses.

(The hearing will be held from 4-7 pm at the State Office Building in Harlem. Here's coverage of a September 2008 hearing.)

Whether the ESDC reps will answer specific questions is another question, given that the Appellate Division ruling against the ESDC in the Columbia case will be appealed, and the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards case are trying to get the Court of Appeals to reopen the case in light of the Columbia appeal.

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Posted by lumi at 5:30 AM

January 2, 2010

Syndicated columnist George Will calls for Court of Appeals to reconsider Atlantic Yards eminent domain case

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder gives a critique of George Will's column on the use of "blight" to allow eminent domain abuse and also supplies some background on Will's position on this issue.

Syndicated columnist George Will, a conservative who played a key role in bringing the controversial Kelo v. New London eminent domain case to national attention, has weighed in on Atlantic Yards, but his timing is different: he wrote about Kelo in September 2004, before the U.S. Supreme Court had even decided to take the case.

By contrast, the challenge to eminent domain for Atlantic Yards has been dismissed in both federal court and state court, except for a longshot effort to reopen the latter case in light of a seemingly contradictory lower court ruling on eminent domain regarding the Columbia University expansion.

...

Will writes:

To seize the acres for Ratner's use, government must claim that the area -- which is desirable because it is vibrant -- is "blighted." The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

The condo of Daniel Goldstein, his wife and year-old daughter, which cost Goldstein $590,000 in 2003, is on part of the land where Ratner's $4.9 billion project would be built -- with the assistance of more than $1 billion in corporate welfare from the state and city governments, which are drowning in red ink. The Goldsteins' building would not seem blighted to anyone not paid to see blight for the convenience of the payers. Which is of constitutional significance.

Indeed, the area is desirable--Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner famously called it a "great piece of real estate." However, the Goldsteins' building was not deemed blighted; rather, judges are reluctant to interfere with the decision by condemnors to include non-blighted properties.

More importantly, the renovated building (Block 1127, Lot 27) is counter-evidence to the charge that the adjacent railyard, part of the blighted Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), had a blighting effect on adjacent blocks, as Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's response (article, PDF) to the Empire State Development Corporation's Blight Study pointed out.

...

Will points to the need for blight to be found so the state could deliver the properties Bruce Ratner sought. And while the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals, an intermediate court found "mere sophistry" in the Columbia case, with a Blight Study written by the same firm used in Brooklyn.

Will concludes:

The Atlantic Yards nonsense was compounded when Ratner, to bolster his balance sheet after the real estate collapse, sold the Nets to a Russian billionaire, who stands to benefit from Ratner's government-subsidized seizure of other people's property. Those people can only hope that New York's highest court will grant their appeal for reconsideration on the grounds that Ratner's argument is about as good as the Nets are. Through Friday, their record was 3-29.

That's a longshot, but the issues are important. Can "underutilization" really be used as a "blight characteristic," given that applies to enormous sections of the city?

Perhaps the Court of Appeals will take a closer look. And we'll see what comes out of public hearings and new legislation promised by state Senator Bill Perkins.

...

Will's September 2004 column, headlined Despotism in New London, began:

The question is: Does the Constitution empower governments to seize a person's most precious property -- a home, a business -- and give it to more wealthy interests so that the government can reap, in taxes, ancillary benefits of that wealth? Connecticut's court says yes, which turns the Fifth Amendment from a protection of the individual against overbearing government into a license for government to coerce indi- viduals on behalf of society's strongest interests. Henceforth, what home or business will be safe from grasping governments pursuing their own convenience?

Will acknowledged that the Supreme Court had expanded the notion of "public use" to mean "public purpose," notably in a case clearing slum conditions in Washington, DC. He wrote:

But the Fort Trumbull neighborhood -- what remains of it; many residents have been bullied into moving -- is middle class. That is the "problem": Residents are not rich enough to pay the sort of taxes that can be extracted from the wealthy interests to which New London's government wants to give other people's property.

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Posted by steve at 9:20 AM

George Will: A blight grows in Brooklyn

Merced Sun-Star

Nationally-syndicated columnist George Will takes aim at the absurd "blight" designation used to justify eminent domain abuse in Prospect Heights.

To seize the acres for Ratner's use, government must claim that the area -- which is desirable because it is vibrant -- is "blighted." The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

The condo of Daniel Goldstein, his wife and year-old daughter, which cost Goldstein $590,000 in 2003, is on part of the land where Ratner's $4.9 billion project would be built -- with the assistance of more than $1 billion in corporate welfare from the state and city governments, which are drowning in red ink. The Goldsteins' building would not seem blighted to anyone not paid to see blight for the convenience of the payers. Which is of constitutional significance.

The Constitution says government may not take private property other than for a "public use." By "public," the Framers, who did not scatter adjectives carelessly, meant uses -- roads, bridges, parks, public buildings -- directly owned or primarily used by the general public. In 1954, however, in a case concerning a crime- and infectious disease-ridden section of Washington, D.C., the court expanded the notion of "public use" to include removing "blight."

Since then, that term, untethered from serious social dangers, has become elastic in the service of avarice. In 2005, the court held, 5-4, that New London, Conn., could take the property of a middle-class neighborhood and transfer it to a corporate developer who would pay more taxes to the city government than the evicted homeowners had paid. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, dissenting, warned that the consequences of the decision would "not be random." The beneficiaries would be people "with disproportionate influence and power in the political process."

Enter Ratner, with plans to build a huge complex of high-rise residences, commercial properties and a basketball arena for the NBA's New Jersey Nets, which he bought. The city and state governments salivated at the thought of new revenues -- perhaps chimerical -- to waste. The problem was, and is, that people live and work where Ratner wants to build.

So blight had to be discovered. It duly was, by a firm that specializes in such discoveries. New York's highest court ratified that finding, 6-1.

But a week later, Columbia University, which has plans for a $6.3 billion expansion in Manhattan, was stymied in its attempt to wield the life-shattering power of eminent domain against several local businesses that do not want to be shattered. A state court held, 3-2, that condemnation proceedings had been unconstitutional. The court said the blight designation was "mere sophistry": "Even a cursory examination of the study reveals the idiocy of considering things like unpainted block walls or loose awning supports as evidence of a blighted neighborhood."

The idiocy was written on Columbia's behalf by the same firm the Empire State Development Corporation hired to find blight at the Brooklyn site.

The Atlantic Yards nonsense was compounded when Ratner, to bolster his balance sheet after the real estate collapse, sold the Nets to a Russian billionaire, who stands to benefit from Ratner's government-subsidized seizure of other people's property. Those people can only hope that New York's highest court will grant their appeal for reconsideration on the grounds that Ratner's argument is about as good as the Nets are. Through Friday, their record was 3-29.

link

Posted by steve at 9:03 AM

Columbia Gets a Lesson in Property Rights

The Wall Street Journal
By Julia Vitullo-Martin

This editorial reviews the ruling this past December against Columbia University's use of eminent domain in its expansion into West Harlem. Questions about what might come next:

  • How will the State Court of Appeals rule on the appeal and will it reopen Goldstein et al. v. Urban Development Corporation in light of contradictory rulings?
  • Will New York State legislators revise eminent domain law?
  • Will Governor Paterson declare where he stands on eminent domain?

Judge Catterson also wrote that "the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry. It was utilized by ESDC years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain but this project has always primarily concerned a massive capital project for Columbia."

Judge Catterson's decision sets up a conflict that will likely shape how eminent domain is used in the future. Just a week before he issued his ruling, New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, decided in Goldstein et al. v. Urban Development Corporation that ESDC could seize private property in Brooklyn and hand it over to Forest City Ratner, a private developer.

That case was a big setback for private property advocates, who had spent years trying to curtail the use of eminent domain and who got a bump in public support after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. the City of New London (2005) that states could seize private land as part of private development projects.

Now, in the wake of Judge Catterson's ruling, the state's Court of Appeals will likely have to take the issue up again if the case is appealed. Perhaps this time it will impose strict limits on when the power of eminent domain can be used.

State Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat and chairman of the committee on corporations, authorities and commissions, doesn't want to leave it to the courts. He held one public meeting on Judge Catterson's ruling before Christmas and is planning a second this coming week. He also fired off a letter to Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson asking him not to appeal Judge Catterson's ruling, and to impose a "statewide moratorium on the use of eminent domain" until the state legislature can pass legislation that specifies how the power can be used.

The governor hasn't decided what to do, but he doesn't have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines forever. With two conflicting court decisions and a brewing controversy, the legislature will almost certainly pass something that will force him to choose sides.

link

Posted by steve at 8:31 AM

January 1, 2010

As China pursues development, "nail houses" are common, as property owners seek fair compensation

Atlantic Yards Report

If you think the Atlantic Yards condemnation battle is bitter, consider the situation in China, as the New York Times reports, in an article headlined Chinese Businesses Resist Eviction by Developers:

Chinese newspapers are filled with stories of battles involving so-called nail houses, the properties whose owners and occupants are like deeply embedded spikes that refuse to give way to redevelopment juggernauts. As an unceasing real-estate boom has swept the nation, much of it orchestrated by the local governments that benefit from soaring land values, property owners and occupants often protest unfair compensation.

A standoff ensues. Shady men are dispatched. Goliath rarely loses.

In the case chronicled by the Times, David did win--a restaurant was evicted, but its owners got the full payment they sought.

link

Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

December 31, 2009

Here’s What Eminent Domain Looks Like, Atlantic Yards Version

NY Observer
by Eliot Brown

As of last Wednesday, the state has officially filed in court to acquire the property in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards mega-development in Brooklyn, home-to-be of the Nets.

The acquisitions are for much of the 22-acre site, as the state's development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, is seeking to take title to the private property in the footprint and the city streets that currently run through it (they are slated to be shut down to create "superblocks," making way for the housing and arena).

The filing is a major step in the acquisition process, and now that the lawsuits challenging the use of eminent domain have been dismissed, the state needs a judge to grant it the title to the properties in the footprint. (The state would then turn over the properties to the developer, Forest City Ratner, which is reimbursing the state for the property it acquires, though it is also receiving significant subsidies for acquisitions and other purposes.)

There are a handful of holdouts left in the footprint who are refusing to leave, including Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein, who told me Wednesday afternoon he would continue to fight (i.e., litigate).

"There's going to be numerous challenges to that filing," he said.

Click thru, or here, to see the filing for condemnation.

Posted by eric at 10:15 AM

ESDC files, shares condemnation petition, but condemnees will resist; will January 29 be the day it's resolved?

Atlantic Yards Report

While it's difficult to challenge a condemnation petition--"It has to be limited to procedural defects, and that’s rare," attorney Michael Rikon told me--the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) legal filing to take private (and public) property within the Atlantic Yards footprint won't be a walkover. (The petition is at bottom.)

"We will challenge the petition. It is defective in many respects," stated attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff, who is representing condo owner and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein (and perhaps others). "The details will be laid out in our opposition to the petition, which we are working on."

Brinckerhoff was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the unsuccessful constitutional challenge to the ESDC's use of eminent domain; he has asked the Court of Appeals to reopen the case in light of seemingly contradictory decision by a lower court in the case challenging the ESDC's use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion.

Henry Weinstein, who owns more than an acre of property in the southeast segment of the AY footprint, a block slated to become an interim surface parking lot, told me he would "fight tooth and nail."

George Locker, who represents several rent-stabilized tenants, stated, "The New York Court of Appeals has held that the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and not the New York State Supreme Court, has 'original and exclusive jurisdiction' over the eviction of Rent Stabilized tenants and the demolition of Rent Stabilized housing.... Given the clear and controlling law on this question, ESDC will be unable to remove my clients from their homes. Instead, Ratner, like all other landlords, will be compelled to make an application to NYS DHCR after the current leases expire, including one in 2011."

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Posted by lumi at 5:14 AM

December 30, 2009

Ready for Freddy's

The media can't get enough of Sunday's theatrical beheading of "eminent domain theft" — it's even responsible for the Atlantic Yards fight's first-ever appearance in the beverage trade press.

DRAFT News, Brooklyn bar fights for its right (to stay open)

Our first Brooklyn drinking experience took place at Freddy’s Backroom in Prospect Heights. The quirky neighborhood bar known for having a shark decorating the entryway and its diaorama club is a wonderful place to grab a beer, meet some folks, and hear tales about the old days.

It’s also an endangered locale. The Atlantic Yards project threatens to use eminent domain to close down the venue in the name of progress. In protest, patrons of Freddy’s built a nine-foot tall guillotine from Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and symbolically executed the plan.

Brownstoner, Closing Bell: Freddy's Bar - Heads Roll in Survival Fight

Complete with costumed Executioner and Death, the event culminated with the decapitation of “Poor eminent domain, born of a noble purpose of building hospitals and roads... being used to take Americans from their homes, not just for a British bank but also for Russia”. The event apparently drew more media than some of the more important legal and governmental meetings for AY.

Posted by eric at 8:45 AM

Perkins sets hearing January 5 on Columbia University eminent domain case, need for reforms

Atlantic Yards Report

The Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, chaired by Senator Bill Perkins, will hold a hearing 4-7 pm on Tuesday, January 5, titled "Unconstitutional: What the Appellate Division’s Eminent Domain Ruling Means for the Columbia Expansion."

While the hearing seems focused on the recent decision stopping--for now--the Empire State Development Corporation's pursuit of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, some of the broader questions invoke the Atlantic Yards example and situation:
How should the process be reformed? What are the benefits of a moratorium on eminent domain takings pending legislative action?

Note that oral testimony is open to the public, with a three-minute limit, and written testimony is also accepted. It's unclear who's been invited.

Perkins is the most prominent legislative supporter of eminent domain reforms, while Gov. David Paterson backs an appeal by the ESDC to the Court of Appeals.

The court ruled in the other direction in the AY eminent domain case, saying that administrative agencies have significant discretion, so it will be a tough but not impossible challenge for the plaintiffs in the Columbia case.

Click through for the hearing notice.

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Posted by eric at 7:43 AM

December 29, 2009

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

The Brooklyn Paper, Judge puts breaks on Broadway Triangle
by Andy Campbell

A Manhattan Supreme Court justice halted all further operations in the “Broadway Triangle” last week, only one day after City Council voted in favor of rezoning the mostly commercial land into residential space.

Justice Emily Goodman granted a restraining order last Tuesday after opponents filed a second lawsuit against the city rezoning, claiming that city officials steered the land to two politically connected groups in a back room deal.

The stay is effective until the lawsuit gets its first hearing in March, buying a bit of hope for the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition.

“The justice’s decision shows that there’s merit to the lawsuit,” said Marty Needleman, the coalition’s attorney. “It’s really gonna raise the ante for Bloomberg.”
...

Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick), who was once Lopez’s protege, has opposed the Broadway Triangle plans, calling the proposal a flat-out lie. She held her head in her hands and sobbed when vote tallies were announced last week.

NoLandGrab: While some will argue that the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) is far preferable to an Altantic Yards-style state override of local zoning and control, the Broadway Triangle situation proves that when powerful interests want your land, it doesn't much matter. One difference, though — at least this judge appears capable of spotting a rigged bidding process when she sees one.

Posted by eric at 11:33 AM

Bars vs. Banks - Revolt is Declared! Barclay's Bank and ACORN Can Go To Hell.

Brownstoner, Closing Bell: Freddy's Bar - Heads Roll in Survival Fight
Nets Daily, Arena Critics Turn Their Aim Towards Prokhorov, Russia

Posted by lumi at 6:21 AM

December 28, 2009

Atlantic Yards Bar Going Down in a Blade of Glory

Curbed

Photo: Amy Greer/NoLandGrab

Following up its Chains of Justice stunt, Dean Street's Freddy's Bar—the Prospect Heights dive that find itself in the unfortunate position of being located within the Atlantic Yards footprint o' death—unveiled a nine-foot-tall PBR guillotine and decapitated a bogeyman named Eminent Domain over the weekend. We'll assume Freddy's didn't make it onto Bruce Ratner's Christmas card list this year. With the eminent domain clock ticking, the next move has to be arming themselves with peanut slingshots, right?

link

Also...

Gothamist, Freddy's Bar Sharpens Guillotine to Protest Atlantic Yards

Last week staffers and tipplers handcuffed themselves to the bar to protest the establishment's increasingly likely demise, and this weekend they kicked it up a notch by building a nine-foot-tall guillotine made from PBR cans and executing an effigy representing "eminent domain theft." (One yank on a Blue Point beer tap brought the blade down.)

Posted by eric at 3:26 PM

Bar builds guillotine out of beer cans to protest Atlantic Yards

NY Daily News
by Mike McLaughlin and Erin Durkin

Aux barricades!

It's an open revolt at one Brooklyn watering hole that faces the wrecking ball to make way for the controversial Atlantic Yards project.

Staff and regulars at Freddy's Bar & Backroom built a 9-foot guillotine out of beer cans - and then executed an effigy that represented the state's power of eminent domain.

"You cannot take property from one person and just give it to someone else," said Donald O'Finn, manager of the bar on Dean St. in Prospect Heights.

"So far we have worked within the law, but ...the law has become so corrupt by money and greed that we cannot obey it," he said. "We are declaring revolt."

article

Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

December 27, 2009

Off with his head! Freddy’s Bar unveils guillotine to slay ‘Eminent Domain’

The Brooklyn Paper
by Gersh Kuntzman

Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman's video camera captured the highlights today as "eminent domain" met its timely and deserved fate outside Freddy's Bar & Backroom, the venerable Prospect Heights watering hole that doubles as ground zero in the fight to stop Atlantic Yards.

Fans of Freddy’s Bar in Prospect Heights beheaded an effigy of eminent domain on Sunday, using a guillotine fashioned from cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The bar is facing condemnation to make room for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards basketball arena.

Click through for the video.

link

Posted by eric at 11:05 PM

At another Freddy's media event, a makeshift guillotine is used to execute an eminent domain effigy

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has the play-by-play from today's Freddy's event, complete with video, plus NoLandGrab photos by Amy Greer.

Last week the staffers and regulars at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, slated to be demolished for the Atlantic Yards arena, installed "chains of justice" so resisters can handcuff themselves to the bar to protest the anticipated eviction.

This week came another media event, the guillotine, a creative structure made out of Pabst beer cans, used to execute an effigy representing "eminent domain theft."

And yes, the media came out--far more than at some of the important legal arguments or governmental meetings. Everybody loves a good metaphor.

Bar manager Donald O'Finn read from a scroll, declaring a revolt against eminent domain law and criticizing the role of ACORN, the British bank Barclays, which bought the arena naming rights that the state gave away, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, slated to become majority owner of the Nets.

"It's just like a foreclosure, except they're foreclosing on a neighborhood, and we're not even behind on the mortgage," O'Finn declared.

article

Click here to "cut" to a slide show.

Posted by eric at 6:19 PM

December 26, 2009

Use eminent domain to build public works, not help developers

Courier Life

This letter to the Flushing News points to the need to revise New York's eminent domain law.

An adverse court ruling in the Willets Point matter should not deter efforts at seeking to preserve the livelihood and families of the hundreds of workers who will be displaced by this outrageous give-away of private property for the benefit of private real estate interests (“Willets Point owners lose suit,” Flushing Times, Dec. 3).

If a student in any class from the sixth-grade through college was asked about eminent domain, I am sure there would be a uniform response that government has the right — indeed, the duty — to take private property for just compensation to accomplish a public purpose. Pressed to define “public purpose,” reference would be made to public works, like a government building, a roadway, public transportation facilities, bridges, etc.

When asked if it included taking private property to be turned over to a private, for-profit real estate developer, the answer would be no way. I am sure the general public would respond the same way.

Recently, the state Court of Appeals, in a 6-1 decision, supported the use of eminent domain in Bruce Ratner’s New Jersey Nets arena project in Brooklyn on the same dubious economic claim. A good deal of the project will be subsidized directly and indirectly by taxpayers. Many homeowners will be forced out of their homes, all for the benefit of a private real estate developer.

As a result of the Kelo case, 35 states enacted legislation upholding the public’s traditional understanding of eminent domain and prohibiting the taking of private property and turning it over to a private real estate developer. New York state was not one of those 35 states — not surprisingly, given the fact that the Brennan Center for Justice, a public interest center at the New York University School of Law, rated New York’s state Legislature the worst state Legislature in the nation.

I think the Willets Point people would be best served by a concerted grassroots effort at engaging all members of the state Legislature and exacting an agreement to enact legislation that will prohibit the kind of result that occurred in the Kelo and Ratner matters, under pain of which legislators will be opposed in any election in which they seek office.

Since the taking of private property is political and not economic, it should be opposed on a political basis. I have no doubt the public will embrace and support such action.

Benjamin M. Haber Flushing

link

Posted by steve at 7:00 AM

December 23, 2009

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

Courier-Life Publications, Broadway Triangle a Council 'hit'
By Aaron Short

On the last day of the 2009 session, the City Council passed the Broadway Triangle rezoning plan by an overwhelming margin, 36 voting yes, 10 no, with 4 abstensions, ending months of political wrangling and demonstrations.
...
In likely his final act as a Council member, David Yassky (D-Williamsburg) urged his colleagues to support the Broadway Triangle rezoning, which they largely did,

“This is not an Atlantic Yards situation where ULURP was circumvented. It went through full ULURP process and had dozens of public and semi-public meetings in the decade leading up to this. Anybody who wanted to put up an alternative proposal for this site has had their plan heard and not necessarily adopted.”

NoLandGrab: Um David, just like Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, Broadway Triangle is using the threat of eminent domain to take property from business owners, which is not even mentioned in the article.

Posted by lumi at 5:35 AM

December 22, 2009

Eminent Domain Abuse: The Gifts That Keep On Giving and the Gifts That Don’t

Noticing New York

Michael White examines the case of Kelo v. City of New London for lessons learned. One lesson is that gifts given to a party that haven't been worked for are often not particularly valued. This seems to be the case in Kelo where Pfizer was the recipient of much government largesse.

We are making a point of two things here: How far the societal norms were bent out of shape in order to pile benefit on Pfizer and the fact Pfizer is taking a walk nevertheless. At first blush the principal relationship between those two things may seems to be its sadness, but probably isn’t. More likely the most important relationship between these two things is that the heedless piling on of benefits to Pfizer may actually be regarded as a cause of Pfizer’s departure. That, by analogy brings us back to Sam’s rule: What you don’t charge for is likely to wind up being undervalued.

Development, like psychoanalysis, should not involve an investment of commitment or effort on only one side. What is sad is that what was bulldozed for the unappreciative Pfizer’s benefit was just the opposite: It was people like Susette Kelo and her neighbors who, having invested in their property without subsidy and fully paying their taxes, were not going to leave. The lawsuit brought by Ms. Kelo and her neighbors, in fact, reflected their tenacious fight and commitment to stay. Had they been allowed they would be there still, still paying taxes.

This blog entry also points to how so many of those pushing for eminent domain in the Kelo case have all moved on, as it becoming more and more the case with the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Finally, there is a suggestion for gift-giving for those who oppose eminent domain abuse in general and the proposed Atlantic Yards project in particular.

The perfect holiday gift? Make a donation to Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the lead opponents against Atlantic Yards. Or you might want to consider purchasing lots of these very handsome and convenient Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn tote bags which will support the cause. (See: Gift Idea: Develop Don't Destroy Bag.) Give the gift that keeps giving to fight he gifts that keep taking. One way in which none of us would like the Atlantic Yards epilogue to sound like the Pfizer epilogue is for it to end with a blight-delivering loss.

link

Posted by steve at 6:53 AM

December 21, 2009

Eminent Domain

The New York Times, Letters

To the Editor:

Re “Eminent Domain in New York” (editorial, Dec. 14): New York’s eminent domain laws are in need of reform. The Empire State Development Corporation’s attempted taking of private property on behalf of Columbia University illustrates how the current process lacks accountability, transparency or meaningful public participation.

The corporation cited “blight” to justify property condemnation. But the current definition of “blight” is vague. Absurd criteria, like the cracked sidewalks and loose awnings cited in Columbia’s decision, could be used to identify any neighborhood as blighted.

Furthermore, weak disclosure laws allowed Columbia to ignore Freedom of Information Law requests from property owners.

The appellate court wrote that “many commentators have noted that ‘few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for minorities than eminent domain.’ ” Current laws are a holdover from the so-called urban renewal schemes that decimated low-income and minority neighborhoods.

I am preparing legislation to address the flaws in existing law, and have requested Gov. David A. Paterson to impose a statewide moratorium on condemnation actions.

Since 2005, 43 states have changed their eminent domain laws to better protect home and business owners. It is now time for New York to do the same.

(Senator) Bill Perkins

Albany, Dec. 14, 2009

The writer is chairman of the New York State Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.

link

Posted by eric at 4:52 PM

Perkins Will Lead Statewide Crusade for Eminent Domain Reform

NY Observer
by Jimmy Vielkind

As far as Bill Perkins is concerned, the issue of eminent domain has got legs.

"It's really a corruption of our notion of democracy," said Perkins, a Democratic state senator who represents Harlem. He was speaking Saturday at a Pentecostal church on 125th Street. The room was one-third filled by people who are concerned about the issue and active in fighting its application around the city: at the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, in Willets Point in Queens and just down the road in Manhattanville, where Columbia wants to build a new campus.

Perkins was prompted to action two weeks ago, when an appellate court ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation acted improperly by declaring parts of Manhattanville blighted ahead of condemnation for Columbia's campus. Columbia first asked ESDC to look into eminent domain in 2004.

Perkins on Saturday reiterated his call that ESDC not appeal this decision, and called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for private development until a commission can be formed and recommend revisions to the eminent domain procedure law.

"This is a very, very important movement," Perkins said, announcing a formal hearing in Harlem on January 5. "We're going to be going around the state to develop a case for reform."

He said the current law is a "corruption of our democracy." He's also said it's like "a gun to the community's head."

article

Posted by eric at 4:06 PM

As Perkins pushes for reform of eminent domain laws, Paterson stands ground, backs ESDC's appeal in Columbia case

Atlantic Yards Report

How things have changed. A little more four years ago, state Senator David Paterson and Council Member Bill Perkins were of the same mind on eminent domain, especially concerned about Columbia University's planned expansion in West Harlem, an area in their districts.

They called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial 5-4 Kelo vs. New London decision upholding eminent domain for economic development.

Now Perkins is in the state Senate, the leader of a somewhat lonely legislative effort to reform the state's eminent domain laws, much criticized by not only the libertarian Institute for Justice but also civil rights lawyers like the diehard liberal Norman Siegel. And now Paterson is governor, with a much larger constituency and having inherited some projects--like Atlantic Yards and Columbia--that depend on eminent domain.

And, in separate appearances Saturday just a few blocks (and a few hours) away, Perkins highlighted the need for change, and Paterson stood his ground.

article

Posted by eric at 10:33 AM

December 20, 2009

At Freddy's the "chains of justice" are installed

Atlantic Yards Report

Today was the installation of the "chains of justice" at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, so regulars can, in protest, chain themselves to the bar if condemnation proceeds.

I couldn't make it but photographer Tracy Collins shot a set of photos, including the response of the fire department to a fire down the block at one of the few remaining occupied buildings.

article

Additional coverage...

AP via WCIX.com, Fans chained to NY bar in eminent domain protest

On Sunday, supporters bolted a chain to the establishment's bar, and some patrons hundcuffed themselves to it for about an hour while sipping on pints of beer. They say they'll do it again when authorities try to seize the property.

Posted by eric at 11:51 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Atlanta-Area Florist Ratchets Up Battle Over Eminent Domain

This news advisory announces an unusual move: Mark and Regina Meeks are looking to
"add thousands of new owners to their land deed, thus making it forever impossible for the land to be taken through the controversial process of eminent domain."

Land Battle Watched by the World Gains New Weapon

ATLANTA-AREA FLORIST RATCHETS UP BATTLE OVER EMINENT DOMAIN - ANNOUNCES NEVER-BEFORE SALE OF LAND TO STAVE OFF GOVERNMENT LAND SEIZURE

STOCKBRIDGE, Ga., December 16, 2009 - At a news conference and flanked by anti-eminent domain abuse demonstrators, owners of Stockbridge Florist & Gifts unveiled their newest weapon in their high-stakes battle over control and ownership of their property - the public. In a first-ever, history-making land offering, Mark and Regina Meeks are selling land at the site of their flower shop to ANYONE and EVERYONE. In a never attempted land deed modification, the Meeks will seek to add thousands of new owners to their land deed, thus making it forever impossible for the land to be taken through the controversial process of eminent domain. "While a last resort, we believe selling our land to the public is our only way of keeping what's ours, preserving our livelihood, and recouping at least a fraction of our losses," flower shop owner Mark Meeks said. Details can be found at www.stockbridgefloristfund.com.

[Read the rest of the press advisory after the jump.]

Mark and Regina Meeks have lived under constant and imminent threat of eminent domain since 2005 when elected officials in Stockbridge, Ga. began condemning the Meeks' land through eminent domain. Despite winning an appeal in April of 2006, the Meeks fear the City of Stockbridge will make another attempt at condemnation due to conclusions in the Court's order which "do not prevent the Condemnor from filing another petition." Supporters of Stockbridge Florist & Gifts include numerous national organizations, activists and both state and local chapters of the NAACP.

"I stand with them," said Edward Dubose, the President of Georgia's NAACP from his south Ga. home. "This is also happening in our community. When the government has unchecked, unlimited reach to take property, entire communities of ours could be devastated. We've seen it happen."

"We have been working on this idea for over a year and feel that we have no other alternative," Meeks said. The land offering should attract landowner-partners who, for as little as $25.00, will purchase a piece of history, stave off eminent domain condemnation, and help the Meeks recover some of more than $300,000 in legal expenses. "The burden of five court cases and associated legal fees has us on the brink of financial disaster. And we've endured the emotional suffering that comes with uncertainty and injustice."

Monies generated will also help to fund the Private Property Project, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving property rights and serving as a future resource center for property owners in the U.S.

Georgia State Rep. Steve Davis, R-Henry Co., also speaking at the news conference, explained why legislation to reform eminent domain standards and procedures throughout Georgia is paramount on his agenda during the 2010 legislative session which begins in early January. "I don't believe government should be in the business of land development or sales. However, when there is a need for the use of an individual's or company's property for a legitimate public purpose, then we must ensure that all other options have been attempted and that property owners are justly compensated without the need to defend themselves from their government," Davis said.

Stockbridge Florist & Gifts has been owned and operated by Mark and Regina Meeks for 26 years. Their story has, in the past, been featured on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, WSB-TV, WGCL-TV, WXIA-TV, WAGA-TV and has appeared in major U.S. newspapers.

Posted by steve at 7:44 AM

December 18, 2009

Senator Perkins hosts public meeting on eminent domain Saturday, schedules public hearing for January 5

Atlantic Yards Report

Tomorrow, state Senator Bill Perkins will hold a Community Meeting on Eminent Domain at Manhattan Pentecostal Church, 541 W. 145th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam; map), from 9:30 am to 12 noon.

He will discuss the recent Appellate Division ruling which blocked the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) from using eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion--a decision that will be appealed.
...

Also, Perkins, who held a public hearing in September 2008 on eminent domain, will announce plans to initiate legislation regarding eminent domain.

link

Posted by eric at 4:57 PM

WPU earns the support of State Senator Bill Perkins

Willets Point United

This morning, WPU members Jake Bono, Jerry Antonacci and Len Scarola and WPU's attorney Mike Rikon, attended a meeting with Senator Bill Perkins who is leading the charge against Eminent Domain abuse in New York State. He expressed his support for our group's cause. More importantly, he will eventually push for legislation that would overhaul eminent domain law in NY State. He is the only elected official that has put his/her name to the possibility of such a reform.

WPU will be attending Senator Perkins' town hall meeting regarding the Columbia University development project THIS SATURDAY MORNING from 9:30 am - 11:30am. He stated that this type of local meeting is the beginning phase of his plan that will influence a climate of change with respect to eminent domain law and is CRITICAL to the eventual passing of any legislation in support of property rights. He plans on holding a meeting for each major current eminent domain case; Columbia U, Atlantic Yards & possibly Willets Point. He even expressed interest in holding a meeting on Didden vs. The Town of Port Chester. The purpose is to expose all the corruption involved with these cases. (A Willets Point hearing would require several days.)

Saturday, December 19th
Community Meeting on Eminent Domain
Manhattan Pentecostal Church
547 West 125th St
New York, NY 10027
9:30 AM - 11:30 AM

link

NoLandGrab: Bill Perkins is one of the few examples of what's right in Albany.

Posted by eric at 10:35 AM

December 17, 2009

Willets Wonderings

The Architect's Newspaper Blog
by Matt Chaban

The A|N Blog's Chaban continues to do good reporting on Atlantic Yards and other controversial NYC development projects.

It appears the city’s plan to trifurcate development out at Willets Point has been a smashing success, as the Economic Development Corporation announced on Friday that 29 developers from across the country have expressed interest in the first phase of the project, an 18-acre swath of land on the western section of the 62-acre Iron Triangle that contains the densest mix of uses. “The quantity and quality of these responses are strong indicators that the development community has confidence in the successful redevelopment of Willets Point despite current economic conditions,” Seth Pinsky, president of EDC, said in a release. An RFP is expected sometime in 2010 for a selection of those 29 respondents. After that, the next hurdle is finishing land acquisition, which stands at 75 percent of the phase one area controlled by the city. If need be, the city has not ruled out acquiring what’s left through eminent domain, a specter that has cast a long shadow over the area’s redevelopment, though one that could be sunsetting.

29 companies interested in developing Willets Point "despite current economic conditions," yet in 2005, when everything was rosy, only Bruce Ratner (and Extell) was interested in developing the Vanderbilt Yard? Something's fishy.

Following a court ruling that the state could not seize land in the Manhattanville section of Harlem so that Columbia could build a new campus there, Atlantic Yards opponents are hustling to have their ultimately unsuccessful case reheard, a last-ditch effort to impede the sale of Forest City Ratner’s bonds. Whether or not they succeed, all this eminent domain tumult—combined with the recent collapse of plans for the Mother of Them All in New London, Connecticut—could nudge New York over the edge, taking it off the list of a handful of states that have yet to enact eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision four years ago. State Senator Bill Perkins certainly thinks so, calling for the governor to live up to his previous promises of a moratorium on eminent domain in the state.

Willets Point is one of the most egregious examples of eminent domain abuse, since the city, for years and years, denied the many productive businesses there the most basic services, like paved streets and sewer connections.

How could this all pay out in Flushing, Queens? David Lombino, a spokesperson for EDC, emphasized the agency’s strong track record on reaching deals with business owners in the area, despite the continued intransigence of some. “The response from the private sector is encouraging,” he said. Should it come down to eminent domain, but eminent domain is no longer there? EDC, while proffering hypothetical projects, does not respond to hypothetical questions.

article

Posted by eric at 12:30 AM

December 16, 2009

Community Update: Report on the Columbia University Development Project

PLEASE NOTE: The correct address is 541 West 125th Street

Posted by eric at 11:40 PM

Still more EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

inversecondemnation.com, NY Times Editorial On Eminent Domain: Columbia Case "Completely Out Of Step With Eminent Domain Law" And Is "Weakly Reasoned." Really?

It should not be a huge surprise that the Times ends up cheerleading for the wrong team in both of these cases. As you may recall, the paper was the private beneficiary of a similar eminent domain action (as noted here), so at least it cannot be accused of being inconsistent. But let's give the editorial board the benefit of the doubt and assume that its opinion wasn't driven by crass self-interest, but by a genuine belief that the Kaur decision "conflicts with the relevant law."

It is still wrong.
...

When the Times castigates the Kaur opinion as "weakly reasoned," you have to wonder whether the editors read the same decision we did, since all Kaur did was look at the facts. Unlike Goldstein, the Kaur court did not ignore Kelo's baseline and refuse to even look at the facts in the record. Goldstein washed its hands of the inquiry, holding that courts must accept an agency's determination that a parcel is in fact blighted. How Goldstein's interpretation of the New York Constitution's public use clause is above Kelo's Fifth Amendment baseline was never explained by the court.
...

Thus, the Times editorial is 180 degrees off the mark: it is the Court of Appeals' abdication of the rule of law in Goldstein -- and not the Appellate Division's opinion in Kaur -- which "conflicts with the relevant law," and which is is "completely out of step with eminent domain law."

NEIGHBORHOOD EFFECTS, Empire State of Mind

These cases highlight just how much of a mess eminent domain proceedings are in the wake of 2005’s U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London. Supreme Court decisions are no stranger to controversy, but the outrage surrounding Kelo transcended party or ideology, and led to forty-three states adopting restrictions on their own eminent domain powers.

New York, of course, is one of the seven "holdouts."

In the Brooklyn case, the issue is identical to Kelo. Bruce Ratner wants to tear down a significant portion of a vibrant neighborhood, and replace it with private economic developments including office towers, a shopping complex, and a basketball arena, which will likely be financed with a significant public subsidy.
...

The majority’s reliance on the ESDC study is quite controversial, because it’s quite possible that the ESDC has significant conflicts of interest, if not outright corruption. These problems came to light in the Columbia University case.

Amsterdam News via The Black Urban Times, Judge gives Columbia University red light

Once in a while in the big bad city, the little guy wins.

Last Friday, an appeals court blocked New York State from seizing private property in order to further the planned $6.3 billion expansion of Columbia University. The 3–2 ruling by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan backed charges against the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), saying that by allowing the use of eminent domain, ESDC was giving the Ivy League school an unfair advantage over commercial property owners of the land.

Posted by eric at 9:55 AM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

The NY Observer, Top Court Rules for Warehouse Owner Over State in Columbia Records Suit

On Dec. 3, the owner of a set of warehouses in the footprint of Columbia University's planned West Harlem expansion, with his lawyer, Norman Siegel, were handed a highly unexpected victory in a suit that challenged the use of eminent domain for the project.

And now the state's top court has ruled in his favor on a different matter: open records.

The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously ruled that the state's economic development agency, which administers eminent domain, must turn a set of records over that Mr. Sprayregen had requested through the Freedom of Information Law. The agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, had provided numerous documents but withheld a set related to a 2004 agreement between the agency and Columbia. Mr. Sprayregen appealed the agency's denial of his FOIL request, and was denied again. He then sued in state Supreme Court and won, though ESDC did not provide all the documents, preferring to appeal. He won again at the appellate level; ESDC appealed again; and now the agency has exhausted its appeals.

Atlantic Yards Report, Court of Appeals smacks down ESDC in FOIL case related to Columbia expansion

Norman Oder explains the state's high court's decision:

The West Harlem Business Group (WHBG) then went to court, arguing that ESDC failed to articulate a particularized and specific justification for withholding the requested documents. ESDC said it not only had fully complied with its obligations under FOIL but also asserted that the documents were exempt either as intra- or inter-agency material or privileged attorney-client communications.

The Supreme Court tried to examine all documents in-camera, but, according to the ruling, ESDC failed to identify which documents fell within each particular exemption, asserting only that the documents were either non-responsive, exempt intra- or inter-agency office records, or had been previously disclosed.

At issue were five documents; the Appellate Division agreed they should be disclosed, and that was appealed.

The Court of Appeals said that "this litigation could have been avoided, or significantly limited, had ESDC in the first instance complied with the dictates of FOIL."

Posted by lumi at 4:35 AM

December 14, 2009

First Person: Standing Up to Eminent Theft

The Indypendent
by Daniel Goldstein

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) must commence a number of legal procedures to take title to the properties and revoke leases. The plaintiffs and DDDB will litigate these procedures every step of the way to thwart the theft of homes and businesses.

Only nine days after the Atlantic Yards decision, the Manhattan Appellate Division ruled in favor of plaintiffs in West Harlem in their challenge to Columbia University’s eminent domain abuse. This case also involves the ESDC as the condemning authority.

While a great victory for New Yorkers and the fight against eminent domain abuse, that court’s ruling contradicts the higher court’s ruling. So, the Atlantic Yards plaintiffs will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider their case when they hear the Columbia appeal.
...

Politically there is an effort to get Gov. Paterson to follow through on a promise he made on Dec. 1 to convene an “objective” review of the project. What he should be reviewing is the labyrinthine financing structure for the project, which is a great risk to New York and its future credit rating. Should there be a default on the tax-exempt arena bond, New York State will be on the hook.

With a state debt of $57 billion, this is a risk Paterson should not take.

article

Posted by eric at 10:45 AM

Times editorial on eminent domain: ESDC's determination of blight in Columbia case "thoroughly defensible"

Atlantic Yards Report

The key thing to understand about today's New York Times editorial, Eminent Domain in New York, is that, as editorial writer Carolyn Curiel has stated, "We are reasoned, in how we come to opinion. But no, it's not a democracy; it's reflective of the spirit of the Times."

So "the spirit of the Times" means that the newspaper--without acknowledging its parent company's business relationship with Forest City Ratner (in building the Times Tower) and without acknowledging how eminent domain was crucial to the construction of that building--endorses, without question, the Empire State Development Corporation's highly questionable assessments of eminent domain in the cases of Atlantic Yards and the Columbia University expansion.
...

Blight defensible?

Here's the key line:

The Empire State Development Corporation also made a thoroughly defensible decision that eminent domain was appropriate given the blighted condition of the land at issue, between 125th and 133rd Streets near the Hudson River.

That's it? No recognition of the three blight studies? The use of underutilization? The lower court's conclusion that the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry?

This conclusion?

ESDC failed to demonstrate any significant health or safety issues other than minor code violations that exist throughout the city, but more particularly in the buildings controlled by Columbia.

link

Posted by eric at 10:30 AM

Eminent Domain in New York

The NY Times
Editorial

A New York State appellate court has misguidedly put a roadblock in the way of Columbia University’s expansion plans, ruling that the state misused eminent domain to help Columbia assemble the land it needs. This decision conflicts with the relevant law and will make it much harder for the university to move ahead with a project that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood and the entire city.
...
The decision is completely out of step with eminent domain law, including a recent 6-to-1 decision from the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. That court ruled that Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, a commercial development, can use eminent domain to secure land to build new housing and a basketball arena for the Nets. That was the right decision, and the case for Columbia is even stronger.

link

NoLandGrab: We'd hardly expect a newspaper whose new headquarters was built on land acquired by eminent domain to think otherwise; however, there was no mention that their building was developed and co-owned by Forest City Ratner, the developer of the "Brooklyn Atlantic Yards" project, for which the paper supports the use of eminent domain. Hmmm...

Additional...
DDDB.net, The House Organ of the Eminent Domain Abusers Opens Its Mouth Wide

Ignoring extremley damning details of the opinion against the Empire State Development Corporation's use of eminent domain for Columbia University (such as acting in bad faith, subverting due process, the production of a blight study described as "idiocy" and "sophistry"), the New York Times editorial board has produced this piece of editorial drivel below.

Never mind that New York State is not just the biggest abuser of eminent domain, but it also clearly has the worst and most developer friendly process of stealing people's properties in the entire country.

blogs.columbiaspectator.com, The New York Times criticizes recent court ruling

Posted by lumi at 4:57 AM

December 13, 2009

Law should be eminently clear - The public benefit issue especially needs rethinking

Crain's

This editorial notes conflicting eminent domain rulings and calls on the New York State Court of Appeals to resolve the conflict - in favor of eminent domain.

Last month, the state's highest court ruled that eminent domain was eminently justified to remove the holdouts at the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The following week, an appeals court in Manhattan ruled against the use of that doctrine in Harlem, where Columbia University is about to build a major new campus.

These two rulings are completely at odds on appropriate use of eminent domain. The Court of Appeals should take up the Columbia ruling expeditiously to clarify the law and prevent this vital project from being harmed by months of uncertainty.

Consider the two decisions, both of which center on whether eminent domain can be used to aid private developments, how the public benefit of such a project should be evaluated, and how the courts should consider disputes about whether an area is blighted, which is the legal standard in New York when someone's property is to be forcibly purchased.

This analysis of the Court of Appeals decision allowing the use of eminent domain for the proposed Atlantic Yards project leaves out the court opinion that states, that, for eminent domain: "It may be that the bar has now been set too low..."

In the Atlantic Yards case, the Court of Appeals ruled that long-established precedents allowed the use of eminent domain to aid a private development, that the public benefit required of such a project should be regarded in a broad way, and, most important, that the courts should not second-guess a state agency's decision to declare an area blighted, except in the most extreme cases.

The majority in the Manhattan appellate court seemed to ignore the direction of the state's highest court. The majority in the 3-2 decision disparaged the public benefit of the Columbia project and clearly second-guessed the blight finding in a way that would seem to directly contravene the instructions of the higher court.

Here is the kind of argument heard often from those favoring eminent domain abuse. Columbia University's need for eminent domain is supported in general, but the specific public benefits for doing so are somehow not mentioned.

The public benefit issue especially needs rethinking. Higher education represents one of the sectors that can diversify the city's economy and produce the middle-class jobs politicians are constantly saying the city needs. It now employs as many people as manufacturing. Columbia can't compete with its rivals, because it needs more space. A vibrant Columbia is crucial to the city's future.

link

Posted by steve at 6:16 AM

December 12, 2009

Atlantic Yards Takes the Court

The Indypendent
By Steven Wishnia

This article begins with a review of the ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals on the eminent domain case brought against the Empire State Development Corporation, tool of developer Bruce Ratner.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, writing the majority opinion, rejected both of those claims. “It is indisputable that the removal of urban blight is a proper, and, indeed, constitutionally sanctioned, predicate for the exercise of the power of eminent domain,” he held.

The suit also questioned the Empire State Development Corporation’s designation of the area as blighted, “substandard and insanitary” — a prerequisite for its redevelopment to be considered a public purpose.

Judge Lippman had somewhat more sympathy for that claim. “It may be that the bar has now been set too low — that what will now pass as ‘blight,’ as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses,” he wrote.

But ultimately, he concluded, economic underdevelopment and stagnation could legitimately qualify as “blight.” Whether that could justify the use of eminent domain, he ruled, “is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.”

In dissent, Judge Robert S. Smith wrote that building offices and apartments for a private developer to rent was not a public purpose, and that “blight” meant a danger to public health and safety, not that “property may be condemned and turned over to a private developer every time a state agency thinks that doing so would improve the neighborhood.”

The article then mentions a contradictory eminent domain ruling as well as moves to begin selling bonds for the proposed Nets arena.

The eminent domain issue may still be unresolved. On Dec. 3, the state’s mid-level court, the Appellate Division in Manhattan, ruled that Columbia University could not use eminent domain to claim property in West Harlem for its Manhattanville development. The court said the neighborhood was wrongly defined as blighted.

Forest City Ratner still has to sell bonds to finance the project by end of the year in order to keep its tax exemption for them. On Dec. 1, the two major credit-rating services listed $500 million in tax-exempt bonds for the proposed arena as “investment grade” — but just barely. Moody’s Investor Services rated them as Baa3 and Standard and Poor’s as BBB -. Both ratings — the same given to bonds for the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field — are the lowest a bond can get without being considered junk.

link

Posted by steve at 6:25 AM

December 11, 2009

EMINENT DOMAINIA

Columbia Spectator, The illusion of competing interests

In an opinion piece, two members of Columbia University's Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification argue that even by NY State's high court's narrow standard upholding the findings of blight in the Atlantic Yards case, the recent decision, finding for the property owners in West Harlem, should still stand, due to corruption on behalf of the university.

AntonNews.com, Eye on the Island

An opinion piece gets something right and something wrong:

Should the NBA’s New Jersey Nets relocate to Brooklyn, history will record their first victory of the 2009-2010 season came in a courtroom, rather than on a court.
...
The property-owning holdouts within a two-plus block area that is narrowly defined within the Court’s decision will now be required to sell their land to the ESDC, at rates reflecting current market value.

NoLandGrab: It's been widely reported that property owners have been offered wa-a-ay less than market rate.

Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

December 10, 2009

Plaintiffs in Atlantic Yards eminent domain lawsuit ask Court of Appeals to reopen case given appeal in similar Columbia case

Atlantic Yards Report

Like a kindly teacher who gives a failing student an opportunity to re-take a test, the plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case are willing to give the New York State Court of Appeals a second chance to get things right.

In an unusual, long-shot effort to reopen a case seemingly closed, attorneys for the plaintiffs--nine residential and commercial property owners and tenants--in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain litigation are asking the Court of Appeals to take a second look.

Why? A lower court's ruling against the use of eminent domain case for the Columbia University expansion will force the Court of Appeals to revisit the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) application of allegedly arbitrary blight standards.

"We do not bring this motion for reargument lightly," said attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff in a press release from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which has organized and funded the lawsuit. "But this is an extraordinary situation. It's not every day that a court rules that the ESDC has conspired with an influential private party to violate the constitutional right to property."

"Given the Columbia and Atlantic Yards rulings, no one knows whether their property is now vulnerable to the ESDC engaging in the same pattern," he said. "We need clarity concerning the ESDC's fraudulent abuse of the ‘blight' issue. The ESDC has been unmasked as a serial eminent domain abuser. We've reached a tipping point where that agency's actions regarding condemnation have lost all legitimacy."
...

Potential results

1) The motion could simply be rejected.

2) It could be accepted, and the 3-2 decision in the Columbia case--known as Kaur--could be overturned, based on the decision in the Atlantic Yards case, which gave seemingly unlimited authority to the ESDC to decide on blight. (That's what Greg David of Crain's thinks.)

3) It could be accepted, and the Columbia case could be upheld, but on narrow grounds, such as bad faith--the ESDC's use of three separate blight studies--not available on the AY case. That would leave the ESDC to proceed with condemnation.

4) Or it could be accepted, and the Court of Appeals could uphold the Columbia case on broad grounds, declaring the blight standard to be vague and its application improper. That's what the Atlantic Yards plaintiffs are hoping for.

article


Additional coverage...

NY Observer, After Columbia Decision, An Atlantic Yards Appeal to Top Court, Again

As promised, opponents of Bruce Ratner's planned $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project are litigating once again.

Following a surprise court decision last week that ruled as unconstitutional the use of eminent domain for Columbia University's West Harlem expansion, opponents of the giant Brooklyn development today appealed again to the state's top court.

Click through to see the motion.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Eminent Domain Issue Not Dead?

Posted by eric at 9:09 PM

Eminent Domain: The Taking of Private Property for Public Use – An Examination of Recent New York State Decisions in Light of Kelo v. City of New London

Stroock.com
by Ross F. Moskowitz and Joon H. Kim

In the last month, New York courts have issued two important decisions regarding the use of eminent domain/condemnation powers. The first was the November 24, 2009 decision by the Court of Appeals of the State of New York in In the Matter of Daniel Goldstein v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp., in which the court upheld the exercise of eminent domain powers in the Atlantic Yards area of Brooklyn, New York to acquire private property for future development by a private developer. In the second, In re Parminder Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp., the First Department held on December 3, 2009 that the taking of private property in the Manhattanville area of West Harlem, New York for use by Columbia University was improper.

This Stroock Real Estate Practice Group Special Bulletin looks at these two decisions in light of Kelo v. City of New London, a landmark decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the taking of private property to effectuate an economic development plan.
...

Perhaps the most significant difference is that in In re Parminder Kaur, the finding of blight was made after the selection of the private party receiving majority of the benefit of the condemnation, whereas in both Kelo and In the Matter of Daniel Goldstein, the finding that the area was blighted and in need of economic redevelopment was made before the private developer was selected.

link

Download article in PDF

NoLandGrab: That analysis of the differences in the cases is just plain wrong. No part of the Atlantic Yards footprint south of the railyard was ever declared blighted prior to Ratner's ID'ing the land he wanted, and blight was never put forth as a justification for the Atlantic Yards project until after the Kelo verdict was rendered. The problem is that Ratner's arena wouldn't fit in the portion of the site that was previously designated part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area.

And as far as ATURA is concerned, the fact that nearly four decades elapsed between its designation and the hatching of Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme should just maybe call the whole thing into question, no?

Posted by eric at 6:37 PM

Questioning Manhattanville

The Eye [Columbia Spectator]
by Amanda Cormier

Columbia Real Estate Law Professor Michael Heller weighs in Columbia eminent domain vs. Atlantic Yards eminent domain.

How will the recent Atlantic Yards decision affect the appeal?

The Atlantic Yards decision was by this higher court. It came out just recently and was essentially the same issue, and it went the other way, in a 6-1 vote. What that suggests to me—the intermediate decision going the other way, although it has very similar facts and very similar legal issues—is that it doesn’t have the deepest legal grounding. It seems to run against New York law, which is the Atlantic Yards decision, and federal law, which is the Kilo [sic] case of a few years ago.

What are the odds the Supreme Court would rule on this case?

You can never know the odds of the outcome of a particular case. If you look at the Atlantic Yards decision, it suggests that the highest New York court reads New York law consistent with federal law in this area, which would tend toward allowing use of eminent domain in this very ordinary example of it. But that said, you never know if they’ll want to change their understanding of the law. All eminent-domain cases are very fact-specific.

article

NoLandGrab: Except sometimes those facts are made up, as in the "facts" put forth by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Posted by eric at 5:37 PM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Plaintiffs Request Reargument in Court of Appeals

Ask Court to Hold Decision on Request Until It Decides Columbia Case

Eminent Domain Ruling Against ESDC/Columbia Gives New Life to Brooklyn Owners and Tenants Fighting to Save Their Homes and Businesses

BROOKLYN, NY — The Atlantic Yards eminent domain issue will not go away. The legal fight against the Empire State Development Corporation's use of eminent domain to seize Brooklyn homes and businesses so developer Forest City Ratner can build a private arena and luxury condominiums continues.

Today plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards case (Goldstein et al v. NY Urban Development Corp.) are asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its November 24 decision, and specifically requesting that the Court hold any final decision on today's motion and appeal until the Court rules on the Columbia eminent domain case, which it will hear early next year.

The Appellate Division, First Department's, December 3rd ruling (Kaur v. NY Urban Development Corp.) in favor of property owners found that the Empire State Development Corporation engaged in a scheme to seize their properties by eminent domain for Columbia University's expansion plan. The ruling is the first to date that has exposed the ESDC's illegal activity and it has created confusion in New York's courts regarding eminent domain and "blight."

"We do not bring this motion for reargument lightly. But this is an extraordinary situation. It's not every day that a court rules that the ESDC has conspired with an influential private party to violate the constitutional right to property" said Matthew Brinckerhoff, an attorney representing the Brooklyn plaintiffs. "Given the Columbia and Atlantic Yards rulings, no one knows whether their property is now vulnerable to the ESDC engaging in the same pattern. We need clarity concerning the ESDC's fraudulent abuse of the ‘blight' issue. . The ESDC has been unmasked as a serial eminent domain abuser. We've reached a tipping point where that agency's actions regarding condemnation have lost all legitimacy."

The Columbia ruling, in stark contrast to the Atlantic Yards ruling only nine days prior, presents an extraordinary and compelling situation warranting reargument in the State's high Court. The ESDC's blight determination in the Columbia case was thrown out in a 3-2 decision that deemed it to be nothing more than "sophistry" and "idiocy." The post-hoc justification of blight to allow for what is an impermissible private taking of private property by ESDC, is the same in both cases. There is no common understanding or standard criteria used by ESDC and its blight consultant AKRF—in each case paid by the developers—to determine what "blight" is.

The ESDC in furtherance of Columbia's scheme and Forest City Ratner's scheme, found so-called "blight" precisely where the university and Ratner asked them to, and found it years after each had introduced their plans to remove neighborhoods for their benefit.

The situation now is that "blight" means whatever the agency and its consultant, on behalf of private developers, says it means.

The motion papers can be found at: http://www.dddb.net/eminentdomain
They will be posted in the early afternoon.

Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

ESDC responds to Perkins letter on eminent domain: Appellate Division was wrong on Columbia, appeal will continue, AY not impacted

Atlantic Yards Report

Governor David Paterson's office says that it defers to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to respond to state Senator Bill Perkins' call for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain, and the ESDC says its response remains the same as last week:

ESDC believes the decision of the Appellate Division, First Department in the matter of the Columbia University Manhattanville Campus to be wrong and inconsistent with established law, as consistently articulated by the New York State Court of Appeals, most recently with respect to ESDC's Atlantic Yards project.

ESDC continues to fully support this project. The expansion of one of New York’s oldest educational institutions will enhance the vitality of both the University and its neighboring West Harlem community, while meeting the long-term needs of its residents.

This recent ruling does not impact Atlantic Yards, and ESDC intends to appeal the decision.

link

Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

December 9, 2009

Pol says Columbia case should halt Atlantic Yards

The Brooklyn Blog [NY Post]
by Rich Calder

Is this the last hope for Atlantic Yards opponents?

State Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) is asking Gov. Paterson not to appeal a recent court ruling blocking the use of eminent domain for Columbia University’s expansion and to order "a statewide moratorium" on the use of the controversial land-grabbing procedure.

Such a move would obviously affect developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which the Paterson-controlled Empire State Development Corp. is expected to begin seizing private land for through eminent domain in the coming weeks.

But the ESDC isn’t caving in. A spokeswoman said the ESDC plans to appeal the Columbia ruling, which it believes "doesn’t impact" Atlantic Yards.

article

Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Perkins asks Paterson for moratorium on eminent domain, not to appeal Columbia case

State Senator Bill Perkins, who represents West Harlem and in September 2008 held a hearing on reform of emiment domain, has asked Governor David Paterson "to forego an appeal" of the Appellate Division decision blocking the use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, "and to order a statewide moratorium on the use of eminent domain within the State of New York pending legislative action."

That would include eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project.
...

It would be more difficult for Paterson to reverse course on Atlantic Yards; for example, the MTA, which he controls, argues that the Atlantic Yards deal was too far along to consider seeking another bidder for the Vanderbilt Yard.

Perkins' letter draws significantly on the decision in the Columbia case, known in shorthand as Kaur. It says little about the Court of Appeals' decision in the Atlantic Yards case, but does make a fundamental point: For one, no one knows what 'blight' is—the crucial and fundamental issue in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases.

NY Observer, Perkins to Paterson: Don’t Appeal Columbia Decision, Reform Eminent Domain

In a letter to the governor dated Tuesday, Mr. Perkins called for "a statewide moratorium on the use of eminent domain," and said he was preparing "a bill to reform how eminent domain is exercised."

He also tries to invoke the issue on a more personal level with the governor, bringing up a 2005 rally the two of them attended, protesting the use of eminent domain:

You may recall that back in 2005 you and I stood on the steps of City Hall together with several members of the City Council to protest the United States Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London which affirmed the use of eminent domain for private development that entails a so-called "public use." That decision contained language encouraging states to review their own eminent domain statutes. Some states have done just that. It is now New York's turn.

Mr. Perkins has established himself as one of few loud voices in the Legislature to protest eminent domain.

Posted by eric at 8:38 PM

Big Blighters

Townhall.com
by Jacob Sullum

After Kelo v. City of New London, the 2005 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court approved the forcible transfer of property from one private owner to another in the name of "economic development," 43 states passed reforms that were supposed to curb eminent domain abuses. But most states still allow condemnation of property deemed to be "blighted," and many of them define that condition so broadly that it has become a synonym for "coveted," as illustrated by two recent New York cases.

In 1954, when the Supreme Court declared that eliminating blight counts as a "public use" under the Fifth Amendment and that property may be transferred to other private owners for that purpose, the case involved a Washington, D.C., neighborhood where two-thirds of the dwellings were considered "beyond repair"; most lacked central heating, indoor toilets and bathrooms; and some were located in alleys. As part of "a comprehensive plan" aimed at alleviating these "miserable and disreputable housing conditions," the Court ruled, it was acceptable to condemn a department store that was itself in good condition.
...

Last week a lower appeals court reached the same conclusion in a case involving Columbia University's expansion into the Manhattanville section of Harlem. As in the Atlantic Yards case, the Empire State Development Corp., the authority empowered to use eminent domain, went looking for "characteristics that demonstrate blight conditions" so it could reach a predetermined conclusion that condemnation was justified.

The result, said the court, was "a preposterous summary of building and sidewalk defects" that could be found in "virtually every neighborhood in the five boroughs."

article

Posted by eric at 11:05 AM

December 7, 2009

When can't New York take your land

NY Post
by Steven Malanga

A New York appellate court last week harshly rejected the state's effort to take property from businesses in upper Manhattan and give it to Columbia University for its campus expansion, calling it a "scheme" hatched by the university and the state and labeling their arguments in favor of invoking eminent domain, the government power to seize private property, as "mere sophistry."

Yet for decades the state has confiscated private property on the slimmest of pretexts, often vastly underpaying, and in the process ruined businesses and lives. The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based, public-interest group, recently called New York one of the worst eminent-domain abusers in the country.

Only the state Legislature can fix this problem with a new law to rein in these abuses.
...

Little has changed, especially in the case of businesses that don't own their own locations. For them, eminent domain is often a death knell because the state pays little in takings cases. To take one recent example, many of the estimated 55 businesses the city displaced to make way for the New York Times tower on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st streets either never reopened or relocated and have since succumbed.
...

New York's is one of the few legislatures that hasn't acted, but the need is clear. Reform would include:

  • A stricter definition of "blight" land so that officials can't declare even a thriving neighborhood to be devastated just so they can seize property in it.
  • A ban on government taking property from one private citizen to transfer to another private citizen for redevelopment merely to enhance the value of the land.

We should all shudder at the notion that state or local officials could one day seize our property simply because they think someone else could make it more valuable.

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Manhattan Institute's Malanga: two basic reforms needed in state eminent domain laws

Let me add some details, since Malanga barely mentioned Atlantic Yards.

Surely the designation of cracked sidewalks as blight (right, in Brooklyn) by consultants for the Empire State Development Corporation in both the Columbia and Atlantic Yards cases deserves a rethink.

And a lawyer for the Empire State Development Corporation was asked in the Atlantic Yards oral argument October 14, “is it the law of New York that if I own a house in an area that the government thinks could be improved, a perfectly nice house, it’s a clean house, nothing particularly wrong with the area, but it could be better, more vibrant, more dynamic businesses, is that enough for the government to [condemn and seize] the house?”

His response: “Under New York State constitutional law, yes, it is."

The Manhattan Institute, which has a libertarian bent, is alarmed. So are others of a different philosophical bent, like state Senator Bill Perkins. The issue won't go away.

Posted by eric at 9:55 PM

Willets Point United's fight against eminent domain again causes its lobbyist to gyrate

Atlantic Yards Report

From a press release from Willets Point United:

Willets Point United, Inc. – a group of more than 20 property owners in Queens, NY, fighting to keep their land despite the city’s desire to condemn it and turn it over to a yet-to-be-named private developer – believes the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) approach to improving Willets Point is inappropriate, and we will oppose it in every way. Today we have notified the EDC via letter of the very disturbing track records of certain developer firms likely to respond to the EDC’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) by today’s deadline and asks that these firms be disqualified from future consideration for receipt of a Request for Proposals (RFP).

(Emphasis added)

One contact on the press release was lobbyist Richard Lipsky, the same guy who declared Atlantic Yards opponents should get "a well-deserved delay of game penalty" and sneered "Enough already! It's high time that the DDDers, took their settlement monies, and went back to their lattes."

Lipsky is having to gyrate on eminent domain. He supports eminent domain for his client, Forest City Ratner, but opposes it for his client, Willets Point United, as well as for his client Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-It-Away, who has so far successfully challenged eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion.

article

Commenter Daniel Goldstein writes:

Wouldn't Lipsky help his Queens and Manhattan clients more if he dropped ranks with his Cleveland-based client and joined ranks with the eminent domain plaintiffs in Brooklyn who are fighting the same exact thing he and his clients are fighting in Queens and Manhattan?

Wouldn't he sleep better at night? A few thousand bucks really can't be worth all the agita from that much cognitive dissonance.

Posted by eric at 9:44 PM

Which court ruling is better for NYC: Atlantic Yards or Columbia?

Crain's NY Business

A New York state appeals court ruled Thursday that the state cannot use eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University to condemn land the school wants for its $6 billion expansion plan. It called the use of eminent domain unconstitutional and questioned the state and university's claims that the West Harlem area is blighted. The decision comes less than a month after another court ruled in favor of developer Forest City Ratner using eminent domain to complete its $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project. That Brooklyn project includes a 22-acre residential development and a basketball arena.

Which ruling was better for New York City?

→ Columbia. The university and state failed to prove that the area in question is blighted, a requirement for eminent domain.

→ Atlantic Yards. The Brooklyn project will boost the local economy.

→ Neither. Until it becomes more transparent, the eminent domain process is bad for the city, no matter what project it affects.

Click here to cast your vote.

Posted by eric at 10:47 AM

Total condemnation: State botched eminent domain for new Columbia campus

NY Daily News, Editorial

What, no vitriol about a "small band" of "selfish holdouts?" Errol Louis must be on vacation.

New York State's supposed economic development geniuses have only themselves to blame for the scathing court ruling that barred the use of eminent domain to spur Columbia University's $6.3 billion expansion plan.

The Manhattan Appellate Division cited persuasive evidence in declaring that the Empire State Development Corp. essentially concocted a determination that the neighborhood where Columbia wants to build was blighted.
...

The ruling was stunning. While it may slow construction of Columbia's hugely important campus in West Harlem, the decision was nonetheless welcome for putting public authorities on notice that they must meet minimal standards before trying to seize private property.

link

NoLandGrab: Of course, those "minimal standards" haven't been met with Atlantic Yards, either, but neither the News, nor the Appellate Division, seem to have made that connection.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily News editorial endorses court decision in Columbia case, doesn't grapple with AY similarities

While the editorial noted that the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state two weeks ago in the AY case--subject of a wrongheaded Daily News editorial--it fails to acknowledge that the dissent in the Columbia case cited the AY case, while the court opinion ignored it.

Yes, there are some differences in the underlying facts of the Columbia and AY cases. And the state's highest court might in fact uphold the challenge to the state's use of eminent domain for Columbia on narrow grounds, without revisiting the Atlantic Yards case.

But the court should confront the essential similarities between the two decisions: the use of underutilization to determine blight and the Empire State Development Corporation's vague blight standards.

Moreover, the majority opinion in the Columbia case pointed to the evidence of pretext--that blight was not identified as a justification until after the project was announced. In his dissent in the Atlantic Yards case, Judge Robert Smith cited similar evidence in the Atlantic Yards case, but the majority ignored it.

Posted by eric at 5:47 AM

Families in homeless shelter in AY footprint told they'll have to leave by January 15

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation would have you believe that property condemnations for Atlantic Yards are only going to affect rich yuppie condo owners, who'll get even richer thanks to generous buyouts. Wrong.

Residents in a two-building shelter for homeless families in the Atlantic Yards footprint just got some not-so-sunny holiday greetings, as the facility is slated to be closed by January 15.

A mandatory meeting at Pacific Dean will be held tonight "to provide details and help you through the transition," according to a message distributed to residents.

The buildings typically house more than 90 families. Some will be moved to permanent housing, others to another shelter.
...

The shelter has not been sold, at least according to city property records for 603 Dean Street and the adjacent 768 Pacific Street, which are Block 1129, Lots 76 and 21, but they are subject to eminent domain. I don't know if any transaction is in process.

The block, at the southeastern section of the Atlantic Yards footprint between Dean and Pacific streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, is slated to become a massive interim surface parking lot, with 1044 spaces.

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NoLandGrab: Suffice it to say, Bruce Ratner is not offering these families "generous relocation packages."

Posted by eric at 5:30 AM

December 6, 2009

Definition of public good

Crain's NY Business, Letters

Crain's is wrong on key points in its Nov. 30 editorial, “Affirming Atlantic Yards.” As Norman Oder puts it in his thorough, in-depth blog, Atlantic Yards Report: “The Court of Appeals did not endorse the public good. It chose not to substitute its judgment for the Empire State Development Corp.'s questionable—but still "rational'—determination of the public good. Nor have "elected officials' implemented development plans.”

This deal is backdoor in so many ways, and that is why this “holdout” is joining 4,700 others in supporting Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn in its legal fight.

—Carol Wierzbicki

link [Subscription/trial registration required]

Posted by eric at 7:59 PM

Eminent Domain: Let the Public Beware!

NBC New York
By Gabe Pressman

New York City broadcast television news outlets have shown little interest in the eminent domain battles going on in their area. Late in the game, we have this item.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme court ruled that the condemnation procedure, in which Columbia tried to take Manhattanville property for the expansion project, was unconstitutional.

The appeals court spoke out angrily, referring to how the "scheme was hatched," calling the effort “sophistry” and “idiocy.”

The ruling denounced the state for declaring the neighborhood involved blighted. The university controls most of the land needed for its planned $6.3 billion expansion --and says it will appeal the decision.

But, at least for now, it’s a great victory for the owner of several self-storage warehouses and other possessors of properties who have refused to sell to Columbia. The court even charged that the Empire State Development Corporation tried to stack the deck in Columbia’s favor.

The idea of stacking the deck should offend taxpayers, and make us thankful we have courts standing in the way of plundering landlords -- even if they say they’re acting in the cause of higher education

It’s likely that Columbia will appeal now to the highest court in the state, the Court of Appeals. That body recently ruled in favor of the Atlantic Yards project, in which a new Brooklyn home is being built for the New Jersey Nets.

Eminent domain -- when government takes over private property allegedly to promote the "public good" -- is a most controversial procedure. In recent years, government has used it more and more.

In the Columbia case, Norman Siegel, a lawyer for the owners who held out against the university, says the decision “sets forth a road map for how private property owners can fight back when government tries to seize your property in the name of eminent domain.”

But a spokesman for the state said the court decision was “wrong and inconsistent with established law.”

...

So, in plain language, can eminent domain be used, not to promote the public good, but to cause public harm? Most assuredly, yes. This concept can be manipulated to hurt people, in the name of helping them!

That’s why the courts must act as a brake on arrogant government officials. As one writer noted in the NYTimes Magazine; “One man’s urban improvement is another man’s urban debacle.”

link

Posted by steve at 7:53 AM

December 5, 2009

Court Nixes University’s Harlem Expansion

Globe Street
By Daniel Wise

This article on this week's decision by the Apellate Court against Columbia University's use of eminent domain connects with the ongoing Atlantic Yards fight.

On the subject of Atlantic Yards, lead counsel Matthew Brickerhoff of the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn issued a statement following Thursday’s Columbia decision saying that, "The timing of the ruling is certainly propitious. In the next few days, we will file a motion asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in our case, based on this new indictment of the agency’s standard operating procedure. We know that the Court of Appeals will now review the Columbia University ruling, and we are optimistic that the abuse of power detailed in Justice Catterson’s powerful opinion, combined with the agency’s similar conduct in the Atlantic Yards case will cause a few of the judges who already expressed skepticism to reconsider their decision."

link

Posted by steve at 9:05 AM

Property Rights Are No Slam-Dunk

Investor's Business Daily

Eminent Domain: Four years after the Supreme Court told a Connecticut homeowner that no one's house is safe from developers, Brooklyn homeowners may lose their homes to a pro basketball team.

...

The latest victims of the Kelo decision may well be the residents of an area of Brooklyn known as Atlantic Yards, dominated by a rail yard and with homes and businesses that the state of New York, if not the residents, considers blighted.

Many states after Kelo took legislative action to protect private property and homeowners from seizure without a legitimate public use, but not New York. Its plans for the 22-acre site include an 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets. That will certainly produce more tax revenue than small businesses and homeowners who don't want to move.

link

NoLandGrab: Missed entirely here is that, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office a Nets arena would be a money loser for New York City.

Posted by steve at 8:28 AM

Perkins Percolates on Eminent Domain

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance

Bruce Ratner lobbyist, Richard Lipsky, continues to condemn eminent domain in general, but not for Atlantic Yards in particular. He concludes this blog entry where he opines on the recent Kaur decision where Columbia University's use of eminent domain has been turned back:

All of which makes the case for legislative remedies all that much more compelling. But, as we have pointed out, the Willets Point situation is fraught with any number of extra-legal difficulties-cost traffic mitigation and feasibility leading the way. Still, the courts just may, hopefully, be moving towards a different view on the use of eminent domain for "public benefit," and not public use.

Unfortunately, Lipsky's financial arrangements keep him squarely behind Atlantic Yards, the eminent domain abuse poster child.

link

Posted by steve at 7:54 AM

Which court ruling is better for NYC: Atlantic Yards or Columbia?

Crain's

Crain's offers an on-line poll.

A New York state appeals court ruled Thursday that the state cannot use eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University to condemn land the school wants for its $6 billion expansion plan. It called the use of eminent domain unconstitutional and questioned the state and university's claims that the West Harlem area is blighted. The decision comes less than a month after another court ruled in favor of developer Forest City Ratner using eminent domain to complete its $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project. That Brooklyn project includes a 22-acre residential development and a basketball arena.

Which ruling was better for New York City?

  • Columbia. The university and state failed to prove that the area in question is blighted, a requirement for eminent domain.
  • Atlantic Yards. The Brooklyn project will boost the local economy.
  • Neither. Until it becomes more transparent, the eminent domain process is bad for the city, no matter what project it affects.

link

Posted by steve at 7:48 AM

December 4, 2009

Lawyer who won Columbia case "cautiously optimistic" about surviving appeal, says creation of record key to win

Atlantic Yards Report

So, can yesterday's surprising 3-2 Appellate Division decision blocking the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) pursuit of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion plan be upheld at the Court of Appeals?

"I'm cautiously optimistic," plaintiffs' attorney Norman Siegel said in an interview last night, mindful that Justice James Catterson's opinion ignored the Court of Appeals decision last week upholding the ESDC's use of eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards case. "We really have to change the law of New York, and Catterson's decision could be a catalyst."

"We have huge challenges facing us," he acknowledged, given that the Court of Appeals would have to essentially change course. "I'm aware, as a litigator, that this is a win for December 3, and we have to go to Albany, but I know how to get to Albany."

He argued just a few weeks ago at the Court of Appeals on an ancillary case regarding the ESDC's appeal of a ruling regarding the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The appeal in this case could be heard as early as March, with a decision coming six weeks later.

"Significant win"

"This is a significant win for property owners and community activists who oppose eminent domain," Siegel said. "The road map is that no longer can we allow just the government to do the Blight Study, we need to find the resources and find the experts who can work with us and put our own study in."

(I pointed out similarities and differences between the Columbia and AY cases, while the attorney in the AY case cited fundamental similarities. Siegel, who represented Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn after its formation, agreed that, in both cases, blight was used as a pretext, given that the projects were announced well before blight was cited as a justification for eminent domain.)

article

NoLandGrab: And New Yorkers didn't elect Siegel Public Advocate why?

Posted by eric at 11:23 AM

Can decision in Columbia eminent domain case reopen AY case? DDDB is trying, but there are both similarities and contrasts (and also precedent)

Atlantic Yards Report

Based on the surprising 3-2 Appellate Division decision yesterday blocking the the Empire State Development Corporation's use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, organizer and funder of the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, hopes that it can succeed in the rare step of reopening the latter.

It's not easy. First, the Court of Appeals has to agree to such a rare step.

Then the plaintiffs have to win. And that wouldn't be easy, either, because the decision in the Columbia case was in significant tension with the Court of Appeals' decision just last week in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

And even if the Columbia decision is not overturned, it is possible--depending on which frame the court uses--to make a distinction between the Columbia case and the Atlantic Yards case. Then again, there are some fundamental similarities.

Fundamental flaw

The fundamental flaw in Justice James Catterson's opinion yesterday is that he completely ignored the Court of Appeals decision in the Atlantic Yards case, an opinion cited in Justice Peter Tom's Columbia dissent as compelling the Court of Appeals to defer to the ESDC's designation of blight.
...

Reopening the case

Brinckerhoff told me that, in most circumstances, a motion for reconsideration is futile. He said he was "cautiously hopeful" that the Court of Appeals, recognizing that the two rulings appear inconsistent, would accept the motion.

Then it could, at minimum, hold the case in abeyance until the appeal in the Columbia case is decided. That appeal could be heard in March, with a decision coming within six weeks after that.
...

"If I was involved in the bond sale, I would be looking at this decision and it would concern me, in a way that is very unexpected," Brinckerhoff said. The case is going to go to the Court of Appeals, he noted, "and judges ruled one way that seems rather inconsistent, in an opinion that doesn't cite [the AY case]."

article

Posted by eric at 10:54 AM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Columbia University Edition

NY Daily News, No eminent domain for Columbia University expansion: court

In a blistering ruling, an appeals court Thursday blocked the state from seizing private properties for the $6.3 billion expansion of Columbia University.

The Appellate Division's 3-to-2 ruling upheld charges by several commercial property owners that the Empire State Development Corp. stacked the deck in favor of Columbia University in allowing the use of eminent domain.

"The process employed by ESDC predetermined the unconstitutional outcome," the judges ruled.

The appeals court said the ESDC's finding that the Manhattanville neighborhood was blighted and underused "was bereft of facts."
...

The narrow Columbia decision is bound to be appealed to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Recently, the top court ruled in favor of eminent domain in the much-litigated Atlantic Yards project to build a new home for the Nets in Brooklyn.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Eminent Domain Month Continues: Kelo No Help For Columbia’s Plans

The last few weeks have been hot and heavy on the Eminent Domain front. We had news about the fallout from the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision; a big ruling for private developers in the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards case; and arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court over whether Florida’s beach renourishment program constitutes a “taking.”

But wait, there’s more. Earlier today, the appellate division of the New York state Supreme Court found Columbia University’s expansion plans, which propose condemnation of parts of a 17-acre lot in West Harlem, unconstitutional.

The New York Times, Court Bars New York’s Takeover of Land for Columbia Campus

The majority opinion was scathing in its appraisal of how the “scheme was hatched,” using terms like “sophistry” and “idiocy” in describing how the state went about declaring the neighborhood blighted, the main prerequisite for eminent domain.

The $6.3 billion expansion plan is not dead; an appeal has been promised, and Columbia still controls most of the land. But at a time when the government’s use of eminent domain on behalf of private interests has become increasingly controversial, the ruling was a boon for opponents.

“I feel unbelievable,” said Nicholas Sprayregen, the owner of several self-storage warehouses in the Manhattanville expansion area and one of two property owners who have refused to sell to the university. “I was always cautiously optimistic. But I was aware we were going against 50 years of unfair cases against property owners.”
...

The court’s decision, if it is upheld, is not fatal to the plan. Columbia already owns or controls 61 of 67 buildings in the 17-acre project area. Presumably, it can build around the holdout owners, or come to agreement with them. But the state and the university have sought the entire site.

Which begs the question: why not just build around them in the first place?

AKRF, the firm that did the Environmental Impact study for the project, as well as the Atlantic Yards EIS, and just about every other EIS in New York State, and which seems to have never found an impact it didn't like, defended itself after being admonished by the court for a lack of objectivity:

A spokesman for the firm said in response to the court’s ruling: “As a firm of planners and analysts, AKRF’s responsibility is the collection and assessment of data in an objective and thorough manner. Our analyses help inform a public decision-making process. They are not advocacy documents.”

NoLandGrab: Yeah, right — it's just coincidence that every damned one of them ends up reaching the conclusions that the state and the developers want them to reach.

The Volokh Conspiracy, New York Intermediate Appellate Court Invalidates Taking of “Blighted” Property for Transfer to Columbia University, but Contradicts Recent State Supreme Court in the Process

There is, however, one major problem with the Kaur decision: it seems to contradict the New York Court of Appeals’ (the state supreme court) recent decision in the Atlantic Yards case, Goldstein v. New York Urban Development Corporation, which specifically ruled that a property can be declared blighted and condemned if there was “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation” in the area. As I explained in this post, Goldstein allows state officials to designate almost any area as blighted and then condemn property within it. As an intermediate appellate court, the Kaur court is required to follow state supreme court rulings. Unfortunately, the Kaur majority barely even mentions Goldstein, except for noting that the same private consultant conducted the study allegedly proving the existence of “blight” in both cases. Perhaps this neglect is explained by the fact that the Atlantic Yards opinion was only issued last week. If so, the Kaur court should have taken more time to fully consider it. The contradiction with Goldstein is in fact noted by the Kaur dissenters, who point out that the state supreme court ruling requires broad deference to administrative blight determinations, even if there is considerable evidence that the determination was flawed.

It might still be possible to invalidate the Manhattanville takings in a way consistent with Goldstein. For example, the Kaur majority based its ruling in part on the fact that the government failed to follow some of the procedural requirements of New York’s blight statute.

However, the central holding of Kaur - that “underutilization” isn’t enough to prove blight — is in clear tension with the Atlantic Yards decision. The fact that the same consultant conducted both blight studies and used similar arguments to justify his findings only accentuates the tension. Indeed, “underutilization” was the main evidence for the existence of blight in the Atlantic Yards project area, as well as in the part of Manhattanville condemned for transfer to Columbia.

NY1, Court Decision Halts Columbia Expansion

In a statement, the agency said, "ESDC believes the decision to be wrong and inconsistent with established law, as consistently articulated by the New York State Court of Appeals, most recently with respect to ESDC's Atlantic Yards project."

Curbed, State's Land Seizure for Columbia Expansion Ruled Unconstitutional!

The ESDC plans to appeal the surprising decision. Why surprising? Because eminent domain decisions, like at Atlantic Yards recently, have a way of going the government's way.

Click here to download a PDF of the court's 65-page decision.

Posted by eric at 8:55 AM

From Kelo to Columbia: What Eminent Domain means now

The Capitol Pressroom

Bad news for Columbia.

The University had plans to expand its campus into west Harlem with the use of newly broadened eminent domain rules, but those plans were thwarted yesterday by the Appellate Division of the NYS Supreme Court which ruled AGAINST Columbia.

This flies in the face of expectations, which were strengthened by a ruling LAST week from a different court which gave Ratner, the private company developing Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, its stamp of approval on eminent domain. That ruling no doubt angered people who live in the Brooklyn neighborhood that Bruce Ratner & the City of NY are “taking” by ED.

Not only is this being watched by constitutional scholars all over the country – it is opening up a huge can of worms for business interests here in New York State: Not only for private companies that want to take over public land for expansion, but for the Empire State Development Corporation, Industrial Development Agencies, and City planners.

One of the foremost experts on eminent domain, Patricia Salkin will be joining us to figure it all out, plus I am working on getting reaction from the Empire State Development Corporation....

link

Listen live this morning at 11 a.m.

Posted by eric at 8:28 AM

December 3, 2009

PRESS RELEASE, DEVELOP DON'T DESTROY BROOKLYN: Not So Fast, It’s Not Over

Court’s Decision in Columbia Case Breaths New Life Into Case Against Eminent Domain for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Project
Victory Against Eminent Domain Abuse Looks Like Tipping Point In Statewide Fight

BROOKLYN, NY — The Atlantic Yards project suffers a blow.

In an important decision with far-reaching ramifications, New York’s Supreme Court Appellate Division (First Department) http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2009/2009_08976.htmruled today that the Empire State Development Corporation cannot seize private properties by eminent domain to give to Columbia University.

The property owners and tenants in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, http://www.dddb.net/eminentdomainGoldstein et al. v NY Urban Development Corp., were thrown a lifeline today by a Manhattan state appellate court. In a 3-2 decision the Appellate Division ruled that the state agency violated the Constitution when it found that the Manhattanville area near Columbia University was blighted and thus subject to seizure and transfer to the private university.

“The timing of the ruling is certainly propitious,” said Matthew Brinckerhoff, lead counsel for the home and business owners who just nine days ago had lost the first stage of their legal challenge to the confiscation of their properties. “As Justice Catterson rightly observed the Empire State Development Corporation’s abusive practices are the height of ‘idiocy.’ In the next few days, we will file a motion asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in our case, based on this new indictment of the agency’s standard operating procedure. We know that the Court of Appeals will now review the Columbia University ruling, and we are optimistic that the abuse of power detailed in Justice Catterson’s powerful opinion, combined with the agency’s similar conduct in the Atlantic Yards case will cause a few of the Judges who already expressed skepticism to reconsider their decision. This will give us a rare second bite at the apple. We will not waste it.”

“My co-plaintiffs and I will fight every way possible to keep our homes and businesses from being seized. It is clear to me that the Catterson opinion speaks directly to the very same abuses perpetrated by the ESDC in its attempts to push Ratner’s project forward. Today's Columbia ruling gives us good reason for hope that our rights to enjoy our properties will be restored by the Court,” said Daniel Goldstein lead plaintiff on the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

Posted by lumi at 9:02 PM

Appellate Division overturns ESDC's use of eminent domain for Columbia expansion; how different is it from AY?

Atlantic Yards Report

A big development in New York City eminent domain news — the Appellate Division has ruled against the ESDC's planned use of eminent domain for Columbia University's Manhattanville land grab.

From the majority opinion in the Appellate Division's 3-2 overturning of the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) planned use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion:

It is recognized that Kelo, as described below, did not concern an area characterized as "blighted." However, the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry. It was utilized by ESDC years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain but this project has always primarily concerned a massive capital project for Columbia. Indeed, it is nothing more than economic redevelopment wearing a different face.

So too did the Atlantic Yards petitioners argue that blight was a pretext because it wasn't mentioned as a justification for the project for more than a year after it was announced--an issue ignored by the majority in the Court of Appeals decision last week.

Underutilization

Wrote Justice James Catterson (who also filed a fiery concurrence in the case challenging the AY environmental review):

The most egregious conclusion offered in support of the finding of blight is that of underutilization. AKRF and Earth Tech allege the existence of blight from, inter alia, the degree of utilization, or percentage of maximum permitted floor area ratio ("FAR") to which lots are built. The theoretical justification for using the degree of utilization of development rights as an indicator of blight is the inference that it reflects owners' inability to make profitable use of full development rights due to lack of demand. Lack of demand can only be determined in relation to the FAR when combined with the zoning for the area in question. Manhattanville, for the relevant period, was zoned to allow maximum FAR of two, leaving owners essentially with a choice between a one or two-story structure. No rationale was presented by the respondents for the wholly arbitrary standard of counting any lot built to 60% or less of maximum FAR as constituting a blighted condition.

This is the exact same ratio used in the Atlantic Yards Blight Study.

Norman Oder has more details on the other side of the link.

article

NoLandGrab: This is great news for the business owners who steadfastly refused to cave in under the threat of eminent domain, but it does leave Atlantic Yards opponents scratching their heads and asking, "how is Columbia U. so different from Bruce Ratner?"

Posted by eric at 3:18 PM

December 2, 2009

Tish James and Dana Berliner on WBAI, Thursday, 5 p.m.

Prospect Heights City Council member Letitia James and Institute for Justice litigator Dana Berliner will join Behind the News host Doug Henwood tomorrow (Thursday, December 3rd) to discuss the Atlantic Yards project.

The program will air live on WBAI between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m., at 99.5 FM in New York City. Archived shows are available at www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Radio.html or at WBAI.org.

Posted by eric at 4:53 PM

Eminent domain approval in Brooklyn revives questions about Manhattanville

University officials see the Atlantic Yards ruling as a possible bellwether for the Manhattanville cases, while plaintiffs disagree.

Columbia Spectator
by Maggie Astor

A recent New York State Court of Appeals ruling upholding the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn has sparked renewed interest in two similar cases concerning Columbia’s planned Manhattanville campus.

But the plaintiffs who challenge the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville say their cases are different, and do not see the pro-eminent domain decision as indicative of their chances.

Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur filed lawsuits in January with the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, one level below the Court of Appeals. Both suits challenge the Empire State Development Corporation’s December 2008 approval of the state’s invocation of eminent domain for Manhattanville.

ESDC would seize private properties in the 17-acre expansion zone and transfer ownership to the University, which would pay the current owners market-rate value. Columbia controls over 90 percent of land in the area, and Sprayregen and the Singhs are the only landowners who refuse to sell.

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NoLandGrab: While Sprayregen and his attorney, Norman Siegel, profess confidence (and we hope they're right), the State Court of Appeals appears to have rendered "private" a very tenuous adjective when it comes to property in New York.

Posted by eric at 2:28 PM

December 1, 2009

Andrea Peyser Versus Property Rights

Future of Capitali$m

In the New York Post, columnist Andrea Peyser takes aim at those property owners who sued to try to stop their homes from being seized to build a new Nets arena and an associated development known as Atlantic Yards.
...

The project's opponents seem to have exhausted their legal appeals, and Ms. Peyser calls them "selfish." Some of the area around Atlantic Yards is blighted, but some of it, including some of the property that the government wants to seize, is not blighted at all. To the extent that it is blighted, it is because of government ownership of the rail yards and because of Mr. Ratner's poorly designed shopping mall that already exists nearby. The announcement that Mr. Ratner is going to spend 10 years on a huge construction project that is 50% "affordable" housing served to freeze improvements that were already under way on their own organically in the surrounding blocks. If Mr. Ratner and the city and state government were to announce plans tomorrow to kick the New York Post's owner, Rupert Murdoch, out of his $44 million Fifth Avenue triplex and use the space for "affordable housing" and a basketball arena, would Mr. Murdoch be "selfish" to resist? Of course not.

link

NoLandGrab: We almost feel sorry for the venom-spitting Peyser; it can't be easy waking up angry every morning — and being consistently wrong about almost everything.

Posted by eric at 1:45 PM

Governor Paterson's New London

Senator Paterson Opposed Eminent Domain Abuse. Does Governor Paterson?

The Huffington Post
by Daniel Goldstein

Does Governor David Paterson want Prospect Heights, Brooklyn to be his New London, Connecticut?

It's up to him.

After last week's ruling by New York's high court—that the state could seize homes and businesses for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards development proposal because there was a “reasonable” enough argument from unelected bureaucrats at the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that the neighborhood Ratner coveted was plagued by what the majority called “mild blight”—Governor Paterson has some decisions he must make.
...

For a project that has indeed been rammed down the public's throat by executive fiat, it is clearly within the rights and the powers of Governor Paterson to demand that eminent domain not be exercised despite the Court's controversial ruling.

That's what Senator Paterson said he would have done.

article

Posted by eric at 11:53 AM

B'klyn Family Battles New York Over Eminent Domain

Last Family Remaining In Apartment Building On Site Of Atlantic Yards Says They Won't Budge

WCBS TV News
Lou Young reporting

The fight over property rights is getting ugly in Brooklyn. Homeowners living in the way of a new stadium projects say they'll go on fighting despite losing a major court battle. CBS 2 met the central figure in the battle who has seen almost all of his neighbors move away.
...

"This'll be the largest project in the history of Brooklyn. It'll be larger than the footprint of the World Trade Center," said Dan Goldstein, a condo owner on the site. "They're stealing my property. My property is not for sale, but they're going to make me sell it to them if we lose this next round of litigation."

Six years ago all the apartments in Goldstein's building were all occupied. There were 31 units in the building, but that was before Atlantic Yards was announced and everybody wound up moving out over the course of 18 months.

link

Watch the video

Related coverage...

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter, the story on cbs news tonight

Here's a tv news story about the project that aired on CBS tonite. They were gracious enough to allow us to film as they put it together. We like to film as media covers a story because it allows us to both convey important information- and give viewers a sense of how these events affect the characters lives.

Posted by eric at 11:47 AM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Goldstein v. ESDC fallout continues

Barstow Desert Dispatch, No good news on property rights

For a while now I have been concerned with the issue of whether any argument advanced in support of violating private property rights might have something going for it. Some argue, for example, that since one’s private property isn’t always the result of one’s own work and often even stems from plain old luck — as when the price on one’s home rises because of market conditions one had no hand in — one’s property rights cannot be inviolate, let alone inalienable. Others claim that when majorities decide, after widespread public consideration and discussion that someone’s resources or wealth should be taken from them for some important project, this suffices to limit or even void the right to private property.

The second argument underlies the recent ruling of New York State’s Court of Appeals in support of the decision of the Empire State Development Corporation to condemn privately owned homes and small businesses so as to replace these with Bruce Ratner’s ”Atlantic Yards” project of 16 huge skyscrapers. The court didn’t rule exactly as did the U.S. Supreme Court back in July 2005, in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., which opened the door to take property simply to develop it better than how it is being used. The New York case backed the taking of private property because it is considered to be blighted. This is the “reasoning” of the lynch mob. And it is ominous because the very point of basic rights to one’s life, liberty, property (or whatever is involved in governing one’s own affairs — in other words, one’s sovereignty) is to bar others from being intruders, no matter what.

NewsReal, Poor People Will Soon Be Homeless — Thanks to ACORN

New York State’s highest court has cleared the way for an ambitious $5 billion taxpayer-funded development to be built in Brooklyn.

On his TV show yesterday Glenn Beck pointed out that a group that claims to protect the interests of poor people, ACORN, helped make possible the deal that will make current inhabitants of the Atlantic Yards project footprint homeless. ACORN has long prided itself on fighting the so-called gentrification of neighborhoods as rising property values force the poor to move.

But not anymore. ACORN sold out in exchange for a bailout.

CoStar Group, NY Court: $5 Bil. Atlantic Yards Project Can Proceed

According to the 6-1 ruling by the state's highest court, a finding by the Empire State Development Corp., which oversees economic development in New York, that the 22-acre area met the legal definition of blighted was sufficient to take the land. Opponents, including residents and landowners, argued that the state can legally only take land for public use, and the Atlantic Yards seizure is unconstitutional because it benefits private interests.

Posted by eric at 11:26 AM

November 30, 2009

Lipsky's gyrations on eminent domain: OK for AY, but not for Willets Point

Atlantic Yards Report

...Richard Lipsky's Olympic-style gyrations, in which the AY lobbyist says the Court of Appeals decision on AY eminent domain was fine, but the fallout from the Kelo case in New London means that the courts should back property owners (whom he represents) in Willets Point.

I'll just add that the plaintiffs in the Willets Point case, via attorney Michael Rikon, filed an amicus brief in the AY case supporting the AY plaintiffs.

link

Posted by eric at 1:23 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Goldstein v. ESDC

inversecondemnation.com, Unfrozen Caveman Judges "Frightened And Confused" By Blight

Remember Phil Hartman's classic Saturday Night Live routine, "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" --

One hundred thousand years ago, a caveman was out hunting on the frozen wastes when he slipped and fell into a crevasse. In 1988, he was discovered by some scientists and thawed out. He then went to law school and became... Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

We can't summarize the skit any better than wikipedia:

The running gag was that [Hartman] would speak in a highly articulate and smoothly self-assured manner to a jury or an audience about how things in the modern world supposedly "frighten and confuse" him. He would then list several things that confounded him about modern life or the natural world, such as: "When I see a solar eclipse, like the one I went to last year in Hawaii, I think 'Oh no! Is the moon eating the sun?' I don't know. Because I'm a caveman -- that's the way I think." This pronouncement would seem ironic, coming from someone who had, for example, just ended a brisk cell phone conversation, or indeed attended law school.

According to a 6-1 majority of the New York Court of Appeals in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp., No. 178 (Nov. 24, 2009), New York judges are similarly so "frightened and confused" about the meaning of the term "substandard and insanitary" in the state constitution that they are incapable of reviewing takings which purportedly remedy blight.

The Daily Record, Editorial, Call this ruling a flagrant foul

An appeals court in Albany ruled last week that the state can forcefully evict homeowners and businesses who have the misfortune of occupying the section of Brooklyn where an arena for the Nets is proposed to be built. In short, they are in the way.

The locale makes no difference; this is a total abuse of power by the state. Let the state buy the property without holding the hammer of condemnation. If there are unwilling sellers, offer them more money or make other plans.
...

Eminent domain should be used to build highways and schools, not arenas for pro basketball teams.

The Lonely Conservative, So much for property rights in New York

Basically, the powers-that-be in New York can now label whatever property they want as blighted and hand it over to private developers. So much for property rights in New York.

Librarian's Muse, The 2009-2010 edition of the United States Government Manual

Almost every Brooklynite you talk to has a fairly strong opinion about the Atlantic Yards project. Many shudder to think about the traffic and congestion that might beset downtown Brooklyn after the mammoth project that includes an arena is up and running—and the Nets are over there, possibly losing games by the dozens (not to mention the displacement of many local residents). Others like the thought of the borough reclaiming its place as major-league in its own right, separate and apart from its flashier brother just to the west. In any event, the New York state Court of Appeals handed down its long-awaited ruling on the project November 24, holding it lawful for a state economic development agency to seize private land to build an arena.

New York Zoning and Municipal Law Blog, New York Court Of Appeals Upholds "Atlantic Yards" Condemnation

In a major decision, the New York Court of Appeals put a new gloss on the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL) allowing the condemnation by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) of the so called "Atlantic Yards" area of Brooklyn to proceed.

New Jersey Condemnation Law, NY Court of Appeals Deals Blow to Property Owners In Atlantic Yards Case

The Court also refused to interfere with what qualifies as blight, even though it recognized that the bar may now be set too low as to what constitutes “blight.” However, the Court held that any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts. The Court identified the only situation where it could interfere with a legislative blight determination – where the physical conditions of an area are such that it would be “irrational and baseless” to call it substandard or insanitary, but held that those conditions did not exist in Atlantic Yards.

Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

The atrocity that is Empire State Plaza

Althouse

Is it any wonder that politicians and judges in Albany just don't get it? Check this out:

You're walking in a neighborhood of 19th century townhouses...

... and you run smack into this:

New York spent $2 billion to demolish 98 acres of 19th century buildings, displacing 9,000 human beings, in order to build a sickeningly ugly collection of government buildings. Is there a worse architectural crime in the history of the world? I'm sure there must be, but...

Commenter From Inwood cites Atlantic Yards in the following:

Michael Hasenstab said at 8:59...

Governments do the sorts of horrible things to neighborhoods that they would never allow a private developer to do.

Alas, not so when the private developer is a friend & contributor.

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Posted by eric at 10:05 AM

N.Y., learn from New London: It offers a critical cautionary tale on the use of eminent domain

NY Daily News
by Richard Lipsky

Ah, the irony — pro-Atlantic Yards lobbyist Richard Lipsky op-editorializing in the Daily News about New York needing to exercise restraint in its use of eminent domain. "Brutally weird," to borrow Norman Oder's favorite phrase.

While he shilled for Ratner, Lipsky has been on the right side of eminent domain fights at Willets Point and Columbia University, representing property owners. Which would seem to indicate that Mr. Lipsky's point of view adheres closely to the sources of his paychecks.

There were two major developments in the use of eminent domain this month. Now the question is which of the two will be more influential in determining the future use of this controversial power in New York.

The first landmark was the shocking decision that the Pfizer drug company was abandoning New London, Conn., taking 1,400 jobs with it. This came just over five years after the pharmaceutical giant was being hailed as the linchpin of a new economic development project that would revitalize the financially strapped town. In that effort, Pfizer and New London were aided and abetted by the use of eminent domain to force evictions of home owners and small businesses, including one named "Kelo," who unsuccessfully fought them all the way up to the Supreme Court.

As a result of the deal's collapse this month, the city is now not only stuck with a huge vacant parcel, but a $78 million bill for all of its wasted efforts.

The second development was last week's 6-to-1 ruling by New York State's highest court throwing out a lawsuit against the Atlantic Yards development and strengthening the state's hand to condemn swaths of land as blight and initiate eminent domain proceedings here. This will likely pave the way for the start of that long delayed mega-project - and more broadly, city and state officials will no doubt be emboldened, taking the court decision as their cue to employ the power ever more aggressively.

Rather than running with their court-blessed authority to condemn and take property, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson should instead be looking to the Pfizer-Kelo mess. It offers a much more relevant real-world warning on the dangers of zealous use of the eminent domain authority.

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Related coverage...

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance, Willets Point: Empty Lots of Questions

...wherein Richard Lipsky, property rights crusader, explains why eminent domain is okay when it's used for his client, but not when it might be used against his client.

Now, we have always been cautious in our position on eminent domain-and have supported the Atlantic Yards development for a number of clearly stated reasons while, at the same time, representing Forest City Ratner, the project's developer. We believe that, in certain cases, it can be a legitimate tool for development. The case of Willets Point is not one of those times where ED makes either fiscal or public policy sense. It is too large, too costly, and way too speculative-particularly in these very scary economic times; as New London could tell you.

Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

November 29, 2009

Woodbridge eyes financially troubled Colonia Country Club

The Star-Ledger
by Brent Johnson

Who! Who ever heard of a municipality using eminent domain to stop developers from building something where open space now lies?

Woodbridge officials are looking to buy the financially troubled Colonia Country Club and turn it into a public golf course — an effort to ward off private developers from building on the 104-acre site.

Mayor John McCormac said today the town would even go as far as using eminent domain to acquire the 110-year-old club, which he called one of the last sizeable open space tracts in the state’s sixth-largest municipality. Golf courses are considered open space in New Jersey.

“We don’t want anything to do with development there,” McCormac said.

article

NoLandGrab: New Jersey is rapidly building a much better record on eminent domain issues than its neighbor across the Hudson, where condemnation appears to be okay for just about anything.

Posted by eric at 1:50 PM

Kelly: Nets, 1, residents of Atlantic Yards, 0

The Record
By Mike Kelly

You might expect that coverage of the Atlantic Yards fight from New Jersey would focus only on the possibility of the Nets leaving New Jersey. This piece shows understanding, largely lacking in New York media, that this subterfuge would have on Brooklyn.

The Nets saga is one of those stories that we all need to pay attention to. This is not just about a sports team looking for a place to settle down. This is what happens when political schemes are blended with pie-in-the-sky development deals.

Six years ago, the Nets were actually a winning basketball team. Then, New York developer Bruce Ratner slapped together a deal to buy the Nets. As part of his plan, he would move the team to Brooklyn – to a brand new arena, designed by a famous architect.

...

But that was not all. This new arena would be the centerpiece of a 20-acre development of offices and homes – homes for firefighters, teachers and other middle class residents. And one more thing: a neighborhood, known as Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, would be cleansed of decay. Urban renewal, by a private developer, for profit. How nice.

When people looked closer, they discovered a few things had to be moved in Brooklyn. The first was a railroad yard. The second: people’s homes.

Ratner liked to routinely refer to Atlantic Yards as “blighted.” But it turns out that people lived there – and they did not see their neighborhood the way

...

In a 6-1 ruling, New York’s Court of Appeals essentially said that a government does not have to announce that it needs private property to widen a highway or to expand a school. A government can now give its blessing to a private developer like Ratner and his plans to throw people out of their homes so he can build something that will earn him a profit.

...

Now the Nets play in the Meadowlands Izod Center with far too many empty seats. And outside the Izod Center sits that empty hulk of a failed project known as Xanadu, yet another blending of political dreams with developer schemes.

There is a lesson here, of course – to keep developers far from politics. But it will take a while for that lesson to sink in.

Meanwhile, the Nets are losing. And in Brooklyn, people may lose their homes. This is supposed to be progress.

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Posted by steve at 9:05 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Below are some examples of the outrage generated by last Tuesday's ruling by the New York State Appellate Court.

Tracy Walters Blog, Another blow to private property rights

Yes, you read that right. Ratner will be partially financing the private venture on government-seized land with a tax-exempt bond issue, placing the basketball arena on equal cost of capital footing with public road projects, school construction, public utility projects and ...well you get the picture.

The 60-page decision, which can be read here, hinged on the determination that the Atlanta Yards real estate in question was blighted. The Atlantic Yards Report blog uses a quote by libertarian law professor Ilya Somin to expose the shaky foundation of this decision:

To get around this problem, the Court held that “blight” alleviation is not limited to “‘slums’ as that term was formerly applied, and that, among other things, economic underdevelopment and stagnation are also threats to the public sufficient to make their removal cognizable as a public purpose” (pp. 15–16, quoting a 1975 decision).

Obviously, virtually any area occasionally suffers from “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation” and therefore could potentially be condemned under this rationale. Moreover, even under this expansive definition of blight, the decision states that courts can only strike down a condemnation if “there is no room for reasonable difference of opinion as to whether an area is blighted.” With respect to any neighborhood, there is nearly always “room for reasonable difference of opinion” as to whether the area is “underdeveloped” relative to some possible alternative uses of the land in question. Defining blight this broadly and then deferring to the government’s determination of whether such “blight” actually exists effectively reads the public use restriction out of the state constitution. (emphasis mine)

The public use restriction of the New York eminent domain statute is easily circumvented by the determination that the real estate in question is "blighted" and therefore presents a hazard or nuisance to the public.

If this flimsy justification for government seizure of private property becomes the uncontested law of the land, we can certainly expect exponential increases in such seizures during times of economic recession, high residential and commercial foreclosure rates, and high unemployment. Like we have now.

Viewpoints of a Sagittarian, New York State Rules in Favor of Bloomberg/ACORN Buddy on Atlantic Rail Yards Project – Eminent Domain – Brooklynites to Lose Their Homes, Businesses and Jobs

Bloomberg from day one supported Ratner, his real estate buddy, in his quest to evict tens of thousands of Brooklynites from their homes and businesses in order to make way for a new development that would include a stadium for the New Jersey Nets.

During the past several years, Brooklynites in an effort to keep their homes, jobs and businesses were at odds with the government, Bloomberg, Ratner and anyone else who supported this development. Some businesses and homeowners took the deals offered while others chose to stay put.

...

Furthermore, this ruling and project is another example that the government is disconnected. Earlier this week, sold out by its government, Americans lost a major battle to corporate interests and big money.

The Proud Profiteer, Imminent Domain

If you truly think there are property rights left in America, you sure must have your head firmly in ground or up your a**. Here is the most recent example of the government taking property from the little guy to give it to their rich buddies. Oh yeah, and these just so happen to be liberals, who claim the love the poor and the down trodden.

...

Not only does the government take your property whenever it feels like, for whatever reason it feels like, try to not pay your property taxes and see if you really own your property. Property taxes have turned us all into renters. You have to pay the local government your yearly rental fee, which they raise periodically just like all landlords. If you don’t pay, they evict you and take back the property. Then they sell the property to some one else who is under the illusion that they own the property.

So, basically you only have “rights” to the property until the government decides you no longer have the right. You can fool yourself all you want, but really eminent domain has turned into imminent domain.

Posted by steve at 8:45 AM

November 28, 2009

Property Owners Get Dunked On - Another victory for the powerful over property rights.

The Wall Street Journal

Supporters of the proposed Atlantic Yards project have tried to justify this land grab by Bruce Ratner by trumpeting the developer's claims for public benefits to come. This opinion piece shows an understanding of just who the real beneficiary of the development would be.

Such unabashed takings have an unfortunate history in New York state, where the political class has a habit of using its powers on behalf of well-connected private interests. Caught under the wheels are average citizens whose only recourse is to try to defend their property rights in court.

So much for that. In allowing the property seizure, the Court of Appeals dodged some of the central challenges to the condemnation, including whether the Empire State Development Corporation's designation of blight in the Atlantic Yards area was applied after the stadium project had already been planned, making it a "pretext." Nor did the court take on the question—at the heart of eminent domain law since Kelo—whether economic development may be considered a public use under the New York Constitution.

Instead, the majority argued that because the state had designated the area as blighted, the takings were therefore a "public use," and it was not the place of the court to interfere. Nevermind that the determination of blight was based largely on a study funded by . . . the aspiring developer.

Courts in New York have been famously hostile to eminent domain challenges, but 43 states have adjusted their laws since Kelo to provide stronger protections for property owners. The New York ruling vindicates Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's prediction in dissent in Kelo that "the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms." Q.E.D.

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Posted by steve at 6:08 AM

Atlantic Yards Decision Blow To Private Property Rights In New York

Islandlaw Constitutional Rights Pages

The definition of blight, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, is “Something that frustrates plans or hopes, …or something that impairs and destroys.” Both of these definitions could be used to describe the impact of this week’s Court of Appeals decision upon private property rights in New York State. Chief Judge Lippman wrote a detailed,12 page decision in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation that can be summed up in one sentence: Blight means anything the New York State Development Corporation says it means.

With this decision, New York has given the green light to private developers to try to take private property from its citizens, so long as enough money is funneled into local politician’s hands to get approvals. That’s because the Court has decided that these takings are legal if the municipal entity determines that the property is in an area that suffers from economic “blight.” Mr. Goldstein’s condo is worth about half a million bucks, a veritable slum in the eyes of the New York Court of Appeals.

...

It is especially troubling to me that the Court rubber stamped a decision made by the New York State Urban Development Corporation. This corporation is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, a public authority of the State of New York. Its powers are practically limitless, and include the power to issue bonds, grant tax abatements, ignore zoning laws, and, of course, condemn land and seize property. What makes this more scary is that The Empire State Development Corporation doesn’t have a great track record in overseeing its subsidiaries.

If the State’s highest court refuses to check the power of this Leviathan, who will?

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NoLandGrab: Stay tuned to see how pending and new legal challenges will affect the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by steve at 6:02 AM

On the Beat - Move to Brooklyn a Step Closer for Nets

Basketball Proespectus
by John Perrotto

This item noting this week's Court of Appeals ruling notable as it quotes developer Bruce Ratner stating his committment to the proposed Atlantic Yards project even as he unloads the New Jersey Nets.

The Nets’ proposed move from New Jersey to Brooklyn took a big step forward earlier this week when the New York State Court of Appeals voted 6-1 to uphold the state’s right to use eminent domain to remove residents and businesses that held out and tried to remain at the Atlantic Yards site. The project involves an arena for the Nets, which officials are hoping opens in time for the start of the 2011-12 season.

“Once again the courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire city,” said Nets owner Bruce Ratner, who is in the process of selling a controlling interest in the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. “Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago.”

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Posted by steve at 5:55 AM

November 27, 2009

A Net gain for Brooklyn: High court did right by the city in Atlantic Yards lawsuit

NY Daily News, Editorial

Here's a surprise — a Daily News editorial full of untruths and half-truths in the wake of a pro-Atlantic Yards court decision.

The state's highest court has given a crucial go-ahead to plans to build a pro basketball arena and a major housing development at one of Brooklyn's great crossroads. Good for the judges. Good for New York.

There is much to like in the Court of Appeals decision regarding the Atlantic Yards project, starting with new hopes that the Nets will have a home in the city for the 2011 season and that thousands of apartments will rise on land that has been fallow for more than four decades.

By a 6-to-1 vote, the court dealt a small band of opponents a 26th straight defeat in their legal war of attrition against a project that grew only more critical as a jobs producer with the economic downturn. Hats off to developer Bruce Ratner for persevering through six years worth of regulatory approvals and lawsuits.

"Small band of opponents?" Hardly. Opposition to the Atlantic Yards project runs wide and deep. Small band of plaintiffs would be more accurate, since most of the hundreds of footprint occupants had been scared off long ago by the threat of eminent domain, bought off with taxpayer-subsidized payments that were actually below market value when the state zoning override is factored in.

It is to New York's shame that moving even the worthiest projects off the drawing boards is so difficult in a town that prides itself on getting big things done. All you need are some chanting pickets and a stack of summonses.

A worthy project wouldn't have drawn protests or lawsuits. What's worthy about building a heavily subsidized and unneeded arena while sucking scarce housing funding away from more cost-effective projects, and diverting hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in city and state funds from more important uses?

On the upside, the court rendered expeditious judgment, positioning Ratner to meet a year-end deadline for financing the start of construction and - even more important - established a wise standard for the use of eminent domain in New York State.

"Wise?" ROTFLOAO.

Lawyers for a handful of property owners - among the few who have not sold to Ratner at handsome prices - had asked the court for nothing less than a radical reinterpretation of the state Constitution. Many feared the panel would take an aggressively activist approach in keeping with a recent tendency to flex its judicial muscle.

Actually, the property owners were asking the court to rein in the radical expansion, over several decades, in the interpretation of what's fair game for eminent domain, from "public use" to "public benefit" to whatever the hell developers and politicians want.

Didn't happen. The panel declined to repudiate the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision, upholding the taking of a Connecticut home to make way for a now-abandoned commercial development.

Instead, the majority threaded a fine needle. It affirmed that New York may take property by eminent domain only for public use - except when an area has been deemed to be blighted. The court also established that it would not second-guess a blight finding that was reasonable.

"A fine needle" through which Bruce Ratner could drive a truck. Blight is apparently whatever the Empire State Development Corporation wants it to be. The court's decision makes just about any property in New York State vulnerable to condemnation.

The Atlantic Yards zone, at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Aves., fit the blight definition well beyond reason.

With the small exception of a slice occupied by the complaining property owners, the tract has been a designated urban renewal area since 1968 and has stood vacant for all that time. Much of it is occupied by a below-grade cut for the Long Island Rail Road.

Bullshit. Only the railyard portion of the site, which constitutes little more than a third of the footprint, was part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area. While it may not be attractive, it's a working railyard, crucial to the metropolitan area's public transit system. And if it is shoddy looking, it's only because the state itself failed to maintain it properly. The "slice" occupied by living, breathing, productive taxpaying citizens is actually the majority of the site. And if by "vacant" the Daily News means occupied by a critical piece of public infrastructure and homes and businesses undergoing organic redevelopment, then they're absolutely right. If that's not what they mean, they're lying.

Now, if New York is lucky, Ratner will get to work on the arena, perhaps to be home court for Lebron James (we can dream), followed by 6,000 residential units - a third of them affordable - and 8 acres of open space. The public interest has been served.

It'll take a lot more than luck for any of that to happen. And the fact is, the public interest has been screwed.

link

NoLandGrab: Once again, we have to ask — if the Atlantic Yards project is so great, why not just tell the truth about it?

Posted by eric at 1:06 PM

Atlantic Yards site "blighted"? Some "reasonable difference of opinion"

Atlantic Yards Report

Last week's high court ruling has just set the bar impossibly high for New York homeowners and businesses to defend their property rights against eminent domain.

Libertarian law professor Ilya Somin calls the Atlantic Yards eminent domain decision "the first major state supreme court defeat for property rights on a public use issue since" the controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision (2005) in Kelo v. New London, in which state courts and legislatures were invited to draw on local conditions to narrow the use of eminent domain.

Somin wasn't surprised, given New York's history of court deference to agencies such as the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the successful defendant in this case. He writes:

To get around this problem, the Court held that “blight” alleviation is not limited to “‘slums’ as that term was formerly applied, and that, among other things, economic underdevelopment and stagnation are also threats to the public sufficient to make their removal cognizable as a public purpose” (pp. 15–16, quoting a 1975 decision).

Obviously, virtually any area occasionally suffers from “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation” and therefore could potentially be condemned under this rationale. Moreover, even under this expansive definition of blight, the decision states that courts can only strike down a condemnation if “there is no room for reasonable difference of opinion as to whether an area is blighted.” With respect to any neighborhood, there is nearly always “room for reasonable difference of opinion” as to whether the area is “underdeveloped” relative to some possible alternative uses of the land in question. Defining blight this broadly and then deferring to the government’s determination of whether such “blight” actually exists effectively reads the public use restriction out of the state constitution.

That's essentially what Judge Robert Smith said in his dissent, as well.

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Posted by lumi at 5:18 AM

November 26, 2009

Did Atlantic Yards Ruling Pass the Buck on 'Blight'?

Runnin' Scared
by Elizabeth Dwoskin

Tuesday's Atlantic Yards decision, in which New York's highest court upheld the right of the state to seize private property on behalf of a mega-developer, will doubtlessly impact the lives of thousands of Brooklyn residents and be discussed for years to come.

But the court backed off from a central question: Whether the site in downtown Brooklyn is truly "blighted."

In many ways, the entire case boils down to that loosely-defined word.
...

In order to make the case that the project would have a legitimate public use -- a necessary criterion for granting eminent domain -- Ratner and ESDC had to convince the court that the area was blighted. (The local residents who brought the lawsuit argued that, while much of the area is underutilized, their section of it is actually a very pleasant place to live.)

Blight studies have been disputed in other New York eminent domain cases -- like the lawsuit brought over Columbia University's contentious Manhattanville expansion project -- on the grounds that they have been financed by developers with a stake in their results.

Since the Atlantic Yards case hinged on the blight question, one would expect the Court of Appeals to have debated the questions of whether the area was actually in decay. But the majority decision, at least, brushed it off.
...

The lone dissenter in the case, Judge Smith, took on the blight issue directly, and claimed his colleagues were sidestepping the issue.

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Posted by eric at 11:32 AM

Atlantic Yards Freedom-Fighters Dealt Blow In Court

Ground Report
By Richard Cooper

A local Libertarian gives his take on this week's high court ruling and calls for a statewide revolution.

The Court used a very sweeping definition of blight to include virtually anything. "Economic underdevelopment and stagnation" are highly ambiguous.

I cannot say that I am suprised by this unwelcome development favoring corporate welfare and eminent domain. New York's eminent domain statute is virtually capital punishment for property owners.

link

Fox News, Still Think a Man's Home Is His Castle?

According to Glenn Beck, this Thanksgiving, Brooklyn is the new New London.

The homeowners don't want to sell and the Transit Authority has a rail yard there that they don't want to move. So what does the well-connected real estate tycoon do? He goes to the government. And voila: New York's Court of Appeals upheld the state's use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

Let me tell you about the last time this happened. You may remember the name Suzette Kelo. She was a homeowner in New London, Connecticut.

NoLandGrab: Actually, the railyard IS temporarily being moved, to another section of the MTA's property. According to the justices' ruling, the "mild conditions of urban blight" were "principally attributable" to the State-owned railyard, which justifies the State's use of eminent domain.

CoStar Group, NY Court: $5 Bil. Atlantic Yards Project Can Proceed

Of course, if you're a developer, yesterday's decision marks the forwards march of progress:

"We're gratified that today's ruling has once again affirmed the significant public benefit of the Atlantic Yards project," said Forest City Enterprises Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Charles A. Ratner in a statement. "Brooklyn and the entire City of New York will benefit from the substantial job creation, tax revenues and revitalization that this project will generate.

"This is an important day for Atlantic Yards," Ratner added. "While the economic outlook remains challenging and there are still hurdles to overcome, we are moving ahead with confidence and are fully committed to this great project."

Posted by lumi at 8:25 AM

November 25, 2009

New York Court of Appeals Upholds Atlantic Yards Condemnations

The Volokh Conspiracy
by Ilya Somin

This outcome is not surprising. As I explained in this post, where I predicted the result, New York courts are among the most hostile to property rights of any in the country. New York is also one of only seven states that hasn’t enacted eminent domain reform of any kind since the federal Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision upholding “economic development” condemnations in Kelo v. City of New London.

Significantly the Court concluded that the property in question could be condemned because it is “blighted” and blight alleviation is a “public use” recognized by the New York Constitution, thanks to a constitutional amendment allowing the condemnation of slum areas. This despite the fact that it is very far from being a slum of any kind, and much of it is actually middle or lower middle class housing. Indeed, the opinion itself notes (pg. 14) that the Atlantic Yards area “do[e]s not begin to approach in severity the dire circumstances of urban slum dwelling” that led to the enactment of the blight amendment. To get around this problem, the Court held that “blight” alleviation is not limited to “‘slums’ as that term was formerly applied, and that, among other things, economic underdevelopment and stagnation are also threats to the public sufficient to make their removal cognizable as a public purpose” (pp. 15–16, quoting a 1975 decision).

Obviously, virtually any area occasionally suffers from “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation” and therefore could potentially be condemned under this rationale. Moreover, even under this expansive definition of blight, the decision states that courts can only strike down a condemnation if “there is no room for reasonable difference of opinion as to whether an area is blighted.” With respect to any neighborhood, there is nearly always “room for reasonable difference of opinion” as to whether the area is “underdeveloped” relative to some possible alternative uses of the land in question. Defining blight this broadly and then deferring to the government’s determination of whether such “blight” actually exists effectively reads the public use restriction out of the state constitution. I highly doubt that New York state constitutional amendment allowing condemnation of “substandard and insanitary areas” (Article XVIII, Section 1 here) would have passed had it been understood to mean that virtually any area could be declared blighted and condemned. As with most other blight condemnation laws, the amendment was sold to the public as a tool for eliminating “slums” (a point the majority concedes).

Allowing government agencies to declare virtually any area “blighted” and then condemn it at will is an abdication of judicial responsibility to protect constitutional property rights.

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Posted by eric at 6:52 PM

Statement by NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery on Eminent Domain Ruling

Via Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Today’s Court of Appeals decision is a defeat for every property owner in the great State of New York. In finding against the plaintiffs in this landmark case, where citizens bravely persevered in the face of a state agency determined to seize their land for a misbegotten private development—the Atlantic Yards—the Court of Appeals has refused to allow New York State to join the overwhelming number of States which have clarified their eminent domain requirements in the wake of the controversial Kelo decision. New York State will continue to enable the land grab dreams of private developers. Eminent domain will not be limited to a sane, common sense definition of “public benefit” and “public use;” schools, roads, hospitals; it will instead mean whatever serves the developer of the moment, including luxury housing and a sports facility.

I thank the Court of Appeals for their considered deliberations, but I mourn their decision, and I thank my constituents for bringing this suit and fighting for all of us. I share their disappointment, but also their determination that this abuse will continue to be challenged in the courts until sanity and justice are achieved. The fight against Atlantic Yards goes on!

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Posted by eric at 6:47 PM

Brooklyn couple wants Gov. Paterson to stop Ratner's eminent domain win

NY Daily News
by Juan Gonzalez

For the past six years, a perfectly habitable eight-story condo building has stood virtually empty on Pacific St. in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights.

Only one of the building's 31 apartments has been occupied in that time - this in a city with thousands of homeless people and tens of thousands of families doubled up in overcrowded housing.

That lone unit is the home of Dan Goldstein, a thin, 40-year-old graphic designer who has become a hero of this country's property rights movement.

Ever since 2003, Goldstein has doggedly resisted efforts by City Hall, the state government and one of the biggest real estate developers in New York, Bruce Ratner, to seize his home through eminent domain for a huge private development project.
...

They spoke only hours after the Court of Appeals rejected a suit to halt the project. Some rushed to claim the fight is over, that Ratner has won. Goldstein said he was disappointed, but not about to give up.

Several suits remain, and officials have to go through hearings before they can get a court order to seize properties.

"When Gov. Paterson was a state senator, he called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain," Goldstein said yesterday. "We're calling on the governor now to stand by his words."

article

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, In column on Goldstein's fight, Daily News's Gonzalez suggests "a slew of politicians" has joined DDDB

From Juan Gonzalez's column in today's New York Daily News about Daniel Goldstein (lead Atlantic Yards plaintiff and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesman) and his family, headlined Brooklyn couple wants Gov. Paterson to stop Ratner's eminent domain win:

But Goldstein is still in his condo, living in that dust-filled building.

Only, Goldstein is no longer alone. Thousands of neighborhood residents and a slew of local politicians have joined the nonprofit group he launched to fight Atlantic Yards. The group, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, has become one of the most effective grass-roots efforts this town has seen in a long time.

It's true that DDDB has become an exemplary grass-roots effort, in significant part to Goldstein and his willingness to organize a media strategy.

Local politicians?

But "a slew of local politicians"? Nah. The only local elected officials that have consistently stood with DDDB are City Council Member Letitia James and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.

Other politicians, including Assemblymen Jim Brennan and Hakeem Jeffries, yesterday expressed dismay and opposition to the eminent domain ruling. But they haven't steadily joined DDDB but instead have often kept a wary distance.

Posted by eric at 1:09 PM

Appeals Court Affirms Eminent Domain for Proposed Brooklyn Stadium

Democracy Now!

And in New York, state officials and developers behind a massive stadium project have won a key legal victory to seize private property from Brooklyn residents. On Tuesday, the court of appeals said the state can use eminent domain to seize land planned for the $4.9 billion dollar Atlantic Yards project. Opponents of eminent domain have argued its unconstitutional and lawmakers have faced calls to curb its use. The group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn says it plans to continue its campaign against the proposed stadium.

[Coverage begins at the 8:22 mark]

link

Posted by eric at 12:14 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: Morning after news roundup

El Diario La Prenza NY, Luz verde a Nets y Atlantic Yards

La máxima corte de Nueva York falló ayer que el estado puede usar la expropiación forzosa contra los propietarios de viviendas y negocios para dar paso a un proyecto de desarrollo masivo en Brooklyn que incluye una nueva cancha de juego para los New Jersey Nets.

The Wall St. Journal, Builders Net Win in N.Y. Case

The decision is a blow to private-property owners who have argued that they are defenseless in protecting their ownership rights once a government deems their land necessary for eminent domain, or the "public good." But it boosts developers and government entities in New York that have sought to boost local economies by offering incentives for private developers.

The court's decision echoes one handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, when the justices found it was constitutional for a New London, Conn., economic-development corporation to seize private homes and businesses to build a research campus for Pfizer Inc. That decision, Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., set off a firestorm of protest, prompting many lawmakers around the country to amend laws to prevent governments from seizing private land in some cases. New York, however, didn't change its constitution.

The article includes a video interview with Stephen Moore from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, explaining why this decision is "an abuse of what the eminent domain process was supposed to be about."

The Star-Ledger, Politi: Court ruling only beginning of what could be very long goodbye to NJ Nets

If you thought this latest court ruling meant New Jersey could say goodbye to the Nets, once and for all, a few words of advice:

Don’t start waving just yet, unless you really want to strengthen those wrist muscles.

This is going to be a looong goodbye — assuming, of course, this is really the end.

The Bergen Record, O'Connor: Ratner a winner in court, a loser on one

[W]hile he pours a bottle of champagne over his own head and throws himself a ticker-tape parade from the New York State Court of Appeals to the dormant cranes lurking outside Izod Center, [Bruce] Ratner should know something about this endless journey he took to his Brooklyn Shangri-La.

He paid a heavy price. Ratner will be remembered as a dreadful sports owner, a legacy he won’t be able to wipe out through the sobering powers of eminent domain.

Metro NY, Nets arena jumps legal hurdle

HoopsWorld, Ratner Can Move Forward

Posted by lumi at 5:51 AM

Atlantic Yards ruling: A blow to Sprayregen?

The Columbia Spectator
By Maggie Astor

NY City is rife with eminent domain abuse. Yesterday's NY State high court eminent domain ruling has implications for other cases, including Columbia University's neighborhood-devouring expansion plan, for which, though it is a "City" project, the State has been brought in to do the dirty deed of condemning private property from owners who refuse to be coerced into selling.

From a legal standpoint, it is substantially similar to the Manhattanville issue, with opponents making many of the same arguments to challenge the legitimacy of eminent domain. Opponents of the Manhattanville project claim it does not constitute “public use” as required under eminent domain law, because Columbia is a private institution; they also dispute the state’s designation of the area as “blighted”—in a condition of economic disrepair beyond the potential for relief by natural market forces—which is another requirement for the invocation of eminent domain. Similarly, opponents of the Atlantic Yards project point to the fact that Ratner is a private developer and question the state’s determination of blight. Columbia officials and Ratner counter that while they are private developers, the projects will provide substantial public benefits.

article

NoLandGrab: The West Harlem case has a leg up on the Brooklyn case, because the plaintiffs have had access to some documents that may back up their view that the project was not motivated by public use. However, the high court in the Brooklyn case ignored many of the petitioners' finer points, which may undermine any legal efforts by NY property owners trying to hold on to their homes and businesses.

Posted by lumi at 5:29 AM

PRESS RELEASE: New York High Court Upholds Eminent Domain for Private Gain

From the Institute for Justice

Arlington, Va.—The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, today announced that it would uphold the decision of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to condemn privately owned homes and small businesses to make way for wealthy developer Bruce Ratner’s so-called “Atlantic Yards” development of 16 mammoth skyscrapers centered around a basketball arena.

“Today’s decision puts homes and businesses throughout New York at risk of condemnation,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “Courts have a duty to look carefully at the government’s claim that it has the right to take someone’s home or business, and the Court of Appeals has simply refused to do that.”

While upholding the taking, the New York court did not go so far as to embrace the United States Supreme Court’s much-maligned reasoning in the 2005 Kelo v. City of New London case, which held that the U.S. Constitution allows governments to condemn property for economic development alone. Instead, the Court found the takings were for a “public use” because of the ESDC’s determination that the area to be condemned was “blighted”—a determination that was based on a study paid for by the would-be developer and not even initiated until years after the Atlantic Yards project was announced.

In a dissent, Judge Robert Smith excoriated the majority for abandoning its duty to critically examine the ESDC’s assertions. “To let the agency itself determine when the public use requirement is satisfied is to make the agency a judge in its own cause,” Judge Smith wrote. “I think that it is we who should perform the role of judges, and that we should do so by deciding that the proposed taking in this case is not for public use.”

“The developer’s study did not find anything a normal person would call ‘blight,’” explained Berliner. “Instead, it found that the neighborhood was ‘underutilized’—in other words, that the developer could think of bigger things that could be built where these homes and businesses are. If that is all that is necessary for condemnation, then literally every piece of property in New York is at risk.”

The majority’s opinion frankly acknowledges that the court may be opening the door to “political appointees to public corporations relying on studies paid for by developers . . . [as] a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses.” But, it says, preventing such abuses is not the job of the courts, advising New Yorkers to look to their legislature to fix any problems.

“New York is one of only seven states that has failed utterly to pass any kind of eminent-domain reform in the wake of the Kelo decision, and today’s opinion will only make things worse,” said IJ Staff Attorney Robert McNamara. “The state courts are looking to the legislature to fix the problem, while the legislature is apparently looking to the courts. And that means more and more New Yorkers will be looking at condemnation notices.”

“Property rights are as sacred to citizens of New York as they are to Americans nationwide, and New Yorkers have rightly looked to their courts to protect those rights,” concluded IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “Today’s opinion should be a clarion call to the state legislature that they cannot avoid this issue any longer. Now is the time to give state residents the reform and protections they desperately need.”

Posted by lumi at 5:03 AM

OFFICIAL STATEMENT: NY State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries

"I am extremely disappointed with the decision of the Court. The power of eminent domain is extraordinary and should only be authorized in limited circumstances where, unlike in this case, there is a clear and robust public benefit. The use of eminent domain to benefit a private developer to build a basketball arena for a team owned by a foreign billionaire is an abuse of this extraordinary power, and I hope that Governor Paterson will choose not to exercise it."

— Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries

Posted by lumi at 4:33 AM

November 24, 2009

Court rules against Goldstein et al.

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

It was a depressing shoot this morning. For the last several days I have been to Dan and Shabnam's early in order to shoot as they waited for the verdict on their community's eminent domain case. The NY State Court of Appeals posts decisions at between 8:30 and 9:30. Dan nervously hit refresh on his mouse for minutes at a time waiting for the decision to get posted. At about 3 minutes after 9 today he yelled out, "It's up!" Moments later he flatly stated, "We lost."

There were no tears or hair pulling- there was work to do- press to talk to and a press conference to hold.

He had a press release ready to go win or lose- and lose went right out.

We didn't start this project with a particular beef against eminent domain. We heard about the project and we were curious and started shooting to find out what was going on. What we found out disturbed us. That sense of disturbance has only grown over the course of our shooting.

On the bright side of things- we have spent 6 years shooting and editing to make sure that this story doesn't go unnoticed. We have an incredible film that will shine a bright light on the situation. We also have an incredible community of friends and supporters who have come together to help us get this film made. We have now reached the 50% mark in our funding goal and we have a week to raise the rest.

If the over 200 people that have helped us out can take a moment to tell a few other people about our project we will reach our goal with plenty of time to spare.

While we were hoping that our main characters would prevail in their lawsuit, not only for their sake- but to bring a quick end to our shooting- we also know that this legal outcome makes the film that much more necessary.

Thanks to everyone for all the support.

link

NoLandGrab: Please help ensure that the story of the Battle of Brooklyn gets told — become a backer of the film today by clicking here.

Posted by eric at 7:02 PM

FAQ on the Court of Appeals decision in the Atlantic Yards case

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder posted an FAQ on today's state high court ruling.

Basically, one justice agreed with the property owners, two didn't even think that the case belonged in the high court, and nearly all of the petitioners' arguments were ignored, i.e.:

  • the "argument that the state didn't perform an (allegedly) required comparison of public and private benefits,"
  • the "gerrymandered" site map,
  • "argument that blight was a pretext because it wasn't mentioned as a justification for the project more than a year after it was announced,

The prize for irony goes to "mild conditions of blight":

From the majority opinion:

The land use improvement plan at issue is not directed at the wholesale eradication of slums, but rather at alleviating relatively mild conditions of urban blight principally attributable to a large and, of course, uninhabited subgrade rail cut.

This raises the question: can't such blight be alleviated in other ways, such as rezoning the land and putting it out for bid?

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NoLandGrab: The ruling found that blight conditions on and caused by State property, comprising of one-third of the project site, is ample justification for the State to use eminent domain? This doesn't even pass the smell test.

Posted by lumi at 6:28 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites! P.M. Edition

NY Observer, Prospect Heights Not Dickensian, Still a Slum

The Court of Appeals is not so impressed with Prospect Heights.

Okay, so it's not as bad as a Dickens' Bleak House, the state's highest court admits, but in a majority opinion issued this morning, six of the judges agreed with the state that the neighborhood is blighted, and that Bruce Ratner should be allowed to take whatever land he needs to build the shinier, happier Atlantic Yards development.

Blight's changed, says the court. The petitioners, led by Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, "are doubtless correct that the conditions...do not begin to approach in severity the dire circumstances of urban slum dwelling described by the Muller court in 1936," wrote Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, but he added, it doesn't have to look like the Great Depression to be blight. Nor does it have to look like any of that pre-Depression blight you might have read about. "Of course, none of the buildings are as noisome or dilapidated as those described in Dickens' novels or Thomas Burke's Limehouse stories of the London slums of other days," the court wrote back in the 1950s--in a quote cited by the court.
...

Meanwhile, on Craig's List, Prospect Height remains "a wonderful sought after area."

Daily Intel, High Court Gives the Go-ahead to Atlantic Yards Seizures

Obviously, some complex constitutional and legal issues were the main concern here, but we wonder whether the court took into consideration that maybe nobody wants to watch the dismal 0–13 Nets play basketball, anyway.

The Local [Fort Greene/Clinton Hill], Top Court Upholds Eminent Domain for Atlantic Yards

In its 48-page opinion, the court held that the suit by Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and other property owners should be dismissed because it was filed too late — more than 30 days after the Empire State Development Corporation’s “determination and findings” in favor of the developer, Forest City Ratner.

The court took a jaundiced view of the barrage of lawsuits — at least eight since January 2006 — filed against the project: “What has happened in this case is precisely the result that the Legislature sought to prevent when it enacted the Eminent Domain Procedure Law,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote — “the sidelining of a public project on account of prolonged litigation.”

Reason Hit & Run, “The majority is much too deferential to the self-serving determination by Empire State Development Corporation”

Not only does this disastrous 6-1 decision put every property holder in the state at risk, it represents the court’s utter failure to serve as an independent tribunal of justice. Rather than judging the facts and, if necessary, voiding an illegal state action, the court punted, arguing that determining whether or not the properties in question were actually blighted—as New York dubiously asserts—is not “primarily a judicial exercise.”
...

It's a sad day for the New York judiciary when six of the state's seven highest judges can't be bothered to do their basic constitutional duty.

Brownstoner, BREAKING: Goldstein et al Lose Eminent Domain Lawsuit

The ruling means that Ratner may proceed with the sale of tax-exempt bonds to finance the sports arena that is scheduled to be the first stage of the gigantic development. The construction of both affordable and market-rate housing is supposed to begin with months of the arena, but as The New York Times points out this morning, "with so many new apartments sitting vacant, analysts say it could be many years before demand will justify building so many units in one neighborhood."

NBC New York, The Nets Actually Pick Up a Win (In Court)

The Nets may have lost all 13 games they've played so far this season, but they picked up the only kind of court victory they actually care about on Tuesday. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the the state can use eminent domain to force tenants out of buildings slated to be used as part of the Atlantic Yards project designed to build the team an arena in downtown Brooklyn.
...

But those individual battles won't necessarily decide the entire war. The Nets still need to issue tax-exempt bonds before the end of the year to actually get started with construction, and the project's adversaries are still using a four-corner offense, to use basketball parlance, to delay things past that point.

Land Use Prof Blog, Atlantic Yards Wins

Not a great shocker in the result, considering NY's state court precedent on eminent domain, and the fact that New York is one of the only states without any sort of post-Kelo law (purporting) to restrict economic development takings (again, see Ilya Somin's critique of post-Kelo reform attempts). However, this is another high-profile eminent domain case in the books to annoy takings opponents. It may have an effect on public opinion and the feasibility of future large-scale redevelopment projects that require delegation of the government's eminent domain power for private land assembly. Will it add to the impact of the Pfizer pullout in establishing, as the NY Times suggested, a turning point for eminent domain? New London, like Poletown, was a project that may have been doomed from the start. Atlantic Yards is a similar pie-in-the-sky comprehensive redevelopment project, but perhaps it has a better economic foundation, with participation of a major-league sports franchise and its location in the hip borough of Brooklyn. If it fails, it will surely add to the arguments against economic development takings. If it succeeds, it will probably just egg developers on.

If it does proceed, for the sake of Brooklyn I hope that Atlantic Yards will turn out better than New London.

The Volokh Conspiracy, New York Court of Appeals Upholds Atlantic Yards Condemnations

[T]he decision states that courts can only strike down a condemnation if “there is no room for reasonable difference of opinion as to whether an area is blighted.” With respect to any neighborhood, there is nearly always “room for reasonable difference of opinion” as to whether the area is “underdeveloped” relative to some possible alternative uses of the land in question. Defining blight this broadly and then deferring to the government’s determination of whether such “blight” actually exists effectively reads the public use restriction out of the state constitution. I highly doubt that New York state constitutional amendment allowing condemnation of “substandard and insanitary areas” (Article XVIII, Section 1 here) would have passed had it been understood to mean that virtually any area could be declared blighted and condemned.
...
The case is also significant because it is the first major state supreme court defeat for property rights on a public use issue since Kelo. Over the last 10 years, the tide had been going the other way, with more and more state high courts applying restrictive definitions of “public use” and forbidding economic development takings of the kind upheld in Kelo, including important decisions in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Michigan, among others.

NetsDaily, Court of Appeals Permits Condemnation for Barclays Center

In a 6-1 decision, the New York Court of Appeals has turned down critics’ arguments that the state’s Empire State Development Corp. violated New York’s constitution in pursuing eminent domain to acquire land for Atlantic Yards, including Barclays Center. The ruling means the ESDC will now be free to begin condemnation proceedings against landowners. There is no appeal to the US Supreme Court.

NBC New York, Latest Legal Obstacle at Atlantic Yards Project Cleared

"They have won round one, and we still have round two to go," Brinckerhoff said. "I think everybody believes that they need to do a number of things by the end of the year, and where exactly this fits into that process I'm not sure. But the fact that they haven't yet taken the properties can't be helping them."

Dome Pondering, Taking Care of The Real People That Build These Stadiums

I understand the power of sport and business. I definitely do.

However, sports are just an avenue of entertainment and enjoyment. A mere means of theatrics, thrill, and emotion that remove us from the on-going struggle of everyday life. Sports, however, are in no way an essential part of life.

Even as an admitted fanatic of the New York Yankees and New York Knicks, I understand that as rich in history as the two franchises and their two home facilities in Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden are (or have been), they are not as important as the important things in life. They are not as important as life.

With that understanding, is why I cannot understand the constant movement for the Atlantic Yards project here in Brooklyn, NY.
...

With all of the perks and benfits now reduced to just a basketball and event arena, is this project even worth it?

Orange Juice, Major Court Ruling Property rights decision...Atlantic Yards

What a sad property rights update two days before Thanksgiving.

We just celebrated Veterans Day to honor those patriotic Americans, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom abroad while we are losing it right in our own back yards.

Government agencies using their “police powers” of eminent domain to take our homes and businesses when we have no desire to sell.

The AM Law Litigation Daily, New York High Court Dismisses Eminent Domain Challenge to Atlantic Yards Complex

Is there a more contentious development project in the United States than the proposed $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards housing-stadium-office mexa-plex near downtown Brooklyn?

Posted by eric at 6:11 PM

FOREST CITY RATNER PRESS RELEASE: FCRC Statement on NYS Court of Appeals Ruling on Eminent Domain Lawsuit Filed by Opponents of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn

Courts Again Side with Atlantic Yards: Jobs and Affordable Housing to Come to Brooklyn

BROOKLYN, NY—Bruce Ratner, CEO and Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, issued the following statement today regarding the NYS Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

The Court's ruling upholds the State’s right to use eminent domain given the public benefits associated with the Atlantic Yards Development in Brooklyn.

“Once again the courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire City,” Mr. Ratner said. “Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago. Today, however, this project is even more important given the need for jobs and economic development.”

Mr. Ratner said construction activity on the yards will continue, with the intent that the Nets will play ball in the Barclays Center in the 2011-2012 NBA Season.

In addition to Barclays, which has the exclusive naming rights, eight companies have signed on as founding partners for the arena.

The courts have ruled consistently in favor of the development. Mr. Ratner explained as well that the arena and larger development are expected to create 16,924 union construction jobs and over 8,000 permanent jobs. The tax revenues that will be generated for the City and State during the construction period are expected to exceed $240 million and after construction reach approximately $70 million a year.

NoLandGrab: 8,000 permanent jobs?! That number is only inflated about three times over from the latest plan, and without the proposed office tower — Ratner himself asked a Crain's reporter a few weeks ago "can you tell me when we are going to need a new office tower?" — the true number is likely fewer than 1,000.

Posted by eric at 2:50 PM

EMINENT DOMAINIA: The Big Apple Bites!

Here's a round-up of stories from the mainstream media and blogosphere pertaining to this morning's New York State Court of Appeals ruling on the permissibility of eminent domain for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

The New York Times, Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn Clears Legal Hurdle

The last major obstacle to a groundbreaking for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn fell Tuesday when New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, dismissed a challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain on behalf of the developer, Bruce C. Ratner.

Mr. Ratner, whose 22-acre development has been delayed for three years by a flurry of lawsuits, the collapse of the credit and real estate markets and a glut of luxury housing, plans to begin selling tax-free bonds next month to finance the development’s cornerstone project: an 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues near downtown.
...

If construction begins in the coming weeks as expected, Atlantic Yards will stand out in a city where 530 different construction projects are stalled, sitting lifeless and without adequate financing in virtually every neighborhood.

NY Observer, Atlantic Yards Passes State’s Top Court

More than three years after a legal battle over property takings in Brooklyn began, it's now come to a close.
...

Now the state, at the request of the project's developer, Forest City Ratner, is likely to move forward on acquiring the property of the holdout landowners and tenants, a relatively small handful of individuals who have been waging this legal fight since 2006. The takings, and the project as a whole, depend on Forest City hit Dec. 31 deadline to get financing for the arena.
...

New York is one of just a handful of states that did not add restrictions to the use of eminent domain after the Kelo v. New London case of 2005. That case has made the news once again recently, as Pfizer, which built a facility in New London, Ct. that helped spur the city's use of eminent domain, is pulling out of the area. A large development site near the drug giant's facility still sits vacant.

WNYC Radio, Top Court Upholds Use of Eminent Domain on Atlantic Yards Project

In a 6-to-1 decision handed down this morning, the Court of Appeals ruled against property owners and businesses in the development's footprint in Brooklyn. A majority of the judges said that the area was sufficiently blighted to justify the state's use of eminent domain.
...

One judge, Robert Smith, dissented, arguing that blight was never a "bona fide purpose" for the development but instead a justification invented after the project was conceived.

The Brooklyn Paper, Rejection! State’s highest court turns aside anti-Yards case

The Court of Appeals ruling, written by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and joined by five colleagues, affirmed that the state’s use of its condemnation power to clear land on behalf of a private developer, is “in conformity with certain provisions of our State Constitution.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Talkin’ Takings, Part I: The Atlantic Yards Decision

Almost every Brooklynite you talk to has a fairly strong opinion about the Atlantic Yards project. Many shudder to think about the traffic and congestion that might beset downtown Brooklyn after all is up and running — and the Nets are over there, possibly losing games by the dozens (not to mention the displacement of many local residents). Others like the thought of the borough reclaiming is place as major-league in its own right, separate and apart from its flashier brother just to the west. Reaching full consensus on the Atlantic Yards project? As one might say in the rest of the country: Please forget all about that.

In any event, the New York state Court of Appeals handed down its long-awaited ruling on the project Tuesday morning, holding it lawful a state economic development agency to seize private land to build an arena.

NY Daily News, State's highest court allows Bruce Ratner to proceed with plans to develop Atlantic Yards

In a statement, Ratner said, "The courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit," Ratner said. "Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago."

Construction will continue, said Ratner, who said he expects the Nets will begin playing at the new arena for the 2011-2012 season.

AP, Court: NY can seize property for new NJ Nets arena

Reuters, NY top court rules for state in Atlantic Yards case

Ratner must start building the arena before the end of 2009 or he will lose out on $700 million of low-cost tax-free debt. Ratner still faces another lawsuit over whether the state mass transit agency sold the site for too low a price.

NorthJersey.com, Court ruling sends Atlantic Yards project forward

“It may be that the bar has now been set too low — that what will now pass as ‘blight’ … should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses,” Lippman wrote.

But he added that limitations on eminent domain would be “the province of the legislature” and not the courts, except in extreme circumstances.

NoLandGrab: If Atlantic Yards doesn't count as "extreme circumstances," we're not going to hold our breath.

Crain's NY Business, Atlantic Yards developer gets OK to take land

But the politicians and community groups that have been fighting the development have vowed to continue their quest to kill the project. The court decision cannot be appealed, but there are at least four other suits pending against the project, which is slated to include sixteen towers of mostly residential units although a hotel and office building are also possible. However, legal experts said the eminent domain suit posed the greatest threat to the project.

Gothamist, Appeals Court Clears Way For Atlantic Yards

NY1, Court Rules Eminent Domain Can Be Used On Atlantic Yards Project

NY Law Journal, Atlantic Yards Project Clears Major Hurdle As Court of Appeals Upholds Use of Eminent Domain

Four of the seven judges, in a majority ruling by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, said the state had sufficiently shown that the project area containing the private parcels was "blighted" and subject to condemnation under the state Constitution, although Judge Lippman conceded that definitions of urban blight that were established during the Great Depression may have to be updated.
...

Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, Theodore T. Jones and Victoria A. Graffeo joined in the majority ruling.

NetsAreScorching, ATLANTIC YARDS PROJECT INCHING CLOSER TO REALITY

With the start of the season Mark and I have been really focused on the games, so focused in fact, that there has been little attention paid to some of the off-the-court stuff happening with the Nets. Today, however, something happened that can’t really be ignored. In a 6-1 decision, the New York Court of Appeals has turned down critics’ arguments that the state’s Empire State Development Corp. violated New York’s constitution in pursuing eminent domain to acquire land for Atlantic Yards, including Barclays Center.

Curbed, Atlantic Yards Opponents Lose Challenge Over Eminent Domain

In a statement, Tenacious B said, "Once again the courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire City. Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago. Today, however, this project is even more important given the need for jobs and economic development." He also reinforced his claim that the NBA's Nets will lose horribly play in the new Barclays Center in the 2011-2012 season.

Bloomberg News, New York May Take Atlantic Yards Property, Court Says

Andrew Brent, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Morgan Hook, a spokesman for New York Governor David Paterson, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Reason Hit & Run, New York's Highest Court Upholds Eminent Domain Abuse

Very bad news out of Albany this morning: New York’s Court of Appeals has just upheld the state’s controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

The Architect's Newspaper, Down to the Wire

Atlantic Yards opponents may have lost another battle in their war with Forest City Ratner as the state's highest court ruled against them today in a case challenging the use of eminent domain for the massive arena-and-condos project in Brooklyn. But with barely a month left to issue tax-exempt bonds on which the SHoP- and Ellerbe Becket-designed arena rely, the opponents knock-down, dragged-out legal strategy may have won the war.

A special bond authority created by the Empire State Development Corporation is set to begin proceedings to issue those bonds at a 10:00 a.m. meeting today, and now will have some breathing room, given the court's decision. As has long been the case with the opponent's challenges to eminent domain, the majority, in their decision took many issues with the process but ultimately found that it was not their place to overrule the legislature.

Posted by eric at 11:53 AM

DDDB: new lawsuit coming because court refused to consider revised project

Atlantic Yards Report

From a statement from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:

"We are disappointed, but undeterred. We lost this round, but the legal fight is not over. My clients will continue to resist Ratner's efforts to steal their homes and businesses in the New York courts," said lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady. "Because the Court of Appeals made it clear that it considered itself 'bound' by the self-serving record created by the Empire State Development Corporation prior to its December 2006 public use finding, and thus refused to consider the events leading up to the ESDC's adoption of a modified general project plan two months ago, we now intend to commence a new lawsuit seeking to compel the ESDC to issue new or amended public use findings.

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Posted by eric at 11:49 AM

Court of Appeals upholds AY eminent domain 6-1

Atlantic Yards Report

In a decision (PDF) that gives the crucial--but perhaps not final--boost to the Atlantic Yards project, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, approved the use of eminent domain by a 6-1 margin, saying that it's not the role of the courts to intervene in agency decisions, given the wide latitude in state law to decide on blight.

The case, which involves nine petitioners (homeowners, commercial property owners, and residential and commercial renters) is known as* Goldstein, et al. vs. New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a/ Empire State Development Corporation* (or ESDC).

Project backers had long expressed confidence about the result, given the state court's general deference to agency decisionmaking, but the court's willingness to accept the case in the first place--the Appellate Division had unanimously upheld the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in the first round--had left some room for ambiguity.

Moreover, two of the seven judges seemed skeptical of the ESDC during the oral argument October 14, though the judges spent the most time on procedural issues and the attorney for the nine petitioners faced similar skepticism. One of those judges, Robert Smith, filed a blistering dissent that stated:

[T]he majority is much too deferential to the self-serving determination by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that petitioners live in a "blighted" area, and are accordingly subject to having their homes seized and turned over to a private developer.

...It is clear to me from the record that the elimination of blight, in the sense of substandard and unsanitary conditions that present a danger to public safety, was never the bona fide purpose of the development at issue in this case.
...

No bar to groundbreaking

Developer Forest City Ratner still must get arena bonds sold by the end of the month, and they may be hampered by the remaining cloud of litigation and the lowered market for sports facilities, but this was the largest roadblock, and there is no bar to a promised groundbreaking in the next month or so.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which organized and funded the lawsuit (and whose spokesman, Daniel Goldstein, was the lead plaintiff), said it would file a new lawsuit because the court ruled only on the record from 2006, which promised much greater benefits than are now likely.
...

Forest City Ratner issued a statement:

“Once again the courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire City,” Mr. [Bruce] Ratner said. “Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago. Today, however, this project is even more important given the need for jobs and economic development.”

Mr. Ratner said construction activity on the yards will continue, with the intent that the Nets will play ball in the Barclays Center in the 2011-2012 NBA Season.

The ESDC issued a statement:

“Today the State's highest court, like every other court that has considered the issue, upheld the use of eminent domain to facilitate development of the Atlantic Yards Project. Empire State Development is as committed as ever to seeing the completion of this Project. With this major hurdle overcome, we can now move forward with development which will accomplish its goals of eliminating blight, and bringing transportation improvements, an arena, open space, affordable housing and thousands of jobs to the people of Brooklyn and the State of New York.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz issued a statement:

"The ruling by the State Court of Appeals reinforces previous decisions supporting the numerous public benefits of the Atlantic Yards project—during these difficult economic times and into Brooklyn’s bright future—including the creation of affordable housing, solid union jobs and permanent employment opportunities for Brooklynites who need work. Today’s decision from our state’s highest court marks what amounts to the final step in the legal process to make it happen. Finally, we will bring a national professional sports team and a world-class facility back to our borough after 52 years! Brooklyn’s shovels are, and have been, ready. So, let’s pick them up and get to work!”

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries issued a statement:

"I am extremely disappointed with the decision of the Court. The power of eminent domain is extraordinary and should only be authorized in limited circumstances where, unlike in this case, there is a clear and robust public benefit. The use of eminent domain to benefit a private developer to build a basketball arena for a team owned by a foreign billionaire is an abuse of this extraordinary power, and I hope that Governor Paterson will choose not to exercise it."

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Posted by eric at 11:42 AM

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Constrained Court Rules Against Property Owners and Tenants in Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case

Despite Ruling, Fight Against Ratner's Brooklyn Project Is Far From Over

BROOKLYN, NY — New York's high court ruled today against property owners and tenants who had challenged the state's use of eminent domain to seize their homes and businesses for the enrichment of developer Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

In the 6-1 decision the Court of Appeals ruled that the state agency's determination to take the plaintiffs property had a rational basis under state law.

Today, November 24, at 12:30pm plaintiffs, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, members of the community, attorneys and elected officials will hold a press conference about the ruling and the fight against Atlantic Yards. The press conference will be held in front of Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn at 485 Dean Street at the corner of 6th Avenue. (Directions, 2/3 train to Bergen St, or B,D,Q,N,4,5 to Pacific/Atlantic.)

"The fight against the Atlantic Yards project is far from over. The community has four outstanding lawsuits against the project and, meanwhile, the arena bond financing clock ticks louder and louder for Ratner. While this is a terrible day for taxpaying homeowners in New York, this is not the end of our fight to keep the government from stealing our homes and businesses,” said Develop Don't Destroy spokesman and lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein. "Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg now need to decide if they want their legacy to be the next New London—a dust bowl in the heart of Brooklyn caused by the abuse of eminent domain, because that will be the outcome if they allow the property seizures and final clearance for Ratner's unfeasible project."

"We are disappointed, but undeterred. We lost this round, but the legal fight is not over. My clients will continue to resist Ratner's efforts to steal their homes and businesses in the New York courts," said lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady. "Because the Court of Appeals made it clear that it considered itself 'bound' by the self-serving record created by the Empire State Development Corporation prior to its December 2006 public use finding, and thus refused to consider the events leading up to the ESDC's adoption of a modified general project plan two months ago, we now intend to commence a new lawsuit seeking to compel the ESDC to issue new or amended public use findings. It would be perverse and unfair if my clients homes and businesses were confiscated based on circumstances that no longer exist. At the same time, we will also vigorously defend the cases that the State will now file seeking to seize my clients' properties, which is the second barrier that Ratner and the ESDC must now attempt to overcome."

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"While we are deeply disappointed in the Court's decision, our fight against the government's abuses on Ratner's behalf continues, and we expect to defeat Atlantic Yards through political and legal means", said Develop Don't Destroy legal director Candace Carponter. "It now falls to Governor Paterson to guarantee, through a binding legal contract, which the State would be required to enforce, that all the developer's promises about the project—including all of the ‘affordable' housing and the ten year construction timeline—are fulfilled. If the Governor is unable to do that, he is duty-bound to abandon this ill-fated project, and start over so the rail yards can be developed properly and realistically."

In 2005, in the wake of the Supreme Court's widely despised Kelo decision that expanded the reach of eminent domain, then-Senator David Paterson called for a state-wide blanket moratorium on the use of eminent domain.

"Governor Paterson needs to ask himself what happened to Senator Paterson's position on eminent domain. And then he needs to act on his principles," Carponter concluded.

Posted by eric at 11:32 AM

New York State Court of Appeals rules against Atlantic Yards footprint property owners

The New York State Court of Appeals handed up a ruling this morning In the Matter of Daniel Goldstein, et al. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, d/b/a Empire State Development Corporation.

The court ruled 6-1 in favor of the State, permitting the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project under New York State law.

Click here to download a PDF of the 60-page decision. Much more to follow.

Posted by eric at 11:25 AM

With decision in eminent domain case possible on same day arena bonds are authorized, it could be an interesting Tuesday

Atlantic Yards Report

spiral.jpg

By about 9:20 am today, we should know whether the Court of Appeals has ruled in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case.

If there's no ruling, then the 10 am meeting of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation to authorize arena bonds should be relatively uneventful--except, of course, for the details to be revealed about the mix between tax-exempt and taxable bonds, as well as whether they're to be used for infrastructure.
...
If the ruling is in favor of the state, then likely there will be a collective sigh of relief among those running the hearing, even if other lawsuits and the challenge of selling bonds in the current market represent potential snags.

And if the ruling turns out to be in favor of the plaintiffs, then expect a rather surreal meeting. Atlantic Yards would have been dealt a near-fatal blow.

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Also...
ArtInfo, Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project Awaits Judges’ Ruling

Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

November 21, 2009

Eminent Domain For New Arena?

CNN

Daniel Goldstein on the proposed Atlantic Yards project and the pending eminent domain case: "It looks wrong, feels wrong, and it is wrong and I'm confident we're going to win."

Posted by steve at 5:43 AM

Kelo v. New London, Part II – Eminent domain for Atlantic Yards in New York

RadioVice

This review of the eminent domain case pending with the New York State Court of Appeals includes a mention of the questionable criteria used to declare the area in the proposed Atlantic Yards project footprint as blighted and a contrast with how use of eminent domain worked out in New London.

It seems that less than half of the 22 acres of the proposed redevelopment area contain a below grade rail yard used by the MTA, and, (perish the thought) there are growing weeds and graffiti on some of the properties. Thus, the consultants rationalize, the entire 22 acres is blighted, subject to what amounts to a seizure of private property by government for use by a private developer.

And, how is that Kelo deal working out, you ask? At the time of the decision, Mr. Justice Stevens insisted that:

The city [of New London] has carefully formulated a development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue.

This carefully formulated plan essentially gave Ms. Kelo’s land to a private developer to construct a hotel, office buildings, etc. to “enhance” Pfizer’s existing nearby research and development headquarters.

Almost four and one half years after the Supreme Court’s decision, the city of New London has spent $78 million to bulldoze the properties so taken by the city, no development has occurred on that property, nor is any likely to occur anytime soon, and, were that not enough, Pfizer has announced it is closing it’s facility in New London.

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Posted by steve at 4:44 AM

November 19, 2009

Daily News article about the compensation issue

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

The NY Daily News has an article about the compensation issue. Tonight CNN will run a story featuring Dan - discussing Kelo.

NY didn't rule on the eminent domain case today. The decision should come on Monday or Tuesday. We'll be filming as the decision comes down.

We are at 44% of our goal. Please continue to let other people know about our efforts.

link

Posted by eric at 5:41 PM

Home and property owners say state's offers for Atlantic Yards property adds insult to injury

NY Daily News
By Erin Durkin

Hardball eminent domain tactics begin with lowballing property owners under threat of condemnation.

Chief opponent Daniel Goldstein got a letter offering $510,000 if his three-bedroom Pacific St. condo is taken by eminent domain. He paid $590,000 for it in 2003.
...
"That's way low. That's ridiculous," said Slope Heights Realty broker Tony Atterbury, who added a 1,290-square foot, two-bathroom apartment like Goldstein's could fetch somewhere between $720,000 and $900,000.
...
Peter Williams said he was offered $432,000 for the one-story Sixth Ave. loft building where his two grown kids live - a far cry from the $2.5 million Ratner offered two years ago.

"They lowball everything," he said. "There's no way I could replace the living space that my kids are in in an equivalent neighborhood for the money they've offered me."

And Henry Weinstein said the $16 million he was offered for a 7-story office building and parking lot on Pacific St. is less than it's worth.

Weinstein - already embroiled in a complicated battle with a tenant who tried to turn the property over to Ratner without his permission - said the offer is just the latest slap in the face.

"They're bank robbers," he said. "I couldn't be more aggravated and mad than I am."

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Additional coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily News: other AY footprint landowners also have been low-balled

Yes, the first offer is not definitive and, should condemnation proceed, they'll get that, and hash out the rest in court. Still, the ESDC's appraiser does not appear to have read the ESDC-commissioned KPMG report, since the offer for Goldstein's apartment is below the Prospect Heights minimum.

Posted by lumi at 7:10 AM

Ranting on the weeds of New London

NewLondon-ABC2.jpg "In legal terms, this may be the most symbolic weed-choked lot in America." — Bill Weir, ABC News

Every time someone mentions that all that's left in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London are "weeds," you gotta cringe. These are native plants! The attitude that some plants are weeds (read "blighted"), while others are more desirable, is what gets municipalities like New London in trouble in the first place.

In order to make productive use of New London's failure, the city ought to turn the lot into an eminent domain monument, where school groups can spend a few hours in a native-plant landscape and learn about eminent domain abuse from a park ranger in a replica of Susette Kelo's little pink house. Afterwards, they can visit the gift shop in the lobby of the former Pfizer R&D headquarters.

Posted by lumi at 5:39 AM

November 18, 2009

Eminent Domain Ruling Expected Soon...What Will it Mean?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

The Court of Appeals ruling on the property owners and tenants challenge to the abuse of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards is expected to come down as soon as this week and certainly within the next 2-3 weeks.

We expect the Court to rule in the plaintiffs' favor, so they can keep their homes and businesses.
If the Court does, the project is dead.

But if the Court rules against the plaintiffs,
the fight against the project is far from over.

Remember, the fight against the project is about many issues. So should New York State get the right to seize these properties and give them to Ratner, there are still three other outstanding lawsuits against the project and more expected. Ratner is still struggling to meet his end of year IRS deadline to issue his tax-exempt arena bond, contending with chastened and wary bond credit rating and insurance agencies, and a skeptical bond market.

Governor Paterson will also have to decide if he wants his legacy to be a New London dust bowl in Brooklyn.

The community wins if the Court rules against eminent domain, but Ratner doesn't win if the Court rules for eminent domain. He just lives to see another day and the project will have to be stopped a little further down the road.

That, of course, will require your continued support for our work.

Please stay tuned...

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Posted by eric at 11:37 PM

Think of Kelo, But Remember Poletown and County of Wayne v. Hathcock Too

Develop Dont Destroy Brooklyn

Norman Oder makes a strong argument that the NY State Court of Appeals will think about Kelo when considering its own legacy when it rules on the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case in the coming days.

But they should also look to and think deeply about Poletown and County of Wayne v. Hathcock.

Before Kelo and New London, Michigan courts made a horrific decision in 1981 to allow massive property takings in Poletown (the nickname of a Detroit neighborhood) for so-called "economic development." Twenty-three years later, Michigan's high court overturned that ruling, far too late for that neighborhood and the thousands who were forced out. And, as is always the case, the pie-in-the-sky benefits never panned out.

New York can and should forestall this outcome in Brooklyn.

Click through for more.

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Posted by eric at 10:09 AM

Court ruling on Nets' Brooklyn arena looms

The Bergen Record

John Brennan reports on the countdown to the court ruling that will put wind in the sails of developer Bruce Ratner, or be the ultimate project buzz-kill.

New York's highest court resumed session Tuesday, and spokesman Gary Spencer said rulings are issued on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If the court doesn't rule this week on the project's proposed use of eminent domain at the Brooklyn site, the court's release dates for rulings next week would be Monday and Tuesday because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

The court could take until as late as mid-December to announce its decision, but most of the 25 cases heard in October are expected to be ruled upon this month.

Here's what's at stake:

If the court allows the project to go forward, that will accelerate a scramble by the developer, Forest City Ratner, to beat three Dec. 31 deadlines:

  • The expiration date of an Internal Revenue Service ruling that would grant tax-exempt status for $600 million or more in bonds issued for construction of the Nets' arena in Brooklyn.

  • The end of a one-year extension granted by arena title sponsor Barclays Bank to remain committed to its reported 20-year, $400 million naming rights deal.

  • The deadline for the Nets to inform the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority whether it intends to leave the Izod Center for Newark's Prudential Center for the 2010-11 season.

If the court decision favors the plaintifs, the project would come to a screeching halt.

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Posted by lumi at 6:54 AM

Do the judges on the Court of Appeals read the papers and think about Kelo? If so, they have to consider their legacy

Atlantic Yards Report

In advance of the NY State high court's decision on the use of eminent domain, which is expected any day now, Norman Oder wonders if the final chapter in the nation's most notorious eminent domain case to come before the federal Supreme Court will cast a long shadow on Atlantic Yards.

Do the judges read the papers?

Do they know the aftermath of the *Kelo vs. New London *case, where not only nothing was built but the company behind the plan, Pfizer, is leaving town?

The answer has to be yes to both.

And if they have any concern about their legacy, they should take a long pause before proceeding--as many legal observers were predicting--to simply reaffirm the state's power to pursue eminent domain.

After all, the legacy of a victory for the state could well be a basketball arena and a building or two--and a lot of vacant land serving as parking lots or "interim open space." In other words, a project ostensibly aimed to remove blight would perpetuate it.

And the airy promises of new tax revenues are simply bogus.

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Posted by lumi at 6:41 AM

Jane Jacobs Atlantc Yards Report Card: #32, 33, 34, & 35

Noticing New York's Jane Jacobs Report Card continues with four installments covering the use of eminent domain:

JJRCED-NNY.jpg #32: Is Eminent Domain's Full Cost Being Reckoned and Paid For? NO

Jane Jacobs was not 100% per cent against the use of eminent domain but her thinking involved giving its use a very high degree of scrutiny and she put forth several separate standards to apply before resorting to its use. Jacobs asserted that if eminent domain was used, the full actual value of what was being supplanted should be paid for. Probably this is an appropriate standard for social justice, especially when privately used land is being taken to be given over to another private owner for a use, which as is the case of Atlantic Yards, might even be the same use. However, there was another prime reason to require that full value be paid: so that the vitality and viability of that which must be supplanted will not be quashed but will be able to move and locate elsewhere without diminishment. She thereby sought to preserve diversity. Lastly, paying full value supported achievement of another standard, which is that the public should not use eminent domain without being fully cognizant of the actual economic trade-offs underlying the decision.

The law has not changed since Jane Jacobs' time so that payment of full value as she proposed is not required and would not be done in the case of Atlantic Yards.

#33: Is Eminent Domain Being Used with Restraint? NO

Jane Jacobs was aware that eminent domain was an extraordinarily drastic and ruthless tool which, even in those situations where it can properly be defended involves the causation of ruinous harm (even with full compensation being paid). The question then is whether it is being used with restraint. In the case of Atlantic Yards the answer is “no.” It is clear that at least one complete block, the block with the Ward Bakery building, (which wraps around another similar block that is not being condemned) is being condemned without any good reason. This block (where the historic Ward Bakery building was acquired and torn down) is the home to many other worthy buildings, such as Henry Weinstein’s, that are indistinguishable in quality from the those on adjacent property that is not being torn down. It has been noted by us and others how odd and unprecedented it is to have a historic district (the recently designated Prospect Heights Historic District) and an eminent domain site interlock like strangely configured jigsaw puzzle pieces.

#34: Is Eminent Domain Used With Public's Full Comprehension? NO

Jane Jacobs felt that if the public fully comprehended the true economic equations and balances when eminent domain was being used it would almost never be used, especially when it was proposed to transfer property from one private property owner to give it to another for “economic redevelopment” purposes. In the case of Atlantic Yards, every effort has been made to minimize public involvement and participation in an evaluative process while the developer, aided and abetted by some politicians, has promulgated misinformation and misunderstanding about the project. Among other things, the public agencies involved, like the Empire State Development Corporations have refused to do an assessment of the public costs of the eminent domain...

#35: Is Eminent Domain for Greed Being Avoided? NO

Though Jane Jacobs did not dwell on it she certainly thought that in worst case scenarios eminent domain would be wielded not just out of misguidance but with greed as an operative factor.
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It cannot be regarded as an accident that the planning of the footprint was the megadeveloper’s own work. Furthermore, the peculiar wrench-shape footprint of the project highlights that the way in which eminent domain is being used is suspiciously odd.

Posted by lumi at 6:21 AM

November 17, 2009

Brooklyn Paper article about the ESDC's low ball offer to Daniel

Battle of Brooklyn via Kickstarter

About a month ago, Daniel Goldstein was informed that the ESDC was offering him 510,000 dollars for his apartment; an apartment that he paid nearly 600,000 for in 2003. This was a surprisingly low offer that Daniel feels was meant to punish him for fighting the project. The Brooklyn Paper ran an article about it today, following up on a very strong article by Nicole Gelinas in the Wall Street Journal.
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For those of you in the New York area who are interested. We are going to do a rough cut screening of the first 30 minutes of the film- followed by a panel discussion with Daniel, Norman Siegel, Mindy Fullilove, William Stern (former head of the ESDC), and Robert MacNamara of the Institute for Justice- on Dec 10th at 7pm. rsvp to us through kickstarter and we will send you an invite with the location.

One last note. We are close to finalizing our efforts to have your pledges go through our fiscal sponsor MPI- this means that all of your pledges will be tax deductible.

link

Posted by eric at 11:18 PM

Be Careful What (Change of Law) You Ask For; You Might NOT Get It: Atlantic Yards and 1967's Rejected NYS Constitutional Amendment

Noticing New York

The first rule of proposing a change to the law, by passage of legislation or otherwise, is to consider if you really need the change or whether it is possible to construe the law as already saying what you want it to. Why? Because if you propose a change in law and fail that failure will forever afterwards stand as evidence you CAN’T then interpret the law as already saying what you want it to. This is for two reasons. First, proposing a change in law puts on the record the evidence that everyone and most particularly the legal experts on the subject, believe that the law DOESN’T already say what you are asking it to be changed to say, and second, when the proposed change in law doesn’t pass it shows that those who voted it down (those with authority and from whom the law flows) are opposed to modification of the law to make it say what you proposed.

All this is relevant because in 1967 New York State voters voted against a “public use” amendment to the New York State constitution proposed for the purpose of permitting the use of eminent domain for “economic development.” Even though that amendment was rejected state agencies officials are attempting to use eminent domain in exactly that way at the proposed Atlantic Yards megadevelopment site.

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Posted by lumi at 6:14 PM

Is the state playing lowball with Daniel Goldstein?

The Brooklyn Paper
By Stephen Brown

Bruce Ratner needs Daniel Goldstein's condo in order to demolish the building that stands in the way of a new arena for the NJ Nets:

State officials have finally put a price on Daniel Goldstein’s opposition to the Atlantic Yards project — it’s going to cost the activist $80,000.

Goldstein, the lone holdout in a Pacific Street condo building that is slated to be condemned to make way for Bruce Ratner’s basketball arena, has been offered just $510,000 for the three-bedroom unit that cost him $590,000 in 2003.

Goldstein, who runs the project’s principle opposition group, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, was miffed (to say the least) at the offer.

Goldstein's lawyer suggests the possibility that the State is "being vindictive," while another lawyer, who is not involved in the case, concludes, "They’re being very punitive."

In another irony, the state condemnation process also provides a “relocation firm” to help Goldstein find a new place. But the firm’s suggested apartment only rubbed salt in the opponents’ wound: For $510,000, all he could get was a two-bedroom apartment near Crown Heights that is two-thirds smaller than his current digs.

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NoLandGrab: Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report noted that the State's lowball figure of $395/sf stands in stark contrast to Ratner and the State's projection that condos at Atlantic Yards would fetch $1217/sf in 2015. [link]

Photo by Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Also...

Brownstoner, Goldstein Offered Less Than What He Paid for Condo

Posted by lumi at 6:10 AM

Pfizer Move a New Blow to Conn. City in Land Fight

With Pfizer leaving, residents of Conn. city say fight over waterfront land was unnecessary

ABC News
By Eric Tucker, AP

NewLondon-ABC.jpg

[Click image to launch video.]

After drug giant Pfizer Inc. announced that it was opening a new research center here, city officials aggressively moved to acquire surrounding land for an economic development project — triggering an epic fight over eminent domain that reached the U.S. Supreme Court and ended with residents being forced from their homes.

But the land where the homes once stood has remained undeveloped, and the community took another hit last week when Pfizer, a major economic engine in the city and its largest taxpayer, announced plans to close the $350 million research center and relocate about 1,500 jobs to nearby Groton.

Now some angry and befuddled current and former residents, including some who lost their homes, say the drug company's announcement reaffirms their conviction that the city never needed to pick the property rights fight in the first place. If they have lost, they say, then so apparently has the city.

"We just got so sick of hearing that we were supposed to sacrifice for the greater good," said Matthew Dery, the sales and retention manager at The Day newspaper in New London who relocated to Waterford after being forced out of a home that had been in his family for about a century. "As it turns out, there was no greater good."

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Posted by lumi at 5:23 AM

November 16, 2009

Reform eminent domain

The Star-Ledger, Editorial

New Jersey's largest newspaper calls for reform of state eminent domain laws, principally the tightening of the definition of what constitutes blight.

Eight years after a Connecticut town seized land under eminent domain to sweeten a package deal to lure Pfizer, the drug giant has decided to move on, taking 1,400 jobs elsewhere and leaving behind a huge office complex and acres of vacant, weedy lots. New Jersey should take heed and move swiftly to reform its eminent domain laws.

New London, Conn., is the loser in this cautionary tale for other officials who think selling the store to win corporate favor is a good idea.

The town, which gave Pfizer substantial tax breaks, also forcibly took dozens of homes under eminent domain with the promise of building an "urban village" of new homes and stores.
...

New Jersey needs to get moving. The state constitution allows local governments to seize private property in areas of "blight," a term loosely applied in recent years, to the great disadvantage of property owners, many of whom have fought back.

Since 2007, state and appellate court rulings have put town officials on notice.
...

These rulings ultimately helped Long Branch homeowners this year beat back a plan to raze their beachfront homes for private, higher-priced condominums. But residents who fought the plan also had the broken economy on their side. The downturn made the whole project considerably less appealing to the developer and town leaders, who, in better times, might have continued the court fight. Another group of homeowners might not be so lucky.

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NoLandGrab: We probably don't need to remind you that the developer in the Long Branch case was none other than Forest City Ratner. [Ed. note: we confused Long Branch with Bloomfield, NJ, where a judge struck down an eminent domain taking for a proposed Forest City project. We regret the error.] New Jersey's courts have been stepping into the void that the legislature has failed to fill — are you paying attention, New York State Court of Appeals?

Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

November 15, 2009

Kelo outcome shows Atlantic Yards risk

Village Voice By Julia

The exit of Pfizer from New London makes the author of this item question the wisdom of granting public subsidies and seizing property, via the use of eminent domain, for the benefit of developer Bruce Ratner.

Ratner already doesn't feel any particular obligation to the taxpayers providing his windfall (or the current residents being offered below-market value for their condemned properties). Last week, he told business paper Crains NY, not generally a hotbed of anti-development sentiment, that he didn't feel a need to share building plans with the public: "Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."

It's particularly striking that Ratner feels free to show such an intransigent attitude at this point, when he's facing multiple lawsuits challenging the city's actions on his behalf and a looming Dec. 31 deadline to break ground or lose the tax-free status for the project's bonds he's relying on to finish the project. Even if he manages to jump those hurdles, the Independent Budget Office says that revenues on the project won't cover debt service, much less the subsidies.

Complicating matters even more, Ratner is battling with bond rating agencies which don't want to give the project's bonds the investment-grade rating the project is relying on. If he does manage to talk them around, he's got to market the bonds, sell them, complete the legalities with the city and the MTA, and break ground in the next six weeks.

On the other hand, he has been working the refs pretty hard. He spent almost a million dollars on lobbying for the plan last year. He also has a friend in City Hall and an affluent partner, either of whom could cover his nut in an emergency out of petty cash.

All the same, given the outcome of the New London experiment in protecting corporations from the free hand of the market, perhaps the city should think twice about fighting to subsidize someone who feels comfortable telling us to go fuck ourselves before he gets his hands on our money.

link

NoLandGrab: This blog entry mentions the City of New York as both facing legal challenges and acting to seize property. Actually, the lead agency for this project is the Empire State Development Corporation, the tool of developer Bruce Ratner.

Posted by steve at 6:46 AM

New York: Where “Underutilization” Equals “Blight”

The Volokh Conspiracy

This blog entry makes note of how New York State's loose definition of blight is being exploited for the proposed Atlantic Yards project. This blog describes itself as: "The Volokh Conspiracy is a group blog. Most of us are law professors." It's not surprising, then, that the comments section is a kind of back-and-forth on constitutional issues.

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys sing “there’s nothing you can’t do” in New York. That may be true for Hova, but it’s not supposed to be true when it comes to eminent domain under New York law. A purported “public purpose” is insufficient to seize private property for economic development. So government authorities resort to “blight” designations to condemn private property they would like to redevelop. This is the strategy being used for the Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project in Brooklyn. Yet as Nicole Gelinas reports, the blight designation here is a bit of a stretch, as it relies upon the condition of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s railyards, occasional weeds and grafitti, and the alleged “underutilization” of local properties. As Gelinas notes, if “underutilization” is sufficient to constitute blight, then nearly any proposed economic redevelopment project could utilize eminent domain under New York law.

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Posted by steve at 6:32 AM

November 14, 2009

Views On Eminent Domain From An Eminent Blogger

Atlantic Yards Report

A defender of eminent domain: it should be a local decision (but what about AY?)

If you don't recall when you or your elected representative got to vote on the proposed Atlantic Yards project, it's because that never happened.

Two more commentators have joined the online New York Times discussion (previous coverage) regarding Pfizer's pullout from New London and the aftermath of the Kelo vs. New London eminent domain case.

Yale Law School professor Thomas Merrill, a supporter of eminent domain, writes:

I do not believe that this sad episode means we should overturn Kelo and ask federal judges to arbitrate questions about when eminent domain should be used. The solution is not t