Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How victims of eminent domain are really treated

From Wall Street Journal:

In September, Dan Goldstein received a letter from New York State informing him and his wife that the government was about to seize their Brooklyn apartment "In furtherance of the Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project." The building would be razed as part of a 22-acre, $4.9 billion sports-complex project.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and developer Bruce C. Ratner have promised that the project will bring jobs, affordable apartments and the Nets basketball team. Lost amid these promises is the story of Mr. Goldstein, his wife Shabnam Merchant, and a few others who have spent years resisting efforts to dislodge them. The state's highest court—the New York Court of Appeals—is expected to issue its ruling in Goldstein et al. v. Empire State Development Corporation any day. The case is a pivotal one in the struggle to prevent abuse of the power of eminent domain.

All of this places Mr. Goldstein in an important spot. The case that bears his name is the first opportunity since Kelo for New York's highest court to affirm that the state's constitutional standard for seizing property is more stringent than the federal constitutional standard.

If the court rules against Mr. Goldstein, however, he and his wife could suffer one final injustice. The letter they received in September informed them that the state will compensate them $510,000 for their property—less than what they bought it for and less than half of what Mr. Ratner offered to pay them for it four years ago.

It's also less per square foot than what Mr. Ratner expects to sell his luxury apartments for once they are built. "I think [the state] lowballs to deter people from fighting like we have," Mr. Goldstein told me.

Mr. Goldstein should win. The state constitution supports him. If he loses, so will the owners of private property everywhere in the Empire State.

And from the Brooklyn Paper:

“I’m pissed off that the state is the low-balling me,” said Goldstein, whose last legal challenges to the project are on the verge of resolution. If those lawsuits fail, Goldstein said he’ll be forced to “go to court to get fair market value and just compensation.”

Goldstein’s lawyer, Mike Rikon, believes that the Empire State Development Corporation’s offer is lower than the market value of the apartment as a punishment for Goldstein’s opposition to the project.

“We saw the number and thought maybe they were being vindictive,” Rikon said.