Monday, December 28, 2009

Eminent domain beheaded in Brooklyn

From Atlantic Yards Report:

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.

He passed it over to Death, who pronounced, "Poor eminent domain, born of a noble purposes of building hospitals and roads... is being used to take Americans from their homes, not just for a British bank but also for Russia... eminent domain, you are hereby condemned."

With a straight face, de Seve predicted, "Sometime soon in the next weeks and months, a battle of epic proportion will be fought. Around here, it's known as the bars vs. banks smackdown."

And when he sentenced the effigy to death, he pulled a Blue Point beer tap, the handmade guillotine fell, and the head indeed was severed. He then collected money for those facing eminent domain to put armor plate on their buildings or--more likely--use for other purposes in fighting back.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Use eminent domain to build public works, not help developers

Dear Editor [of the Times Ledger]:

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.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Kelo v. City of New London case, ignoring the public’s decades-old understanding of eminent domain, ruled that a municipality — actually politicians more interested in fat cat real estate developers than the poor and middle class — could exercise eminent domain, take private property and turn it over to a private real estate developer on the dubious theory that it would increase the economic viability of the area and the little homeowner be damned.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that while the Kelo homeowners were forced to leave their homes, the projected development — notwithstanding the passage of many years — never came to pass and the land is now vacant.

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saturday's Community Meeting of Eminent Domain Actions

Senator Bill Perkins holds Community Meeting of Eminent Domain Actions. Willets Point United participated as did our attorney, Mike Rikon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

City stops negotiating with Queensboro Motorcycle Club

From the Times Ledger:

Based during the 1930s in a clubhouse on a piece of land that became the grounds of the World’s Fairs in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the [Queensboro Motorcycle Club] left the site at the behest of the fair committee before the first World’s Fair in 1939. It eventually moved to the current site and is now facing relocation once again as the Bloomberg administration plans to redevelop the entire 62-acre Willets Point district for mixed uses.

Club leaders are in ongoing negotiations with city officials to sell or swap the property, which they have owned since moving there. QBMC President Bill Goldstein said the club would love to find a taker for the lot and well-appointed clubhouse.

“Seventeen years ago when I started in the club, it was a great spot. Now it’s a rat-infested, pothole-infested, gross area,” he said. “We’re probably one of the few businesses down there that would move if given the right opportunity. We have been speaking to the EDC, who’ve been very nice to us, but nothing seems to be going on at this time. We were looking for properties up until last year, in fact, and then the economy failed and everything kind of just stopped.”

So for now the Queens bikers will stick it out in their longtime home base in Willets Point, riding there in warm weather and cold to carry the Queensboro Motorcycle Club into its second century.

1) Notice how it was considered to be a "great spot" before another 2 decades of intentional city neglect turned it into a "rat-infested, pothole-infested, gross area". (No mention of the businesses causing the blight, as the EDC asserts.)
2) This refutes the EDC's other assertion that they are in current talks with all landowners. And this is coming from a group that wants to sell.

State Senator Bill Perkins' letter to the NY Times

To the Editor [NY Times]:

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.

Perkins takes up the cause of eminent domain abuse reform

From the NY Observer:

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."

The cause is related to Perkins' last legislative accomplishment: stricter oversight of public authorities (many of which have and use eminent domain powers). He said there was no partner in the Assembly, but Richard Brodsky has in the past called for an eminent domain commission and other reforms. None have passed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WPU attends Senator Perkins' Community Meeting

WPU attended State Senator Bill Perkins' Community Meeting on Eminent Domain at Manhattan Pentecostal Church today.

WPU President Jerry Antonacci spoke about how the EDC is "reading from a script" since every few years the city or state comes up with an eminent domain-requiring development scheme for Willets Point.

Attorney Mike Rikon also spoke about how wrong the use of eminent domain is without a public use and to benefit private developers.

Attorneys Norm Siegel and David Smith, representatives of Develop Don't Destroy and the families fighting the Columbia University expansion also spoke.

Senator Perkins announced that his committee will be holding hearings on all of the currently proposed NYC projects that require eminent domain.

One goal of the meeting was to start a coalition to fight eminent domain abuse across New York State and members of all the groups present signed up to do just that.

Atlantic Yards Report has more.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WPU earns the support of State Senator Bill Perkins

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 (see the attached flier for more details). 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

Pinsky not telling the truth about negotiations

From the Queens Courier:

Last week, EDC announced it received 29 responses to its Request for Qualifications for developers or teams of developers interested in redeveloping the [Willets Point] site. Next, EDC will develop a short list to receive a future Request for Proposals (RFP) with a developer being selected sometime in 2010, according to Pinsky.

The city’s plans for the project call for redeveloping 18 acres of the southwest portion of the site, and it currently has secured about 75 percent of the land from property owners for the first phase of the development plan.

“We said during the ULURP [Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure] process that our strong preference was to reach consensual agreements and that remains our strong preference,” Pinsky said.

However, some Willets Point business owners said the city is not negotiating at all with them, and they were encouraged by a recent Court’s derailing of a Columbia University expansion project that sought to utilize eminent domain.

“We knew that eminent domain didn’t have that much life left in it,” said Jake Bono, the third generation owner of Bono Sawdust Supply Co., who is still fighting to keep his business at the site. “I don’t think they [the city] have a chance anymore to take my property."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Denied FOIL request overturned by court

From the NY Observer:

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.

The ruling of the court Tuesday found that the agency was overly broad in denying Mr. Sprayregen's FOIL request, and then changed its reasoning for not providing the documents, with the court saying and its "initial determination was superficial, at best."

WPU has been FOILing documents, too, and has also been denied for no valid reason. A decision with respect to our requests will likely end up being decided by a court as well since EDC is being secretive and uncooperative with the public information they possess.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Traffic is Quinn's issue with Armory project - why not with Willets Point?

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

"Almost lost in the euphoria over the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory project was the crucial role played by Brian Ketcham's masterful traffic analysis-because ultimately it is traffic and socio-economic impacts that must be the determining factor in any land use decision.

This was brought home by the comments of Speaker Quinn relayed in a live blog by the Bronx News Network: "12:35 Quinn is talking now. Says they're disappointed they couldn't come to an agreement with the administration. Urging all colleagues to vote to disapprove the proposal today."After numerous and lengthy discussions, there's a significant public health and traffic impact. We cannot approve a project that brings more people to an already crowded area. .. without a true plan to deal with that traffic congestion."Other issues important and significant but not part of vote today, she said: Current plan is simply not the right proposal for the residents of this community at this time." Praises Annabel Palma, Bx delegation leader, and her Bronx colleagues."

The reality here is, that the amount of traffic that this project would generate-once again contradicting the Kermit the Mayor image of the city's richest man-would have been a real hardship on the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood. And the inadequacies of the Related traffic study should initiate a call for ULURP reform so that the traffic analysis is taken out of the hands of developer puppets claiming independent expertise.

So hats off to Ketcham-and a cautionary tale for EDC in its effort to cover up just how inadequate the Willets Point traffic study really is. If the mayor is gonna be going green, than he needs to become more honest-and insure that his policies reflect the high minded rhetoric that he graces world gatherings with."

Christine Quinn ordered the City Council to vote yes on the Willets Point project despite the immitigable traffic impacts that even the City admits will result from the development and the construction of ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway.

Why the double standard, Chris?

Monday, December 14, 2009

WPU joins Atlantic Yards protest

Willets Point United members Irene Presti, Jake Bono and Jerry Antonacci attended the "Junk Yard Bonds Protest" held by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn today at noon in front of 55 Water Street in Manhattan, headquarters of Standard and Poor. Crown Container donated a garbage truck upon which hung a banner that stated "Deposit Atlantic Yards Bonds Here". At the end of the demonstration, junk yard bonds were tossed into the back of the truck and compacted. Unfortunately, Crown couldn't dispose of them because their transfer station permit does not cover toxic assets.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Demonstration to Protest, Expose and Trash Ratner's JUNK YARD BONDS for Atlantic Yards Arena

Save the Date: Monday, December 14. Noon.

Demonstration to Protest, Expose and Trash Ratner's JUNK YARD BONDS for Atlantic Yards Arena

NEW YORK, NY — At noon on Monday, December 14th there will be a demonstration protesting the Junk Yard Bonds New York State is about to sell for Forest City Ratner's junk arena, at great risk for New York State.

We will be selling Junk Yards Bonds. The demonstration will conclude with a ritual dumping of the Junk Yard Bonds into a Garbage Truck—the best place for these bonds—from Willets Point, Queens (where they are also fighting eminent domain abuse).

Questions will be raised.

It will be videogenic and photogenic.

Demonstration to Protest and Watchdog Ratner's Arena Junk Yard Bonds and the credit rating agencies that gave these bonds, barely, an "investment grade" rating.
Call for Attorney General Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli to investigate the bond structure, rating and issuance.

We will be selling Junk Yards Bonds.

Dumping the JUNK BONDS into the GARBAGE TRUCK about 12:45
(Garbage Truck from Crown Container, fighting the taking of Willets Point by eminent domain)

Standard & Poor's Offices
55 Water Street
(2/3 to Wall St., R/W to Whitehall/South Ferry, 4/5 to Bowling Green)

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
Good Jobs New York
Citizen Watchdogs

Friday, December 11, 2009

More eminent domain stories

Perkins asks Paterson for moratorium on eminent domain, not to appeal Columbia case [Atlantic Yards Report]

Sen Perkins: Gov, Stop Eminent Domain for Atlantic Yards [Develop Don't Destroy]

First Person: Standing Up to Eminent Theft [The Indypendent]

Atlantic Yards Takes the Court [The Indypendent]

Daniel Goldstein: Home, Blighted Home [Huffington Post]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Statement by Willets Point United re: AG Cuomo's investigation of EDC tactics

Willets Point United Inc. commends NYS Attorney General Cuomo's decision to investigate NYCEDC's financing of unlawful lobbying done by Claire Shulman's local development corporation, to enable the proposed Willets Point redevelopment. Willets Point United Inc. had requested such an investigation on June 30, 2009. Since that date, Shulman's LDC has not only continued its unlawful operations with impunity, but has been awarded an additional state grant in excess of $1.5 million.

Today's New York Times report – about how the City's chief lawyer has stonewalled Cuomo's investigation by attempting to withhold documents,and how the Bloomberg administration attempted to blackmail Cuomo to influence his investigation, by threatening Cuomo's candidacy for governor – is a wake-up call for all New Yorkers concerning the illegal tactics that have been used by the Mayor and NYCEDC in their attempt to acquire Willets Point land. If the Mayor's administration has resorted to using such tactics against AG Cuomo, there should be no doubt that it has used similarly despicable tactics against the people of Willets Point throughout the attempt to acquire their property.

Mayor Bloomberg took an oath to uphold the rule of law. But not only has Bloomberg looked the other way concerning the unlawful lobbying activities of local development corporations – even telling the Times Ledger newspapers "These groups are designed to lobby. I don't know if they technically broke the law" (Duke, Nathan and Gustafson,Anna. 2009. Mayor doubts Shulman lobby broke law. Times Ledger, August27.) – now, as reported by the New York Times, his administration has attempted to impede an investigation by the NYS Attorney General concerning those same unlawful acts. All New Yorkers must hold Mayor Bloomberg accountable for his failure to uphold the rule of law, and to impede an investigation by AG Cuomo. These may be impeachable offenses.

The unlawful use of City funds for lobbying by Shulman's LDC, and the City's attempt to stonewall Cuomo's investigation of it, are part of a pattern of disturbing behavior that has corrupted key aspects of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment, and which now includes NYCEDC's refusal to publicly disclose the details of its plan to install new Van Wyck access ramps as part of the project. Engineers have already determined that the ramps and development will cause severe adverse traffic impacts that threaten the quality of life of surrounding communities, and NYCEDC is keeping secret its records relating to the roadway modifications and traffic analyses. Just as AG Cuomo has insisted that there be no secrets concerning the transfers of funds by NYCEDC to facilitate unlawful lobbying, so too should there be no secrets concerning NYCEDC's disruptive plans for Queens roadways.

Willets Point United Inc. considers the investigation by AG Cuomo to be the breath of fresh air that may finally begin to impose law and order on a corrupt City-driven process that will otherwise continue to violate the rights of Willets Point property owners. Willets Point United Inc. is hopeful that the proposed Willets Point redevelopment now will be seen to be the fraud that it truly is; and that AG Cuomo's investigation will inspire both reform of the New York City's "shadow government" which includes NYCEDC and other local development corporations, as well as the resignations of NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky, Deputy Mayor (and former NYCEDC President) Robert Leiber, and all others who have had oversight authority concerning the corrupt Willets Point project.

Here is the Times article:

And the Village Voice:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More reaction to Columbia ruling

When can't New York take your land [NY Post]

Eminent Domain: Let the Public Beware! [NBC New York]

Lawyer who won Columbia case "cautiously optimistic" about surviving appeal, says creation of record key to win [Atlantic Yards Report]

Court Nixes University’s Harlem Expansion [GlobeSt]

Self-Storage King Takes a Moment to Savor His Victory Over Columbia [NY Times]

More on the Eminent Domain Ruling Against ESDC/Columbia [DDDB]

Monday, December 7, 2009




(December 7, 2009) 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).

Shamefully, the City of New York and EDC have conspired to supplant us, and to convey our properties to one or more developer firms that will be selected in secret by EDC and the Project Team. Then, ironically, once we have been forced to depart Willets Point, the City will lavish upon the area all of the services and infrastructure that have been denied to us, despite our payments of City taxes during the past decades.

One candidate, TDC Development, committed more than 4 years ago to redevelop downtown Flushing’s Municipal Lot 1, but as of this day the Chinese-based real estate and development company has failed to even break ground. This project is 1/12th the size of Willets Point. To entrust a firm such as TDC with the proposed Willets Point redevelopment is to direct that project toward the same fate as the now-infamous proposed redevelopment in New London, Connecticut. To quote Councilman and Comptroller-elect John Liu, “*TDC+ seems to think it doesn't need to deliver on the promises it made two years ago. That's at best a woeful miscalculation and at worst just pure greed.” It should be noted that years ago TDC was determined by EDC to qualify to receive an RFP and no more than an expression of continued interest in the project is now required for TDC to remain under consideration.

TDC, plus Briarwood Group, Ciampa Organization, J&K Pi Foundation, Mattone Group, Muss Development, Nash Builders, Palaus, Sokolowski & Sartor and RAMAH, comprise the membership of Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation. This organization is incorporated under Section 1411 of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporations Law, which explicitly prohibits FWPCLDC from attempting to influence legislation. Although FWPCLDC is prohibited from attempting to influence legislation, it has lobbied in favor of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment, and is presently a registered lobbyist. The apparently unlawful activities of FWPCLDC are financed and/or otherwise supported by TDC and the other eight above-identified developer firms. This should disqualify all of them from participating in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

In addition, the city’s plan to use eminent domain to acquire property for private development is itself controversial, but will become much more so if NYCEDC attempts to forcibly acquire properties from their present American owners via condemnation and convey those properties to a non-American entity. To prevent that unconscionable specter, NYCEDC and the Project Team must ensure that fundamentally American firms are exclusively entitled to receive the RFP.

While NYCEDC's RFQ may be intended to elicit responses from developer entities which affirm their qualifications and promote their accomplishments, we submit that this letter – concerning potential developer candidates' lack of qualifications – should be considered equally significant by NYCEDC and the Project Team. We believe that all of the developer firms identified herein are unqualified to participate in the proposed Willets Point Redevelopment, and that they must not receive the RFP.

Call Governor Paterson today!


This week, New York Governor David Paterson committed to ordering an impartial and thorough review of the Atlantic Yards project. As we e-mailed you about last week, New York’s highest court upheld the condemnations of privately owned homes and small businesses to make way for developer Bruce Ratner’s massive Atlantic Yards project.
It is critical that the governor intervene to stop these condemnations immediately.

Please call Governor Paterson right now at 518-474-8390 and thank him for his commitment to ordering a review of the Atlantic Yards project. Ask him that he stop the entire process while the review goes forward, particularly the condemnation of private property. Stress that in the middle of the state’s fiscal crisis, it doesn’t make sense to give a private developer $100 million for a wildly unpopular, pie-in-the-sky project. Remind him of the barren fields in Fort Trumbull – that could be the future of Brooklyn.

Christina Walsh
Director of Activism and Coalitions
Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203

Friday, December 4, 2009

Joe Ardizzone: "last man standing"

From the Queens Chronicle:

Call him the last man standing. Joe Ardizzone has lived in Willets Point all his 77 years and says he’s not about to leave now.

Ardizzone remembers growing up in a virtual wildlife sanctuary, with the thrill of watching migrating birds every year and frogs, quail and pheasants as regular sights. “I haven’t seen a frog here in 40 years,” he said.

His father built a couple of houses but the neighborhood never took off as a residential area. The factories and auto shops came after the 1939 World’s Fair. “I stay here by choice,” Ardizzone said. “I like the people around me. They are hard-working.”

He is angry over the way the city has forced the project on those who work in Willets Point. “It’s strictly a dictatorship, not the American way. They are taking property from us and the people are paying for it.”

Ardizzone vows to continue the fight. “The city should not be in the real estate business,” he said. “I’m not moving. I’m fighting for democracy and for all those who lost their lives fighting for it.”

Supporting him are members of Willets Point United, business owners who are fighting to keep their properties. Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, a waste transfer station there for 33 years, is one of the group’s spokespersons.

“It’s discouraging to live in a city where they don’t care about people’s property,” Antonacci said.

Jake Bono, whose family has owned a sawdust business for more than 75 years, most of the time in Willets Point, said the outcome in New London, “goes to show it’s just wrong to take people’s property. The city failed and they destroyed lives,” Bono said.

He considers what happened in Connecticut “a victory, not a loss” for Willets Point businesses that want to stay. “It shows clearly that eminent domain doesn’t work. It fails,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which upheld the city’s use of eminent domain for private redevelopment. “What happened in New London made 43 states change their eminent domain laws to only allow it for a true public purpose.”

Antonacci and Bono believe time is on their side and the city will stall on the project because it doesn’t have the funding. “The city has no money and no plan,” Antonacci said. “It will be delayed for years and years.”

“We’ll fight, but nothing is going on now. We’re just waiting and still intend to continue,” Antonacci said.

Columbia decision news roundup

Columbia University failed to work out a deal with Nicholas Sprayregen, above, who owned four Tuck-it-Away Self Storage buildings in the area. [NY Times]

Court puts brakes on Columbia's, NY's West Harlem property grab [NY Post]

Court deals blow to Columbia U. expansion plan [Crains]

Court Deals a Blow to Columbia’s Expansion Plans [NY Times]

State Court Rules Eminent Domain Use for Columbia West Harlem Campus Unconstitutional [Updated] [NY Observer]

Court Decision Puts Halt On Columbia Expansion [NY1]

No eminent domain for Columbia University expansion: court [Daily News]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Appeals court rules for property owners and against Columbia University

From the NY Observer:

In an unexpected major decision, a New York appellate court has overturned the use of eminent domain to create a new West Harlem campus for Columbia University, ruling the action unconstitutional.

The cases were brought by the defiant owner of a set of storage warehouses in West Harlem, Nick Sprayregen, and the owners of two gas stations in the footprint for the 17-acre campus, called Manahttanville. Mr. Sprayregen sued to block the land takings in January, after the use of eminent domain was approved by the state's development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation.

Columbia had said it needed eminent domain to establish a full, contiguous campus, and then build a large, interconnected underground facility throughout the area. Thus all the property owners needed to be removed from the mostly industrial district.

Warner Johnston, an ESDC spokesman, said the state intends to appeal the action.

The ruling has also caught the eye of a set of business owners at Willets Point in Queens, where the city seems likely to use eminent domain.

"We look forward to the same kind of vindication if the city coerces eminent domain on Willets Point," business owner Jake Bono said in a statement.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Daily News editorial draws comparison between Willets Point and New London

N.Y., learn from New London: It offers a critical cautionary tale on the use of eminent domain

BY Richard Lipsky

Monday, November 30th 2009

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. The New London fiasco serves as a cautionary tale, particularly in regards to the expansive and massively expensive project over at Willets Point, in Queens.

At Willets Point, the city is reserving the right, and gives every indication that it will employ the use of, eminent domain to relocate hundreds of businesses and workers. Friday, a federal court ruled for the city's proposed project and against those businesses, saying that their rights are not being violated.

But just because the city can use eminent domain doesn't mean it should - and under close scrutiny, the economic promises of the city simply do not add up.

In order to successfully advance a 9 million-square-foot retail and housing development in that disparaged community, the city will have to - on spec - spend hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to prepare the land. Just to buy all of the property owners out will cost, based on the Economic Development Corp.'s public disclosure of existing sales that have already been negotiated, close to $700 million. And this is all before the cost of providing necessary infrastructure to the area, including sidewalks and sewers, that the city has neglected to provide for well over 80 years.

In addition, it's estimated that the provision of adequate transportation into this peninsula - with an additional estimated 80,000 vehicle trips including 2,500 truck trips entering or leaving Willets Point every weekday - will run into the billions of dollars.

The city is very good at touting the collateral benefits of many of its large retail development projects, but it is understandably reticent about highlighting what can be seen as the collateral damages. Given the Pfizer debacle, in which New London's big promises and massive investments went up in smoke, it is crucial that Bloomberg and his economic development team now give a full and detailed accounting of all the predevelopment costs that will have to be absorbed even before a developer is selected.

The further lesson of New London and Kelo is that a locality needs to be scrupulous before it embarks on utilizing the eminent domain tool. Property rights should not be relegated to a constitutional sidecar. The real brunt of such decisions is borne by business owners whose property will be taken, albeit with compensation, and others who will be displaced.

With the prospect of tax hikes and service cuts hanging over the heads of New Yorkers, now is not the time for the kind of risky investment that cost our Connecticut cousins millions of dollars.

The city needs to take a step back on Willets Point, fully examine the costs as well as the benefits, and ask the simple question: Can we afford this kind of publicly subsidized real estate speculation in the current economic climate? In the aftermath of New London, the answer should be a resounding "no."

Richard Lipsky is a lobbyist representing clients who are fighting the Willets Point development.