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.