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.