Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Change is in the air

From the NY Times:

“I think people are really getting a foul smell from what’s been going on,” said Michael Rikon, a lawyer who represents business owners in the Willets Point section of Queens, where the city intends to condemn property to make way for a large redevelopment project.

Mr. Siegel said New York was the only state that did not permit people resisting condemnation to be heard at the trial-court level, where there would be an opportunity for discovery and cross-examination of witnesses.

A provision to require trial-level review could be part of new legislation being drafted by Mr. Perkins, said Amy Lavine, a staff attorney with Albany Law School’s Government Law Center, who is advising the state senator. At the top of her list is substituting a specific definition of blight for the current standard of “substandard and insanitary.”

One model might be Pennsylvania’s law from 2006, which permits a blight finding only when a substantial number of properties meet certain conditions like being “unfit for public habitation” or having been tax delinquent for two years. “It’s about making sure there are objective standards relating to public health and safety,” Ms. Lavine said.

Ms. Lavine said she also supported lengthening the 30-day time limit for mounting a condemnation challenge.

Senator Perkins, who quoted the conservative columnist George Will with approval at the public hearing, said he expected to build a bipartisan coalition to improve the condemnation process. “Eminent domain is like a gun to people’s head,” he said.