New York, New York – For Immediate Release
Members of Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") have traveled to Albany to support the plaintiff property owners in Kaur v. Urban Development Corporation, and to attend the oral arguments. The circumstances of the Empire State Development Corporation's intended use of eminent domain in West Harlem to benefit Columbia University, closely resemble the City of New York's intended use of eminent domain at Willets Point to benefit an as-yet-unnamed private developer.
Self-made "blight": In West Harlem, Columbia acquired a number of buildings via private transactions, and then deliberately allowed them to sit vacant and deteriorate, thereby establishing self-made "blight" that has become a questionable basis for the use of eminent domain. Similarly, at Willets Point, the City of New York has systematically deprived the neighborhood of municipal services and infrastructure for several decades, while allowing the public property there to fall into a state of self-made disrepair, which the City believes constitutes "blight" that may become a basis for the City's use of eminent domain.
Same "blight" consultant: When authoring the West Harlem "blight study", consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. ("AKRF") was not a neutral party, and its report – instead of being impartial – was designed to promote a pre-ordained conclusion that benefitted Columbia University. The same firm – AKRF – also authored the Neighborhood Conditions Study that pertains to Willets Point.
No "public use": Although the Fifth Amendment requires a "public use" when property is acquired by eminent domain, in West Harlem the exercise of eminent domain is to benefit Columbia University, a private institution. At Willets Point, the exercise of eminent is to benefit an as-yet-unnamed private developer; or perhaps even a sports team franchise, as has recently been rumored.
WPU is a coalition of more than 20 Willets Point property owners who are actively opposing the City of New York's attempt to acquire their land. WPU believes that the outrageous attempts to exercise eminent domain in West Harlem and at Willets Point clearly underscore the urgent need for reform of New York State's eminent domain law, as has already been done by more than 40 other states in response to the notorious 2005 Kelo eminent domain decision. WPU calls for a moratorium on all use of eminent domain within New York State, until such time as the Eminent Domain Procedure Law has been revised to define "blight" and "just compensation"; to provide for full judicial review, including cross-examination of witnesses; and to prohibit the use of eminent domain to condemn property to facilitate development by new and favored private owners who seek merely to replace one existing use of the property with another.