Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Columbia U. ruling's impact on Willets Point

From the NY Times:

New York’s highest court handed Columbia University a major victory on Thursday for its $6.3 billion plan to build a satellite campus in Harlem, ruling that the state could seize private property for the project.

Nicholas Sprayregen owns four Tuck-it-Away Self Storage buildings in the area including this one at Broadway in between 131 St. and 132 St. The storage facility at left is on the land that is being taken over by Columbia University.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that prohibited the state from using eminent domain to take property in the 17-acre expansion zone west of Broadway, known as Manhattanville, without the owners’ consent. The ruling held that the courts must give deference to the state’s determination that the area was “blighted” and that condemnation on behalf of a university served a public purpose, two ways that the project could qualify for eminent domain under state law.

Norman Siegel, who represented the losing owners, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision and would appeal to the Supreme Court. Although state law allows eminent domain to be used for educational purposes, he argued that it did not explicitly permit a private institution to benefit from it.

“The decision sets a terrible precedent regarding the use of eminent domain,” he said.

Still, the decision was not unexpected, said Michael Rikon, a lawyer who specializes in condemnation law and real estate litigation.

“It is virtually impossible to stop a condemnation in New York because of the courts’ deference to agencies’ determination,” Mr. Rikon said. “Even though the courts say they won’t be a rubber stamp, that’s in essence what they’ve become.”

The ruling does not bode well for property owners in Willets Point, Queens, a neglected neighborhood near Citi Field, who oppose the city’s effort to take their land for a redevelopment plan, Mr. Rikon said.

Those owners, who are considering a lawsuit against condemnation, contend that the area is blighted only because the city has refused to pave the streets properly and install sewers. But their current lawsuit challenging the city’s plan on environmental grounds is unaffected by the ruling.

“It’s time for the State of New York to do something about this,” Mr. Rikon said. “They should create a commission on eminent domain to revise the law.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New York’s High Court Slams Door On Property Owners in the Empire State

If you own a piece of property in New York State, you won’t like today’s ruling by the state’s high court.

The New York Court of Appeals—that state’s highest court—today overturned a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the New York State Urban Development Corporation from using eminent domain to take property away from a group of small-business owners in upper Manhattan and turn it over to Columbia University for private development. Today’s decision comes on the heels of the court’s decision last year in Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation, which allowed homes and businesses in Brooklyn to be turned over to wealthy developer Bruce Ratner to build luxury condominiums and a basketball arena.

“Once again, New York’s courts have completely ignored the abuse of power by government bureaucrats and politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. IJ litigates nationwide against eminent domain abuse and filed a brief with the Court in favor of Harlem property owners. “The sad truth is that, in New York, the government not only can hand your property over to private developers for no better reason than that it likes them more than it likes you, but it does so on an alarmingly regular basis.” Last year, IJ catalogued the staggering rate at which properties are taken for private use in the Empire State in a report, Building Empires, Destroying Homes, available at

According to another report by the Institute for Justice on eminent domain abuse in New York, titled Empire State Eminent Domain: Robin Hood in Reverse, eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets those who are less well-off and less educated, as well as ethnic and racial minorities—populations least able to fight back and thus most in need of protection from abuse. In New York, more than elsewhere in the country, this means taking from the poor to give to the rich. A copy of that report is available at:

A lower court had previously refused to allow the condemnations to go forward, noting that the state agency’s assertion that it was taking the properties to eliminate “blight” was clearly nothing but a pretext for using government power to further Columbia’s pre-existing expansion plans. In today’s ruling, Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote that the lower court should not have looked so closely at the agency’s blight findings, which should be “entitled to deference by the judiciary.”

“In other words, the court is saying that judges shouldn’t judge,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.

Associate Judge Robert S. Smith concurred in the result, noting that he was bound by the court’s earlier decision in the Goldstein case. “The finding of ‘blight’ in this case seems to me strained and pretextual,” Judge Smith wrote, “but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein.”

“No one taking a fair look at the state’s finding of ‘blight’—which is based on a report that was commissioned years after Columbia decided it wanted these properties—could think it is anything but a pretext for handing over these properties to another private owner,” explained Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice staff attorney. “This isn’t judicial ‘deference.’ It’s judicial blindness.”

The New York opinion comes only one day after the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. That opinion—which allowed the government to condemn homes in the name of “economic development”—spurred a national backlash, leading to legislative changes and court decisions providing property owners with greater protection in 43 states. Political and judicial leaders in New York, however, have refused to reform their eminent domain laws, which are among the worst in the nation. More information on the post-Kelo backlash is available at:

“New York remains one of only seven states that has failed to provide any legislative reform of eminent domain, and it is the only state whose highest court has allowed private property to be taken for private use since the Kelo decision,” explained Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Every state high court to hear an eminent domain case since Kelo has applied greater judicial scrutiny—every state, that is, except New York. The New York Court of Appeals is the only state high court that gives complete and abject deference to the actions of condemning agencies, no matter how suspicious.”

“Today’s decision confirms what we already knew: Judicial review of eminent domain in New York is fundamentally broken,” concluded McNamara. “Unless the Legislature takes meaningful steps to protect property rights, New York property owners will find themselves out in the cold—in some cases all too literally.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kelo: Five Years Later

Kelo Ruling Marks 5-Year Anniversary Wednesday

43 State Legislatures & Many State Supreme Courts Reject Ruling,
Act to Protect Property from Eminent Domain Abuse

Arlington, Va.—Kelo was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that became the property rights shot heard ’round the world. Wednesday marks its fifth anniversary.

In the merely five years since that infamous ruling, the vast majority of state legislatures, many state supreme courts and the public itself have acted to limit Kelo, which took away the homes of seven New London, Conn., families for private development and sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain for private gain.

And what now stands on the land where 75 homes once stood around Susette Kelo’s little pink house? Nothing but barren fields, weeds and feral cats. Ten years lost and more than $80 million in taxpayer money spent. Even Pfizer, which received massive corporate welfare to move to New London and sparked the abuses of eminent domain, has now announced that it will close its research and development headquarters and leave New London.

These dramatic changes are addressed in a new report issued today by the Institute for Justice: “Five Years After Kelo: The Sweeping Backlash Against One of the Supreme Court’s Most-Despised Decisions,” available at: IJ also created a brief video (available at outlining the successes in the five years since the Kelo ruling.

“For property owners nationwide, Kelo remains the classic example of losing the battle but winning the war,” said Scott Bullock, an Institute for Justice senior attorney who argued the case on behalf of the homeowners. “After the Supreme Court completely abdicated its role as guardian of rights under the U.S. Constitution, there has been an unprecedented public revolt against the decision in terms of public opinion, citizen activism, legislative changes, state court decisions and lessons learned from the New London debacle. More work needs to be done, but the results of the Kelo backlash have been striking. The Institute for Justice used to get continual requests for assistance in fighting eminent domain for private gain. Now, we receive far fewer and, of those, many are defeated by activism in the court of public opinion before they ever reach a court of law.”

In the five years since Kelo was handed down:

* 43 states have passed either constitutional amendments or statutes that reformed their eminent domain laws to better protect private property rights. Although the quality and type of reform varies, the bottom line is that virtually all of the reforms amount to net increases in protections for property owners faced with eminent domain abuse. (For a state-by-state grading of all state eminent domain reforms, see:
* Nine state high courts restricted the use of eminent domain for private development while only one (New York) has so far refused to do so.
* Kelo educated the public about eminent domain abuse, and polls consistently show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to Kelo and support efforts to change the law to better protect property rights. Among the most-recent surveys was one conducted by the Associated Press, which found 87 percent of respondents said government shouldn’t have the power of eminent domain for redevelopment, 75 percent opposed government taking private property and handing it over to a developer, and 88 percent of respondents said property rights are just as important as freedom of speech and religion.
* Citizen activists defeated at least 44 projects that sought to abuse eminent domain for private gain in the five-year period since Kelo.

“This significant public opposition to eminent domain abuse led to a complete change in the public’s view on this issue,” said Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Although public officials, planners and developers in the past could keep condemnations for private gain under the public’s radar screen and thus usually get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses, that is no longer the case.”

“One of the other reasons for this fundamental shift in eminent domain policy has been the response of state courts to Kelo,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney and co-counsel in the Kelo case. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to correctly interpret the U.S. Constitution, the state high courts began to fill that void. For example, the courts in Hawaii, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—all states that used to regularly abuse eminent domain—each decided that, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, they would closely scrutinize municipal takings and prevent unconstitutional abuses.”

There is one significant exception to this good news for property owners in state courts—New York. The Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court) routinely ignores evidence of eminent domain abuse, refusing to give the facts any real scrutiny. The Court of Appeals does have a chance to redeem itself in another challenge to a completely trumped-up claim of blight, combined with concealment of relevant evidence, in another case currently pending before it involving the use of eminent domain to expand Columbia (a private university) in Harlem. New Yorkers can only hope the Court of Appeals will remove its head from the sand before reaching its final decision.

“Even though the Fort Trumbull neighborhood was lost, Susette Kelo’s little pink house, where this fight all began, still stands, now in downtown New London about one mile away from Fort Trumbull,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “Like Betsy Ross’ house in Philadelphia and Paul Revere’s home in Boston, Susette Kelo’s pink cottage stands as a monument to her and her neighbors’ struggle, one that has changed this nation for the better.”

For a compelling account of the history and back-story of the New London controversy, read Jeff Benedict’s “Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage” published in 2009 by Grand Central Publishing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Cuomo protecting Shulman?

Willets Point Group Claims Cuomo Delay
by Michael Howard Saul
Wall Street Journal, 6/22/10

Queens property owners battling Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to redevelop the area near Citi Field are accusing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of dragging his feet in a yearlong investigation into whether a city-funded corporation broke state law by lobbying for the plan.

The controversy surrounding the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. has exposed friction between aides to Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo over how quickly the city handed over documents to state investigators.

In a June 17 letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Willets Point property owners demanded Mr. Cuomo, who is running for governor, respond to their allegation that the corporation, led by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, conducted an extensive lobbying effort in violation of state law. Ms. Shulman denied any wrongdoing in an interview.

"We're getting a little frustrated on what's taking so long and why he's not acting more quickly," said Jerry Antonacci, president of Willets Point United Inc., the group that filed the complaint against Ms. Shulman's corporation.

"There is no reason for a delay in this."

Mr. Antonacci said he believes politics might be at play because, in his view, it's an open-shut case. "I do feel there's some behind-the-door politicking going on," he said. "That's what I feel in my gut."

Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said, "It's an ongoing investigation and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment."

The attorney general's office has complained about the speed with which the city has responded to requests for information.

The final batch of requested documents from the city arrived at Mr. Cuomo's office last week, a person familiar with the probe said. And Mr. Cuomo's office still needs to interview additional witnesses, the person said.

Terri Sasanow, senior counsel at the city's law department, said, "The city has fully compiled with all document requests from the attorney general."

Willets Point, a 62-acre site that is adjacent to Flushing Meadows Park and Citi Field, is filled with scrap yards and auto- repair shops. The mayor's plan, approved by the City Council in 2008, calls for a massive cleanup and the creation of 5,500 housing units and eight acres of parks and playgrounds. The business owners in Mr. Antonacci's group don't want to sell their properties to the city.

Ms. Shulman's corporation received hundreds of thousands of dollars in both public and private money to build support for Mr. Bloomberg's plan. State law prohibits local development corporations, such as the Ms. Shulman's, from attempting to "influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise."

"We did everything in good faith and we continue to believe that," Ms. Shulman said. "It's a good project," she added, referring to the mayor's plans for the area. Ms. Shulman admitted she and her group engaged in lobbying.

"Did we go to speak to members of the City Council? Yes, we did," she said. "We hired lobbyists."

Bob Bishop, an attorney for Ms. Shulman's corporation, said that he believes state law prohibits lobbying of the Legislature. Since Ms. Shulman lobbied the City Council, he said, "the activity is not illegal."

"We are waiting for guidance from the attorney general," he said.

Last year, the City Clerk imposed a $59,090 fine against the corporation because Ms. Shulman failed to register as a lobbyist.

At the time, it was the largest fine issued by the City Clerk for lobbying activity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jake Bono on Fox News Channel

Live television: Jake Bono of Bono Sawdust appears on Fox News Channel's "It's Your Land" series, June 13, 2010. The City of New York intends to forcibly evict the property owners and 250 businesses, including Bono Sawdust, from the Willets Point neighborhood, then give the 62 acres of property to an as-yet-unidentified private party that is preferred by the City. Bono Sawdust is a third-generation business that has owned property and operated successfully at Willets Point for more than 70 years, and is not interested in leaving. Bono is a member of Willets Point United Inc., a coalition of property owners who are opposed to the City's plan to forcibly acquire their properties.

This video has been minimally edited to reduce certain introductory material that does not pertain to Bono or to Willets Point.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

EDC wants to know what our problem is

This letter was sent to most Willets Point businesses:

If the EDC wants to know what our main problem is while trying to do business at Willets Point, the answer is simple:

The EDC.

Friday, June 4, 2010

WPU on Fox News

From Fox News:

“This is not to disrespect the flag or America," says Jake Bono, "this is a symbol of when your property or life is in distress. Americans are supposed to turn the flag upside down in this way."

Bono sits in the office of the building built by his grandfather, the feisty and pugnacious 34 year old wearing a blue tee-shirt emblazoned with an upside-down American flag and the words: "Distressed Americans."

Another small upside down flag is hanging on the wall, and for Jake and his family business, Bono Sawdust Supply, you can't help see his frustration, disappointment, and shaken faith in our system that he holds so dear. He fears that he and his family's legacy will fall victim to eminent domain.

"This is not what the founding fathers, this is not what is supposed to happen here in America," he says. "This is mind-boggling to us."

For 77 years, since his grandfather and two uncles founded the company in 1933, the family firm has manufactured saw dust for industrial uses. There are only a handful of such firms in the nation, and he says his is the last in New York State. Now the City of New York wants him, and other property owners, out of the 62 acre area known as Willets Point, a run-down and dusty industrial area in the shadow of the new Citi Field baseball stadium of the New York Mets. The government plans to rehabilitate the area.

Bono and 21 others are waging a long battle. The city government wants to tear down Willets Point, and build a new development of housing, parks, and recreation facilities. In order to do that, the city is threatening to use eminent domain against Bono and the property owners who refuse to sell.

"If it was a road or a hospital, or something that was needed," says Bono, "we would say we had bad luck and we would not be trying to hold on to what is ours," he says. "What it means to us is everything. It's everything that you work for...How could you not feel safe in our house? How could you not feel safe in your business, that one day the city, if they feel like putting something else there, could just take it away from you?," he asks, saying he should not be in the position of being forced to move his business.

"It's not about why can't I move, why don't I have my rights?" he asks.

"What we'd love to see, aside from not getting evicted at Willets Point, is for the state to change the law," says Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist and media consultant who advises the holdout property owners who have formed the group, Willets Point United. He says the state should "create a definition for what blight is, and what public use is, and offer some protections which don't exist under New York State law today."

While officials praise the planned development, others like Bono remain with a shadow over their future. He knows, under the law, that the government can pay him what is considered a 'fair market value" for his property, whether he likes it or not.

"They're not going to win," he vows. "They're going to try hard, but they are not going to win...We have to fight for our lives to keep what is ours."

The Fox News segment (which does not yet appear on the website) will be running periodically on the air throughout the coming days.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Motorcycle club left in limbo

From the Times Ledger:

History sure seems to repeat itself for the Queensboro Motorcycle Club.

The biker group was unceremoniously uprooted from its original clubhouse among the old ash heaps of central Queens in 1939 to make way for the creation of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in time for that year’s World’s Fair, according to Bill Goldstein, the club’s president.

The resilient club, which turns 100 this year, was never compensated for its property, Goldstein said, but it pushed on and eventually found a new slice of Queens in Willets Point, where members built a modest clubhouse behind a chain-link fence between two warehouses on 34th Avenue.

The plans for Willets Point leave the bikers in a lurch as they attempt to continue their gatherings, rides and community service activities from a point with an uncertain future. Goldstein said the club pays $4,000 a year in taxes and he asks only that the city tell them what will become of them in coming years.

“We understand that this is an area of contention and that no one wants to breathe a word about it,” he said over sodas in the club’s wood-paneled meeting room. “But we pay $4 grand a year and we get nothing for it. We get no road repair, no sidewalks, no streetlights, there’s no sanitation. This place is an absolute pigsty.”

Or, as club member James Frost put it last week, “it looks like Beirut now.”

Years of unattended potholes and ruts have turned the roads of Willets Point into a minefield for motorcyclists, and earlier this month a member of the club slowly riding to the clubhouse hit a nearby pothole, sustained minor injuries and damaged his bike, according to club members.

The state of disrepair has reached a breaking point, members said, and member Jan Borodo has been compiling a file of the club’s repeated requests for repairs. Borodo has a file with dozens of copies of documents he has sent to Bloomberg’s office, the city Department of Transportation, 311, Community Board 7 and a number of news outlets in hopes of getting basic repairs done — all of which have yielded little or no results.

The group’s members said they do not want to fight the city — they only want to know what lies ahead. Goldstein said the group is willing to take a fair relocation deal or to stay if the city makes improvements.

But the state of limbo is taxing their patience.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Let's build Shangri-La next to an asphalt plant...

From the Queens Tribune:

The City is hoping to make pothole repairs more efficient and environmentally friendly, using the plant, which uses recycled asphalt, to dispatch repair trucks and asphalt that are closer to the Bronx, Queens and Upper Manhattan.

However, the City also has plans to redevelop the area directly adjacent to the plant, removing and relocating the industrial businesses that currently reside there.

Previously, the City Council passed a redevelopment plan for the "Iron Triangle" at Willets Point, a process that lurched forward in June 2008 when Community Board 7 approved the project; it established a precedent for trying to buy out all of the industrial companies there to make room for the redevelopment.

When business owners refused to leave the City Council held a public hearing regarding the plan and voted in November 2008 to approve the redevelopment plan, which includes the potential use of eminent domain to acquire property claiming the area was blighted. "The city has neglected us for 30 years. They let it get like that. We have no sewers, no sidewalks; they left us here," said Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container and President of Willets Point United, a group of business owners who have banded together to fight their removal and redevelopment of the area.

In March 2010, the City purchased the Asphalt Plant for $30 million to make use of it in repairing roads. Bloomberg said it would "help make the streets feel brand new," as well as save taxpayers $5 million annually.

Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for Willets Point United, said this was "Par for the course with the City," stating that it was operating "asphalt backwards" in purchasing and using an industrial plant while to trying to relocate others from the same neighborhood.

From the Times Ledger:

The plant is located a stone’s throw from Willets Point, a 62-acre plot of land populated by manufacturers, auto repair shops and other industrial businesses.

On the city’s slate of places due to get a makeover in coming years, the city is working to upgrade the area by relocating or purchasing businesses in the area to make way for a multibillion-dollar mixed-use development project. The area is ridden with crater-like potholes as much as a foot deep that turn into deep, dangerous pools of murky water whenever it rains.

And whose fault is that? Richard Lipsky knows:

Is it only us? Are we the only people who think that siting an asphalt plant next to Willets Point isn’t the best idea? Apparently we aren’t since the folks over at Queens Crapper forwarded us this report from the local papers-along with the following comment: “Stupid is as stupid does. Let's develop Shangri-la next to an asphalt plant…”

How right they are. But it actually gets even more ridiculous because of the justifying statement made by Mayor Bloomberg: “The new facility will allow us to resurface and repair more streets faster, in a more environmentally sound fashion and at a lower cost at a time when we are looking at all possible options to reduce expenses,” the mayor said. “By producing more recycled asphalt, we’ll avoid 2 million miles of annual truck trips that are used to carry milled asphalt to landfills, reducing congestion, pollution and wear-and-tear on our streets.”

So, let’s get this straight. They are going to build this plant next to the 9 million square foot Willets Point development-the one that will generate 80,000 car and truck trips a day-and there rationale is, “reducing congestion?” Is there a better reason for believing that the term city planning is an oxymoron?

Not to be outdone, NYC’s own Sadik weighs in as well: “Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the DOT, said the new plant will help the city keep pace with design and repair demands without sacrificing time and money. “Continued investments that combine the safety and good repair of our streets with the need to reduce our city’s carbon footprint are helping New York City remain an international leader in sustainable practices,” she said.”

And to show we have a sense of humor, we will put the “sustainable practices,” asphalt plant right next to an unsustainable Willets Point.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fox News Video: Land Grab Blocked

From FoxNews:

Property owner wins eminent domain case against Columbia University.

Why the Columbia decision should be upheld

From Reason:

New York’s Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Kaur v. Urban Development Corporation. At issue is the state’s controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University, which wants free rein to build a sweeping new 17-acre research campus in the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville. To that end, Columbia joined forces with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the powerful yet little-known state agency authorized to bypass zoning laws and seize private property via eminent domain. In July 2008 the ESDC declared Manhattanville to be “blighted,” the state of severe economic disrepair required to trigger an eminent domain taking under state law.

But Columbia’s schemes came to a halt last December when a state appellate court struck down the ESDC’s actions. Writing for a majority of the Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, Justice James Catterson denounced the ESDC for being “biased in Columbia’s favor” and condemned the agency’s blight determination as “mere sophistry.” It’s now up to the Court of Appeals to decide whether Justice Catterson got it right.

He did. As lead attorney and former New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Norman Siegel has been able to prove thanks to reams of documents retrieved via the state’s Freedom of Information Law, Columbia and the ESDC actively colluded in order to produce the very conditions of blight that would then allow the ESDC to seize property on the university’s behalf. This documentary record, which Siegel carefully details in the legal brief he submitted to the Court of Appeals, offers a convincing and damning portrait of government malfeasance on behalf of an elite private institution.

In sum, a powerful state agency secretly colluded with a powerful private university in order to trample constitutional rights, violate the letter and spirit of the law, and force law-abiding tenants out of their homes and businesses in order to manufacture self-serving blight conditions that disfigured an otherwise livable and commercially viable neighborhood. If there was ever a case where New York’s highest court should intervene against eminent domain abuse, this is it.

Willets Point United Inc. supports Kaur plaintiffs; Recognizes fundamental similarities with Willets Point land grab

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.