Friday, March 18, 2011

A Question of Fairness

The Ridgewood Times-Ledger editorializes this week about the use of eminent domain on the Willets Point businesses-and even though the paper supports the project, it still is queasy about how the city is using the power of condemnation:

"The redevelopment of Willets Point will be a good thing for Queens. It will create middle-income housing and hundreds of jobs. It will generate tax revenues for a city still reeling from the recession and turn a junkyard into a thriving commercial area.

But a price has been paid to make the $3 billion redevelopment possible. An independent study should be done to see if the envisioned end result justifies trampling on the rights of area property owners. In particular, questions have been raised about the use of eminent domain for a private development."

Oversight, oversight, where for art thou? What a novel idea-a cost benefit analysis of this boondoggle to see if it is, not only worth it, but even doable. Add this evaluation to the traffic snafu we have been covering, and you have one big mess. But we particularly like the paper's last point on private development.

This is likely to be one of the major thrusts in any legal challenge, and yesterday WPU's eminent domain attorney raised the issue with the city: "The proposed taking is without logic or reason.Quite simply, you cannot take private property on speculation.There is no developer.The Executive Summary for the Willets Point Development Plan from the Office of the Mayor, dated February 10, 2011 admits “there is no specific development plan”...The proposed condemnation is also speculative because nothing can be developed unless the extraordinary traffic problems are dealt with by obtaining approvals to build new ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway. The necessary State and Federal approvals for these ramps have not been approved."

Finally, as the local paper highlights, when taking private property for something other that a school, hospital or road, great care must be given to insure that businesses being condemned are treated with some degree of fairness: "Eminent domain was intended to assist governments in building a courthouse or school when a private property was in the way. The U.S. Supreme Court later allowed governments to extend eminent domain to private development that will serve a public purpose. In that scenario, care must be taken to protect property owners’ rights.

What WPU will be arguing in both of its law suits is that this care has been forfeited because a frustrated EDC has decided to move forward speculatively with a project that has no developer and no ability to accommodate the massive traffic it will generate. It should not be allowed to continue along a path fraught with danger-not only for the businesses, but for the communities in the eye of this proposed storm.