The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said New York state can't use eminent domain to help the Ivy League university redevelop 17 acres in the city.
In a 3-2 ruling, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said that it would be unconstitutional to use eminent domain to benefit a “private elite education institution.” It added that the process used to determine the area was blighted was “bereft of facts.” An area must be blighted for the state to use eminent domain.
The Singh and Sprayregen families, who own a total of about 9% of the 17 acres Columbia wants to redevelop, sued the Empire State Development Corp. to block it from condemning their property. Columbia owns the rest and the decision said there was no evidence of blight until the university started buying up property in the neighborhood.
“We have showed that you can challenge the developers and win,” said Norman Siegel, the lawyer for the Sprayregen family.
Columbia didn’t have an immediate comment. In a statement, the ESDC said it believe the decision was wrong and it attends to appeal to the state’s highest court- the New York State Court of Appeals. Late last month, that court ruled that the state could use eminent domain to clear the site for the massive Atlantic Yards $4.9 billion project in Brooklyn.
Mr. Siegel said there are differences between the two cases. For example, Mr. Siegel argued it was inappropriate for the state to use eminent domain for a private institution such as Columbia because not everyone can attend the university.
The state argued the neighborhood was blighted but the court decision pointed out that there is no standard definition of the term. Additionally, Mr. Siegel countered that there was bad faith in the finding of blight because both the state and Columbia used the same consultant. The plaintiffs hired their own consultant who found the area wasn't blighted.
The court found that the state failed to demonstrate any significant health or safety issues in the area other than minor code violations that exist throughout the city, but more particularly in the buildings controlled by Columbia.
An attorney for the plaintiffs who fought the Atlantic Yards project was heartened by the Columbia decision because he hopes it will block the condemnation process in Brooklyn-at least for a while. Matthew Brinckerhoff says he plans to file a motion with the Appeals Court to hold off implementing its decision on the Atlantic Yards case until it decides the Columbia lawsuit since the issues between the two are so similar. Each argued that using eminent domain to pave the way for the respective projects was unconstitutional.
“This revives our chances of a win,” said Mr. Brinckerhoff.