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New York Post

 

When Can't New York Take Your Land

December 07, 2009

By Steven Malanga

A New York appellate court last week harshly rejected the state’s effort to take property from businesses in upper Manhattan and give it to Columbia University for its campus expansion, calling it a “scheme” hatched by the university and the state and labeling their arguments in favor of invoking eminent domain, the government power to seize private property, as “mere sophistry.”

Yet for decades the state has confiscated private property on the slimmest of pretexts, often vastly underpaying, and in the process ruined businesses and lives. The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based, public-interest group, recently called New York one of the worst eminent-domain abusers in the country.

A New York appellate court last week harshly rejected the state’s effort to take property from businesses in upper Manhattan and give it to Columbia University for its campus expansion, calling it a “scheme” hatched by the university and the state and labeling their arguments in favor of invoking eminent domain, the government power to seize private property, as “mere sophistry.”

Yet for decades the state has confiscated private property on the slimmest of pretexts, often vastly underpaying, and in the process ruined businesses and lives. The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based, public-interest group, recently called New York one of the worst eminent-domain abusers in the country.

One casualty was a Theater District institution, Arnold Hatters, which had been in business for 44 years. After closing in June, owner Mark Rubin said in an online posting: “I’m positive if I was still in the old location, I’d be weathering this economy. Instead, with three kids and a mortgage, I’m writing the first resume of my life.”

Yet, in the case of the Times building, the government argued vigorously in court against claims by the merchants that their original locations were a boon to their businesses, even disputing claims of how much street traffic the merchants enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse since the US Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in the Kelo case that state and local governments have the right to seize property and transfer it to other private owners for the sake of new developments that potentially create jobs and more tax revenue. Politicians around the country have been invoking eminent domain as a way to clear land and build their favorite megaprojects.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed displacing businesses in a 62-acre tract in Queens known as Willets Point in order to make way for a proposed retail and subsidized housing project. In Patchogue, authorities used the threat of eminent domain to persuade business- and residential-property owners to sell land on which a private developer then built subsidized housing. In Schenectady, officials began the condemnation process this summer for a historic building that government wants to seize and tear down to replace with a retail project.

Even the owners of property that Columbia is eyeing aren’t safe: Columbia will almost certainly appeal to New York’s highest court, which last month upheld the state’s right to take properties in Brooklyn for the Atlantic Yards project. Around the country, state legislators have responded to Kelo with legislation limiting what officials can do. New York’s is one of the few legislatures that hasn’t acted, but the need is clear.

Reform would include:

* A stricter definition of “blight” land so that officials can’t declare even a thriving neighborhood to be devastated just so they can seize property in it.

* A ban on government taking property from one private citizen to transfer to another private citizen for redevelopment merely to enhance the value of the land.

We should all shudder at the notion that state or local officials could one day seize our property simply because they think someone else could make it more valuable.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/when_can_new_york_take_your_land_PYidHwofLgCg8fbKK4w80M

 

 
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