In a stunning decision in a case that, honestly, we forgot was still hanging around, a state appellate court has overturned the state's use of eminent domain to seize land for Columbia University's 17-acre expansion into the West Harlem microhood of Manhattanville. The suit was brought by Manhattanville landowner and thorn in Columbia's side Nick Sprayregen, as well as the owner of a pair of gas stations in the neighborhood. It was a 3-2 decision, the Observer's Eliot Brown reports, that ruled the Empire State Development Corporation's actions unconstitutional. The ESDC plans to appeal the surprising decision. Why surprising? Because eminent domain decisions, like at Atlantic Yards recently, have a way of going the government's way. The difference here? The land may be "blighted," but it was Columbia itself that contributed to the blighting.
Brown's summary of the decision:
In the case of Columbia, the decision says, the clear beneficiary was Columbia, not the public. Columbia, by buying up property and not maintaining sidewalks, helped to create blight, the court found, and the university underwrote costs for the entire project, rather than the city or state committing funds.And here's a shot at Columbia from the decision itself:In this case, the record overwhelmingly establishes that the true beneficiary of the scheme to redevelop Manhattanville is not the community that is supposedly blighted, but rather Columbia University, a private elite education institution. These remarkably astonishing conflicts with Kelo on virtually every level cannot be ignored, and render the taking in this case unconstitutional."Said Sprayregen, "Unbelievable; unbelievable," and indeed, we find it hard to believe that this battle is even close to being over (it should be added that Columbia outright owns most of the expansion land anyway). But on this day: Holy Harlem, what an upset!
· State Court Rules Eminent Domain Use for Columbia West Harlem Campus Unconstitutional [NYO]
· Columbia Expansion coverage [Curbed]