As we have been reporting for the past two years, Columbia University and New York State have colluded to violate the basic property rights of storage king Nick Sparyaregen; and the collusion exposes the lack of fairness that's involved in the entire eminent domain process in New York. As Damon Root writes in the NY Post today: "Collusion between Columbia University and the Empire State Development Corp. over using the ESDC's powers of eminent domain to acquire land for the school seems to violate both the letter and spirit of the law."
The entire concept of "blight" is called into question by the use of a consultant that was on the university's payroll while, at the same time, reaping millions from the state's tax payers: "In 2006, the ESDC hired the planning firm Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) to perform an "impartial" neighborhood blight study. Yet the firm was already on Columbia's payroll and actively working on the school's controversial Manhattanville plan. According to billing records Sprayregen obtained through the state Freedom of Information Law, as many as six AKRF employees worked on both the blight study and the redevelopment project - by definition, a conflict of interest."
So, surprise, surprise, what do you think these colluders discovered? Right, horrible blight: "For starters, AKRF failed to mention that Columbia already owns 76 percent of the neighborhood - and was thus directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of alleged blight that it now seeks to exploit, from overflowing basement trash heaps to major roof and skylight leaks. Numerous tenants have now reported that the university refused to perform basic and necessary repairs - thereby both pushing tenants out of Columbia-owned buildings and manufacturing the ugly conditions that later advanced the school's real-estate interests."
Now that the university and the city own around 91% of the entire proposed development parcel, you'd think that the university could either proceed without the use of eminent domain-or make Sprayregen a great offer to leaver. Neither of these options is, however, being pursued; since Columbia's pursuit of lebensraum is designed to achieve total victory-and the removal of any vestigial "blight" that they don't own and control.
Let's hope that the courts see otherwise-and that they put the brakes on the conspiracy that's afoot in this development scheme. The use of eminent domain is bad enough without the collusion of state officials who rig the process even further against property owners.