Monday, November 28, 2005

Atlantic Yards, Eminent Domain and Accountable Development

Last Friday Errol Louis had a thoughtful piece on eminent domain that questioned the legislative effort, now wending its way through Congress, that would restrict the use of condemnation to only the narrowest interpretation of what constitutes “public use.”

Louis’ approach is that Eminent Domain can be a constructive way to resurrect areas that are seen as blighted. From this perspective he sees Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project as a proper use of condemnation because,
nearly 26,000 people – 27% of the overall population [in CB#8] - receive welfare, food stamps or some other form of public assistance.
Given the extent of the blight, Louis argues that the overall public good shouldn’t be stymied by a “handful of people.” And, as far as Atlantic yards goes, we agree with this position. We also see the effort of Forest City to engage a broad section of the community as a positive step towards the creation of a city-wide standard for accountable development.

We do, however, disagree with Errol’s apparent position that the current eminent domain law is fine as it stands. Not all developments, indeed, not all developers are the same. In the case of Atlantic Yards we may see a good example of the legal maxim: “good cases make bad law.” Existing condemnation law in New York needs to be changed, with greater procurement for property owners and tenants. In addition, we would argue strenuously that any proposed use of eminent domain be accompanied by the implementation of an accountable development methodology that insures transparency and the greatest return for public investments in a project.