Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blight is in the Mind of the Beholden

On Thursday, according to the intrepid Eliot Brown at the Observer, it appears that the long awaited ESDC blight study will be unveiled: "Just when news started to slow for the summer on the development front, New York's Empire State Development Corporation dropped this bombshell in the agenda for its monthly meeting [PDF]: Columbia University "Land Use Improvement Project and Civic Project Findings." Translation: the state will unveil the blight study, the first step in the use of eminent domain for Columbia's 17-acre West Harlem site."

Get ready for the fireworks on this front. Remember that the study has been done by Columbia's own in-house consultants AKRF-an abbreviation that stands for "Dewey, Cheatum and Howe!" Blight, in this case, is in the mind of the beholden.

This unnaturally close, almost incestuous, relationship between Columbia, AKRF and ESDC has been one of the subjects of a lawsuit brought by our client Tuck-it-Away, the self-storage company that is in the line of the Columbia bulldozer. As one commenter to the blog post points out: "Perhaps more important is a decision handed down just today that ruled in favor of Mr. Sprayregen. It upholds a lower court's decision to release documents that the state refused to hand over plus the court raises the real issue of conflict of interest between Columbia and the state in their hiring, at the same time, the same consultant. Stay tuned for more."

The line in the sand nature of what's ahead comes as a result of the university's lack of eagerness to pursue the land swap that Mr. Sprayregen put forward late last year. As Nick's attorney Norman Siegel points out: "Columbia had numerous opportunities to amicably resolve this, but ethey chose not to, and the battle lines are drawn," said Norman Siegal, Mr. Sprayregen's attorney. "This controversy has been brewing for at least five years."

In Brown's follow-up post on the successful Sprayregen lawsuit, the conflict of interest issue is brought to the fore: "The major landowner fighting Columbia University's expansion, Nick Sprayregen, today came out victorious over the state's Empire State Development Corporation today in an appellate court ruling on a case involving the Freedom of Information Law.
The case concerned the release of documents and correspondences between the state and its contractor AKRF, mostly surrounding the creation of a blight study (slated for release Thursday). Mr. Sprayregen, represented by attorney Norman Siegel, defeated the state at the first level last year, with the court offering criticism that the same contractor, AKRF, was used for both the blight study and the environmental review."

The question that remains in all of this, is how the courts will view the AKRF "findings." The bigger question perhaps should be, in the words of Clint Eastwood, be posed to Columbia: "Do you feel lucky, punk?"