Thursday, July 24, 2008

Observations on Tuck-It-Away

In this week's Observer, Eliot Brown focuses in on the ongoing battle being waged by Nick Sprayregen (our client) against Columbia University and the state: "For more than three years, Nicholas Sprayregen has kept his word to Columbia University. The largest private landowner in the footprint of the university’s planned 17-acre West Harlem expansion, he has vowed time and again to fight the university’s attempts to oust him, so long as the school threatens the use of eminent domain. Now, as the bulk of the area’s politicians have endorsed the expansion, community opposition has gone from a boil to a simmer and all but one other private-property owner has agreed to sell to the university, the fight’s final chapter is poised to be strictly a legal one between two parties: the university and Mr. Sprayregen."

As the Observer points out, this is not an easy battle since the NY State's eminent domain laws are big obstacles for those looking to keep their property: "New York's laws on eminent domain are viewed as rather favorable to the state when compared with other laws nationwide, making the climb for Mr. Sprayregen a distinctly uphill one. Landowners in other eminent domain cases often hope that a prolonged legal battle will derail a project through a changing political landscape or economic climate. But Columbia’s plan seems prone to more stability than a typical private developer’s. The university has a multibillion dollar endowment; already owns the bulk of the land in the footprint; and has always said the expansion is a long-term proposition,..."

And while Sprayregen appears pessimistic (“I’m pessimistic that we will be successful,” he said, surrounded by piles of documents related to the expansion. “I have a feeling that if we’re going to get anything, the only way it’s going to happen is that we’re first going to have to lose in the New York courts and then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and hopefully have them take on the case, and then win. “That’s obviously a long shot.”), from what we know of him he is definitely looking forward to the attempt to change the law in this country.

One observation of our own on the swap plan. The Observer's take is as follows: "Mr. Sprayregen met community opposition last year in an attempt to rezone his properties himself, and he has all but given up hope on a land-swap proposal he made to Columbia, saying university officials in a recent meeting seemed unwilling to part with the property he was eyeing." Well, not quite.

The land swap is still viable and Sprayregen, while remaining a pessimist regarding the university's good intentions, is still exploring the economic feasibility of a swap; and what makes it still a possibility is the complete absence of any housing in the CU expansion plan-a central tenet of the Sprayregen concept. If the deal is fully developed and unveiled, we promise that it will have tremendous political support-and the support of labor as well.

If that happens, the elitist posturing of the university will become untenable, and the political position of project opponent Bill Perkins will be strengthened. In the context of an expansion that will displace thousands-and in the middle of a city wide election cycle-the university and its rent subsidized supporters will be significantly challenged; and the courts will take cognizance of CU's intransigence.