Monday, September 22, 2008

Eminent Domain Fight in Albany

As the NY Sun writes this morning, a shift in political power in the New York State Senate could mean that the state's eminent domain laws could be amended so that property owners, who now really don't have many statutory protections, could be given more legal rights to fight eminent domain abuse: "A Democratic takeover of the Senate in November could result in changes to the state's eminent domain law, possibly complicating several of the city's largest development projects. State Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat of Harlem, is calling for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain and said he is willing to push for more restrictions on the use of eminent domain, provided the political climate is right in Albany. "I don't know of too many other issues where you have such diverse and pervasive outrage," he said yesterday in an interview."

Currently, New York is one of a handful of states that has seen no movement for change in the post-Kelo environment. 43 states have changed their eminent domain laws since the Supreme Court's ruling on Kelo threw the ball back into the states' legislative courts: "With the Republicans holding a one-seat edge in the Senate, a changing of the guard in Albany could lead Mr. Perkins and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky to lead the charge to change the state's eminent domain law. "I think the Democrats taking control will mean a lot of important things and I would hope eminent domain would be one of them," Mr. Brodsky said."

As we have been saying in a series of posts today, the NY State law needs to be changed in order to initiate a level of fairness when property owners are threatened: "A land-use attorney, Michael Rikon, said an effective alteration of New York State's law would not be easy. He said the obstacles are myriad, ranging from vague definitions of "public purpose," which can be used in certain instances to justify seizure of privately owned property, to whether "economic development" is justifiable cause for land seizure. Mr. Rikon said the process of designating an area as "blighted" is flawed and added that there are too few procedures to allow private property owners to effectively challenge the state. Mr. Rikon, who said he favors changing the law, said that under the current law, "Every home can be shown to be worth less than a site for a Costco."

Mayor Mike, however, believes that the use of ED is an essential tool-but, according to a spokesman, only as a "last resort." What we're seeing, though, is that there seem to be a great many instances where the last resort is seen as an easily available alternative; and it's always the small business owner who's store or property is resorted to in the name of having it over to some better heeled business firm or institution.

Senator Perkins remains optimistic that some change can occur: "Mr. Perkins said he would be meeting with Governor Paterson this week to discuss the findings of a hearing he held last week examining the possible use of eminent domain for the proposed $7 billion expansion of Columbia University's campus. He said Mr. Paterson was "supportive" of his work on eminent domain, but said he had not discussed specifics with the governor." Much may hinge, however, on what happens on November 4th.