Monday, December 07, 2009

Mea Culpa

We owe an apology to the NY Daily News for the accusation we just leveled about its silence on the Columbia court ruling-the paper really weighs in today, and shoots with both barrels against how the condemnation was undertaken: "New York State's supposed economic development geniuses have only themselves to blame for the scathing court ruling that barred the use of eminent domain to spur Columbia University's $6.3 billion expansion plan. The Manhattan Appellate Division cited persuasive evidence in declaring that the Empire State Development Corp. essentially concocted a determination that the neighborhood where Columbia wants to build was blighted."

And the News deserves real credit here because it has supported-and still supports-the expansion plan: "In the court's estimation, ESDC officials "hatched a scheme" to trump up a blight finding in order to justify taking properties from private owners and handing them to the university. This was done via a consultant that had been in the pay of Columbia and whose neighborhood study was "idiocy," the court concluded. The ruling was stunning. While it may slow construction of Columbia's hugely important campus in West Harlem, the decision was nonetheless welcome for putting public authorities on notice that they must meet minimal standards before trying to seize private property."

The intense focus in this case-as it is in Malanga's Op-ed that we commented on earlier-is on the definition of blight, and how it is in the eye of the municipal gun holder: "But here, civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, representing two property owners, waged a five- year battle that forced into public view more than 10,000 pages of ESDC documents, among which were the shaky underpinnings of the blight study performed by its consultants."

Given this record of abuse, Columbia may just have to build around Sprayregen's and Singh's properties-or agree to the swap that Nick had proposed two years ago: "Columbia was not party to the litigation and has never committed to rely on eminent domain to acquire properties. Instead, through standard negotiations, the school owns or controls 61 of the 67 lots in the 17acres slated for the campus. It will have to keep haggling with holdouts Nicholas Sprayregen, owner of a self-storage business, and Amrik Singh, who manages two gas stations. And build around them, if necessary."

And that would be a good thing