Damon Root at Reason writes about Nick Sprayregen’s continuing defense against Columbia University and the Empire State Development Corporation’s attempts to seize his properties by eminent domain for the private university’s campus expansion project.
Within the article, there is a link to Sprayregen’s 107-page petition asking the New York judiciary to invalidate the ESDC’s blight findings.
According to Root:
It’s a startling document, one that provides convincing and damning evidence of widespread collusion between the ESDC and Columbia University to violate both the letter and spirit of the law, as well as to create the very conditions that ESDC officials then used to justify their intervention on Columbia’s behalf. As the petition notes, "This case is about the secret collaboration between ESDC and New York City agencies in a complex plan to give that developer, an elite private university, everything it wanted, without compromise or limitation, while evading public review and accountability."
The fact that Columbia University already owns 76% of the "blighted" area figures greatly. Two years ago, property owners in the area complained to me about Columbia’s neglect of the properties it already owned–failing to maintain, doing nothing about vermin, etc.–thus creating the actual blight found in the report examining the area.
Root also highlights the effect of the mere threat of eminent domain:
Perhaps the worst part of the whole affair is that Columbia no longer even needs eminent domain to get its way. The threat alone did the trick. Beginning in roughly 2002, the university started dropping none-too-subtle hints to property holders that they hurry up and sell their land before the state condemned it. Between the 76 percent Columbia now owns and the 15 percent that New York City effectively controls (including property held by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority), the university holds sway over 91 percent of Manhattanville. Surely that’s enough land to build a swanky new campus? As for Sprayregen’s four holdout properties, all but one of them sits on the periphery of Columbia’s proposal. To date, the university has made no offer to buy any of them.