Atlantic Yards Decision Blow To Private Property Rights In New York

November 27, 2009

The definition of blight, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, is “Something that frustrates plans or hopes, …or something that impairs and destroys.”  Both of these definitions could be used to describe the impact of this week’s Court of Appeals decision upon private property rights in New York State.  Chief Judge Lippman wrote a detailed,12 page decision in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation that can be summed up in one sentence:  Blight means anything the New York State Development Corporation says it means.

With this decision, New York has given the green light to private developers to try to take private property from its citizens, so long as enough money is funneled into local politician’s hands to get approvals.  That’s because the Court has decided that these takings are legal if the municipal entity determines that the property is in an area that suffers from economic “blight.”  Mr. Goldstein’s condo is worth about half a million bucks, a veritable slum in the eyes of  the New York Court of Appeals.

This all comes in the wake of Kelo v. City of New London, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed a municipality to take private property and give it to a private developer,  so long as it was part of an economic plan.  See a prior post for more discussion of this case.

In the wake of Kelo, state legislatures throughout the country introduced laws to protect private property rights.  Not New York.  The Court held that the New York State Development Corporation’s determination that the area surrounding the Atlantic Yard’s project was “blighted” was reasonable.  Reaction to the decision has been swift. Read what “The Volokh Conspiracy” had to say.  This post has some great information about what the neighborhood was like before the project was announced.

The Court has spoken, and the way has been cleared for some more government sponsored theft.  It’s only a matter of time before the politically powerful Columbia University will be displacing private landowners in Manhattanville.

It is especially troubling to me that the Court rubber stamped a decision made by the  New York State Urban Development Corporation.  This corporation is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, a public authority of the State of New York.  Its powers are practically limitless, and include the power to issue bonds, grant tax abatements, ignore zoning laws, and, of course, condemn land and seize property.  What makes this more scary is that The Empire State  Development Corporation doesn’t have a great track record in overseeing its subsidiaries.

If the State’s highest court refuses to check the power of  this Leviathan, who will?

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