Eminent Domain in New York

November 17, 2009

The whole idea of eminent domain really bugs me. I don’t want my government having the right to take away my private property. Period. Of course, I don’t have a lot to say about it. Back in the old days (before 2005) the powers that be at least needed a damn good reason to take away your property. Not any more. The U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London stripped away most of the restrictions placed on government condemnation of private real estate. The Supreme Court decided that the City of New London could take private property for economic development, because this development fit within a “public use” test. There was so much wrong with this decision, but what really got my goat was that a private citizen’s property could be taken by the government and given to another private citizen so that he or she could make money off of it.  The sky is now the limit for corrupt local officials. All a municipality has to say is that the new use is better for the public.  There was a good deal of outrage over this decision from every ideological corner. My favorite post Kelo incident was a petition filed in New Hampshire to seize Justice Souter’s farm. He wrote the Kelo decision.  The name of the proposed new project?  The Lost Liberty Hotel.

To protect against the abuses now permitted by this ridiculous decision, forty states passed more restrictive eminent domain laws.  New York State has always prohibited condemnations that are meant for private redevelopment.  But that may change soon. This Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had an editorial by Nicole Gelinas, where she discussed the New York Court of Appeals Case Goldstein et al v. Empire Development Corporation.  The Court will be handing down a decision on this case any day now. The real outrage here is that the municipality isn’t arguing the general “public use” claim, which seemed unlikely to succeed. Rather, the argument is that the condemnation is required because the neighborhood suffers from economic blight. This would be a pretty good argument, except for the fact that Mr. Goldstein paid $590,000 for his condo in 2003, and the “blighted” neighborhood is filled with condos in the $600,000 range.  Mayor Bloomberg and top city officials are pushing hard for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project, which will supposedly bring jobs, affordable housing, and the Nets basketball team to the area.

It remains to be seen how the court will rule, but if the “blighted neighborhood” argument is the best those seeking condemnation can do, Mr. Goldstein and his neighbors should be safe in their homes for the forseeable future.

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