Lawmakers oppose eminent domain : The (Syracuse NY) Post-Standard, 7/8/05

Resolutions aimed at limiting OCIDA's power may not be legal, legislative chair says

By Rick Moriarty

Onondaga County Legislator James DiBlasi and Salina Town Councilor Mark Nicotra said Thursday they will introduce resolutions opposing the use of eminent domain against private property needed for the proposed Destiny USA Research and Development Park.

DiBlasi and Nicotra, who are running for re-election this year, said their resolutions also would call for no use of eminent domain condemnation proceedings unless they were approved by an elected body. They said a government body whose members do not have to go before the voters in an election should not have such power.

Robert Congel, the research park's developer, has asked the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency to use its eminent domain powers to acquire private property he says he needs for the 325-acre park at the southeast corner of Interstates 90 and 81 in Salina. The private land includes 29 businesses, most of which are at the southeast corner of I-81 and Seventh North Street.

The agency has taken no action on the request, with several members saying they opposed using eminent domain and others saying they were concerned that the 29 businesses would be driven out of business if their relocation costs were not completely paid by the developer.

The agency's directors are appointed by the county Legislature. But the agency gets its eminent domain powers and other authority from state law, and most of its actions including condemnations of private property under eminent domain do not require the approval of an elected body.

Nicotra said he will introduce the resolution Monday to the Salina Town Council. DiBlasi said he will introduce it to a legislative committee possibly the planning and economic development committee soon.

They said they were not opposed to the research park itself, just the taking of private property for a private development. Under state law, industrial development agencies can take private land for economic development projects, but must pay the owner the fair market value of the property. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that such takings are constitutional even if the land is turned over to a private developer.

"It's just an awful precedence for a private developer to take private property for their own gain," said Nicotra.

He said the resolutions would not be binding on the industrial development agency, but would put town and county elected representatives on the record "for or against" the use of eminent domain for the research park.

Nicotra represents Salina's 4th Ward, which includes the proposed site of the research park.

DiBlasi represents the county's 7th District, which does not include the park site, but does include land on Syracuse's North Side where Congel has talked about building a convention center.

Legislature Chairman Dale Sweetland questioned whether the resolution is necessary in light of the fact the research park project may be dead, at least in Salina.

A Destiny executive, David Aitken, said last week the company pulled all of its personnel off the research park's planning after the industrial development agency refused June 22 to approve an agreement that would have committed the agency to using its eminent domain powers. He would not say if the company would continue pursuing the site, look for another location for the park or drop the project.

Sweetland said there also may be a question about the resolution's legality since the industrial development agency gets its authority from state law. It might have to be framed as a request for the state Legislature to change the law, he said.

OCIDA has threatened to use its eminent domain power twice in the past - for an industrial park and for a waterfront redevelopment project, both in Clay. Both times, it wound up negotiating purchases of the land.

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