Bill would restrict eminent domain: Long Island (NY) Newsday, 7/29/05

By Emi Endo

Suffolk County would be barred from wielding the power affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court to seize private property for commercial development under a bill proposed by a county lawmaker.

Legis. Allan Binder (R-Huntington) offered the measure, which is similar to proposals under consideration in Albany and other state capitals, in seeking to blunt the impact of last month's high court ruling that allows state and local governments to use eminent domain for economic revitalization.

"Property rights in this county matter," Binder said Tuesday at a news conference in Huntington. His bill would prohibit the county from taking private property for someone else's private use for any reason, including economic development. It states that Suffolk "may only take property if it actually uses or gives the public a legal right to use the property."

Suffolk County Attorney Christine Malafi said her office would review Binder's measure.

Ed Dumas, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, said the county "has always wielded its power of eminent domain very judiciously and will continue to do so ... " He added that Levy would consider whether Binder's approach was necessary.

County officials said Suffolk has condemned property only for road projects and limited park and open space projects.

M. Allan Hyman, who heads the real estate tax certiorari and condemnation law practice group at Certilman Balin, said Suffolk County does not have the legal power to control eminent domain practices of other local governments.

But the county "may have the right to limit its own power of eminent domain."

The Supreme Court decision left it to states to restrict their own power, prompting a flurry of legislation from states such as Delaware, Texas and Alabama, according to officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New York state legislators, including Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) and Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), have been drafting such proposals in Albany.

Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James and Westchester Legis. James Maisano (R-New Rochelle) said they planned to put forward local legislation.

Under the Constitution, government can condemn private property for "public use" as long as it pays "just compensation."

Binder, who is challenging Democratic Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone, also wants to approve a symbolic "sense of the legislature" resolution requesting that all the towns in the county adopt similar restrictions.

Petrone said Wednesday that the town was already "cognizant" of the rights of property owners and that community input is part of the town's eminent domain procedures.

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