Tokasz seeks change to eminent domain: Cheektowaga (NY) Times, 8/12/05

A recent decision by the Supreme Court has inspired several members of the New York State Legislature, including Assemblyman Paul A. Tokasz (D-Cheektowaga), to propose changes to the state’s eminent domain law in order to protect property owners.

The assembly’s majority leader said that he plans to introduce reform to the law in Albany next week, which Tokasz said will "strike a balance" between the rights of property owners and the desire of municipalities seeking to support economic development.

The Supreme Court’s June 23, 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London stated that a comprehensive economic development plan is a valid public use under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution for taking property under eminent domain.

However, the Supreme Court specifically ruled that individual states have the right to regulate eminent domain.

Standing on Maryvale Drive in the Cedargrove Heights neighborhood Tuesday morning, Tokasz derided the Supreme Court’s decision, but added he wants to jump on the opening created by the court.

"The Supreme Court made it much too easy for residential takings," Tokasz said.

Residents in Cedargrove Heights are afraid that a proposal by a local developer to raze the neighborhood to build anew will force them to move through eminent domain. The developer has stated that he would prefer to avoid eminent domain proceedings.

Tokasz said that the Supreme Court’s decision supports efforts by local governments to seize private property.

"I can understand the fears that exist," Tokasz said. "This is the eye of the storm. Introduction of this legislation will make it a lot more difficult for the town to move forward with eminent domain on homes."

The legislation Tokasz will introduce establishes new requirements for creating an economic development/housing relocation plan. The bill will also provide significant time for public comment and hearings.

The bill would further require payment of 125 percent to a property owner on the highest approved appraisal when the land is taken for economic development purposes.

"I believe that the local jurisdiction in eminent domain procedures should remain a priority," Tokasz said. "Enactment of my legislation will set a clear procedure for eminent domain, will protect the rights of property owners and will alleviate the rising concerns of the community."

Councilmember Thomas M. Johnson, an opponent of demolishing Cedargrove Heights, applauded Tokasz’s announcement.

"I am extremely encouraged by Paul’s position," Johnson said. "I personally disagree strongly with the Supreme Court’s decision. It has violated some basic principles of American citizenship. It is certainly not a position that would have been supported by our Founding Fathers."

Tokasz noted that he believes there are instances when eminent domain is essential to improving a community. He noted that the procedure was used in order to build HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo.

"I understand that communities need to move forward," said Tokasz. "But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of homeowners."

Tokasz said that his bill to reform eminent domain is one of four or five different proposals that will likely be introduced.

Cheektowaga Times: www.cheektowagatimes.com