Legislation Proposed To Reform Eminent Domain Law: westchester.com (Westchester County NY), 9/23/05

Westchester County Legislators Jim Maisano (R—New Rochelle) and Thomas J. Abinanti (D, I, WF—Greenburgh) have submitted legislation to the Westchester Board of Legislators that would reform eminent domain in Westchester County by prohibiting County funds from being contributed to any development project that uses eminent domain to take private property for private use.

The legislation also bans the County from using its own power of condemnation for projects that misuse eminent domain in this fashion.

The following legislators are co-sponsors of this legislation: Majority Leader Clinton Young, Minority Leader George Oros, Lois Bronz, Ursula LaMotte, Bernice Spreckman, Rob Astorino, Judy Myers and Gordon Burrows. Legislators Maisano and Abinanti were pleased that a majority of legislators on the Board are sponsoring the legislation and that the sponsors reflect a bipartisan coalition.

Legislators Maisano and Abinanti have worked together over the past few months in researching eminent domain, reviewing proposed and passed legislation from other states and local governments, and contacting elected officials and public interest groups to determine the best way to reform the use of eminent domain in Westchester. The legislators hope to set a precedent for other counties and local governments that eminent domain should only be utilized for specific, genuine public use projects.

“There is an outcry across the nation against the misuse of eminent domain, and in my own district, I have witnessed how eminent domain can be used by powerful developers to intimidate and abuse property owners. I am committed to passing this legislation to protect all of Westchester's property owners, especially those that may not have the resources to defend themselves against wealthy developers,” said Maisano. “From the Supreme Court down to the local governments that are sanctioning this taking of private property to benefit private development projects, we seem to have forgotten the critical importance of private property rights in a free society. I am excited to be advocating for this important reform, and when this law is passed, it will be a real protection for people that are confronted with the harmful impacts of eminent domain.”

Legislators Maisano and Abinanti were troubled by the highly controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June 2005 that granted governments the authority to seize private property for private development in holding that an increase in taxes could be deemed a public use. In light of this ruling, a number of states and localities have taken steps to enact legislation to put restrictions on this troubling ruling, and Maisano and Abinanti want Westchester to be a national leader in this reform movement.

“Government should not take private property unless it is necessary to meet a real public need, not just because it prefers one use over another or one developer over another,” said Abinanti.

“I want to thank my colleagues on the Board who have displayed interest in this important legislation and are supporting our efforts,” said Maisano. “I strongly encourage the entire Westchester community to pull together and help us turn this proposal into a County law as soon as possible.”

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