By Rick Moriarty
Onondaga County lawmakers came out strongly Tuesday against the use of eminent domain for private development projects such as the proposed Destiny USA Research & Development Park in Salina.
They voted 19-0 to ask the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency to suspend its use of eminent domain in behalf of private developers until the state Legislature weighs in on the topic next year.
The resolution approved by the lawmakers was nonbinding, so the agency does not have to obey it.
Opponents of the use of eminent domain for private developments cheered the action.
"It's a symbol, but symbols are important," said Phil Jakes-Johnson, owner of Solvents & Petroleum Service in Salina and a spokesman for Salina 29, a group of businesses opposing the use of eminent domain against their properties for the Destiny research park.
He added that he would like to have seen the county Legislature go a step further and ask the state Legislature to outlaw the use of eminent domain to benefit private developers.
Legislator James DiBlasi, R-Syracuse, who introduced the resolution, said it shows the Legislature's "respect for private property rights" and gives state lawmakers time to clarify their position on the use of eminent domain.
In June, the county Industrial Development Agency declined to vote on Destiny USA developer Robert Congel's request that it use its eminent domain powers to acquire private land he said he needed for his proposed research and development park at interstates 81 and 90. Some directors said they opposed the use of eminent domain for private development; others said they were worried that businesses forced to relocate would be driven out of business.
Afterward, Congel put the research park on hold.
Several county legislators said their vote Tuesday should not be taken as a sign that they oppose development or the research park in particular; they said they just oppose government taking private property for a private development even one that would benefit the community by creating jobs and generating sales tax revenue.
"If you want to build something, you generally go out and buy the property," said T. Brendan Whelan, R-Clay.
Destiny USA officials declined to comment on the Legislature's vote.
The Industrial Development Agency's board of directors meets Thursday. Donald Western, the county's economic development director and executive director of the agency, said the Legislature's resolution will be added to the agenda as a discussion item.