Town passes law against condemnation for redevelopment: Westchester NY Journal News, 1/21/07

By Robert Marchant

[Yorktown NY] will not be condemning anyone's property to put up a shopping mall.

Bowing to public anxiety over a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized municipalities to take over private property through eminent domain proceedings and turn them over to private developers (Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.), Yorktown's elected leaders unanimously voted last week to prohibit that practice locally.

"It forbids the town of Yorktown from taking people's property unless there's a public use," said Nicholas Bianco, a Town Board member who sponsored the legislation. "The Kelo decision brought it to the forefront."

Bianco said there was strong feeling that taking private property for redevelopment purposes was "unfair."

The town has not been considering any eminent domain proceedings, noted town Supervisor Linda Cooper, but persistent talk around Town Hall had made it an issue. She said the speculation was unwarranted, but it made sense to put the issue aside.

"We wanted to put to rest anyone's sense that the town is going after their property," she said.

The use of eminent domain to acquire property for redevelopment has been used in Port Chester. The high court last week refused to hear the case of Bart Didden, a Port Chester businessman whose land was taken to clear the way for a drug store.

The city of Peekskill has initiated a "blight study" in its downtown district, which city officials deny is a step toward eminent domain proceedings. That issue, however, has captured attention in nearby Yorktown.

The Yorktown law still allows the town to buy out property owners to use land for public infrastructure improvements such as roads and sewers.

A local resident who spoke in favor of the law's passage, Linda Clemenza, said it was a positive step.

"It's something a few residents are concerned with. It's a good start for the community, but the federal, state and county can still supersede the town," she said.

Clemenza, who owns a ceramic studio, said the law was not as ironclad as she would have liked, but it was a move she generally supported.

In the Kelo case, homeowner Susette Kelo filed a lawsuit against the city of New London when it sought to take over her land for economic development in the form of a conference center, resort and condominiums. She has been given a June 15 deadline to move.

Westchester NY Journal News: http://www.thejournalnews.com