Historic Duffield Street Home Saved from Eminent Domain: South Brooklyn NY Legal Services, 11/30/07

News Release

In settlement of a lawsuit filed by Joy Chatel and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) the City [of New York] has pledged that it will not use eminent domain to condemn 227 Duffield. The property has been the subject of controversy since 2004 when the City announced that it intended to take the property by eminent domain as part of their Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan.

The Downtown Brooklyn Plan is a massive redevelopment plan based on a rezoning of the area in 2004. The plan calls for over 4 million square feet of new retail, commercial and luxury housing in the middle of a historically low-income community.

On January 7, 2004, Joy Chatel, an owner of 227 Duffield Street was given a notice informing her that her home would be taken by eminent domain and demolished to make way for a new parking lot. Many believe that her home was a station on the Underground Railroad and a vital cultural treasure that should be preserved. The Underground Railroad was the network of people and places in which fugitive slaves sought refuge when escaping from the plantation system in the South.

The home, built in 1848, was owned by Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell, prominent abolitionists of that era. Their role in the abolitionist movement, coupled with their relationships with other active abolitionists in Downtown Brooklyn, led the City’s own researchers to conclude that the property was “quite possibly” linked to the Underground Railroad and the majority of historians commissioned by the City to review its research advocated for the home’s preservation.

Despite this historical documentation and the presence of several unexplainable architectural abnormalities in the sub-basements from 227-235 Duffield St, the City of New York initially concluded that the home’s historic significance did not warrant its preservation. In response to litigation and years of advocacy on the part of those who support preserving the property, the City has agreed to re-draw its plans for Downtown Brooklyn so that the condemnation of 227 Duffield will not be necessary.

“I want to thank the Mayor for listening to our plea,” Joy Chatel, an owner of 227 Duffield Street said, “My vision is to continue the Cultural Center and Museum my daughter and I started years ago; so all people home and abroad can benefit from the rich history downtown Brooklyn has to offer. I am also thankful to the many people who have gone to great lengths to make sure that this vision comes to fruition.”

“So many of us in the community did not want to see the Underground Railroad become an underground parking lot,” said Randy Leigh, area resident and FUREE board member. “Too much of our history has already been lost, and we know the City did the right thing by listening to the community and protecting our history. “

The suit was brought by Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services who says: “I commend the City for their flexibility. They have shown that it is possible to do development thoughtfully, in a manner that is responsive to community concerns, and with an eye to preserving our history.”

South Brooklyn NY Legal Services: http://www.sbls.org

Phony Eminent Domain Ballot Measure Hard Pill to Swallow: Californians for Property Rights Protection, 11/28/07

news release

Experts Call Measure Flawed and Expose Deceptive Poison Pill Provision

Today, a broad-based coalition of eminent domain reform advocates condemned a ploy by redevelopment interests to qualify a deceptive ballot measure. These redevelopment interests drafted their measure to maintain the state’s abusive eminent domain practices and have financed their effort almost exclusively with anonymous campaign funds.

Independent experts agree that the so-called “Homeowners and Private Property Protection Act” - sponsored by taxpayer-financed organizations such as the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the California Redevelopment Association - will not have any substantive impact on reforming eminent domain abuses in California. The measure will continue to allow government to seize homes, small businesses, farmland and places of worship from unwilling sellers to financially benefit other private interests. According to the State of California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the ballot measure “is not likely to significantly alter current government land acquisition practices.”

“Redevelopment interests are spending millions of dollars to qualify a ballot measure that simply protects the kinds of abusive eminent domain practices that threaten all private property,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “Clearly, these special interests that benefit from the forcible seizure of homes and businesses think that they can fool voters and derail legitimate reform efforts.”

“It comes as no surprise that the redevelopment industry’s ballot measure does not include any protections for business property, family farms or places of worship, while including a number of clever loopholes that render the purported homeowner protections meaningless,” said former Senator Jim Nielsen, chairman of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. “Californians should reject the deceptive measure paid for by the redevelopment industry and, instead, support the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act which provides real eminent domain reforms.”

“While small business owners provide 90 percent of all California jobs, they are also the most common victims of eminent domain abuse,” said John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)/California. “It is disappointing that this ballot measure excludes protections for employers who create jobs and keep our economy strong.”

And according to the Institute for Justice (IJ), the non-profit organization that litigated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New London decision, “In the end, the Act will provide insubstantial protection against the use of eminent domain for private commercial development. Small business owners will continue to lose not only their buildings, but also their incomes. All farmers and working class renters are vulnerable. Californians require real, substantive reform for everyone and the Act does not come close to providing it.”

Moreover IJ indentifies a poison pill provision that is clearly the only purpose of the ballot measure, “In addition, the Act contains a provision that would nullify any other attempts to amend Article I, Section 19 of the constitution-a clear attack on another ballot measure, which promises broad-reaching, non-discriminatory protection of homes, farms, business and houses of worship from the abuse of eminent domain. Filed by a group consisting of the California Farm Bureau Federation, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, the "California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act" ("CPOFPA") may appear on the same 2008 ballot. In the event that both pass, the Act's specific provision would wipe out CPOFPA in its entirety.”

Early this month, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and other proponents of private property rights uncovered that more than 80% of the funds used to support the “Homeowners and Private Property Protection Act” has come from taxpayer-financed groups using political accounts that do not disclose the source of contributors like traditional campaign committees. During the last two years, the taxpayer-financed groups have become increasingly dependent on these anonymous campaign accounts. This trend has raised concerns that taxpayer dollars may be a primary source of the millions of dollars spent in support of the so-called “Homeowners and Private Property Protection Act.” Evidence indicates that the redevelopment interests spent $3.75 per signature to qualify their deceptive initiative, more than twice the going market rate.

A competing ballot measure that provides legitimate eminent domain reforms, the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, is sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. The measure prohibits private to private takings, while allowing traditional uses of eminent domain for roads, schools and water projects. It is endorsed by NFIB, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce and a diverse coalition of taxpayer, faith and good government organizations.

Californians for Property Rights Protection: www.yesonpropertyrights.com

More secrecy concerns in Mount Pleasant: Charleston SC Post and Courier, 11/28/07

Check for Shem Creek property issued days before council vote

By Prentiss Findlay

A town check for $2,285,000 to be used for condemnation of the OK Tire property was issued four days before Town Council voted to pursue acquisition of the property. That gives the appearance of an illegal, secret decision by council to use its power of eminent domain to buy the land, said Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association.

"It certainly appears that the town made a decision secretly to acquire that land. It appears to have happened in secret, which would be illegal," Bender said.

Town Attorney Allen Young requested the check in an Oct. 3 memo to Charlie Potts, director of administrative services. The check was issued Oct. 5. Town Council voted Oct. 9 to condemn the land for a public park if its offer of $2,285,000 was rejected. On Oct. 10, Young issued a statement that the town was condemning the land.

Attorney Mark Mason, whose 1.07 acres on the northern side of Shem Creek is being condemned, obtained a copy of the memo through the state Freedom of Information Act. "Obviously, a decision was made in secret before the vote," Mason said.

Young disputed Bender's and Mason's interpretations of the sequence of events. Regarding his Oct. 3 memo, Young said, "I was lining up my ducks in case council decided to move in that direction."

Had the OK Tire property not been condemned, the money would have been returned, he said.

"It was an internal matter," Young said. He said that he was acting within his authority when he requested the check. "There's nothing nefarious about this process. It wasn't secretive. It wasn't a plot," he said.

The Oct. 3 memo from Young to Potts states: "These funds will be posted with the Clerk (of Court) as part of a condemnation action to be filed relative to property known as the OK Tire Property." An Oct. 4 town requisition form for the check states, "Mark Mason/OK Tire property/condemnation action to be filed relative to property known as the OK Tire property."

On Oct. 9, Council voted to "authorize a final offer and, if not accepted, pursue final legal action as discussed." At that time, Young declined to describe the piece of property involved but said he had been authorized to file a condemnation proceeding if the $2,285,000 were rejected.

Councilman Paul Gawrych said Tuesday that there was no secrecy involved in council votes on the OK Tire property condemnation.

Bender has said that Town Council violated provisions of the state FOIA when it voted Nov. 13 to go into an executive session on a matter related to Shem Creek property without adequately stating what the vote was about. On that date, council voted to enter executive session for "legal and contractual matters pertaining to properties near Shem Creek."

Afterward, council voted to have Young proceed as discussed in executive session. At the time, Young declined to identify the properties near Shem Creek that were discussed in executive session.

On Nov. 14, Young disputed Bender's claim that the town was in violation of the FOIA because of the vague wording of the public notice for the Nov. 13 executive session on the Shem Creek condemnation. Young has said that on Nov. 13 he gave council an update on the condemnation of the OK Tire property.

In a public notice for a Nov. 16 council meeting and executive session, the town more clearly stated that it was talking about the Shem Creek condemnation behind closed doors.

The town offered Mason and co-owner Phillip Smith $6 million for the OK Tire property and 43.5 acres that front the creek past Vickery's known as "The Bailey Docks" where a marina would be built. Mason and Smith rejected the offer, and the town came back with its $2,285,000 offer for the 1.07-acre OK Tire property, which the owners also rejected.

Mason and Smith have sued to have the condemnation dismissed. Among the grounds they claim for dismissal are allegations that the town has violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Mason wants to put 24 condominiums on the OK Tire land and 24 floating boat slips on Shem Creek. An appraisal obtained by SunTrust bank for the OK Tire property values it at $4.6 million.
OK Tire property time line
  • Oct. 3: Town Attorney Allen Young requests a check for $2,285,000 to be issued on or before Oct. 10 payable to Charleston County Clerk of Court. The funds will be posted with the clerk as part of a condemnation action to be filed relative to the OK Tire property, Young says in a memo to Charlie Potts, director of administrative services.
  • Oct. 4: A requisition form for $2,285,000 states that the money is for "Mark Mason/OK Tire property condemnation."
  • Oct. 9: Council votes to "authorize a final offer and, if not accepted, pursue final legal action as discussed" after an executive session to discuss Shem Creek contractual and legal matters. Young declines to name the specific piece of property that the council wants to buy because of ongoing negotiations. Council does not name an amount it is offering for the unspecified piece of property.
  • Oct. 10: Young issues a statement that the town is condemning the OK Tire property after owner Mark Mason rejects an offer of $2,285,000. Mason has an appraisal of $4.6 million for the land.
  • Nov. 16: OK Tire property owners Mason and Phillip Smith file suit against the town, asking for the condemnation to be dismissed. Among the grounds for their countersuit are alleged town violations of the state Freedom of Information Act, including a violation Oct. 9 when Town Council approved the condemnation.

Charleston SC Post and Courier: http://www.charleston.net

Ballot measure seeks to rein in cities' land grabs: Orange County CA Register, 11/27/07


Eminent-domain reformers have submitted a million signatures for a June '08 ballot initiative

California is one of the few states that has yet to pass serious property-rights reforms following the U.S. Supreme Court's otherworldly 2005 decision affirming the "right" of cities and other government agencies to use eminent domain to take property from private owners and give it to big developers, who promise cities higher tax returns and "economic development" on the targeted property. Cities have long abused property rights this way, but the court's affirmation shocked Americans and propelled most states to pass additional protections.

It's one thing for a government to use its police powers to take a property to make way for a truly public project, such as a freeway, but quite another for it to bulldoze neighborhoods because a developer is coveting the property. The League of California Cities and the California Redevelopment Association, whose members benefit by the current lax standards for eminent domain, funded a campaign in November 2006 to stop Proposition 90, a statewide initiative that would have banned eminent domain for economic development and forced cities to pay compensation for "regulatory takings."

Fortunately, supporters of a more traditional, constitutional view of private property are back again with the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act. Its backers earlier this month turned in more than 1 million signatures to the California Secretary of State, which must certify 694,354 valid signatures to secure it a spot on the June 2008 ballot. The measure is similar to Prop. 90, but it doesn't include any restrictions on regulatory takings. The most controversial provision is one that stops the government from setting "the price at which property owners sell or lease their property." In a free society, that shouldn't be controversial at all. The measure would not end current rent-control statutes, but would simply allow property owners to set their rents at the market rate once a vacancy opens up.

Eminent domain supporters are not just using scare tactics to stop this initiative but are collecting signatures for their own initiative that claims to control eminent domain, but is so loophole-laden that it would do little more than convince the public that their rights have been protected while doing little to protect them.

It's looking like another battle is brewing for June. Let's hope the supporters of property rights have enough of a war chest to combat the scare tactics and deceptions that already are trotted out to stop them.

Orange County CA Register: http://www.ocregister.com

Disclosure of ballot campaign donors sought: Californians for Property Rights Protection, 11/29/07

News release

The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) is demanding to know the source of $1.5 million being used to defeat Prop. 93, a California ballot measure that would extend the terms of State Legislators. However, they have not demanded the same transparency of their own campaign to defeat eminent domain reform in California.

The CLCV and taxpayer financed (non-profit) organizations such as the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the California Redevelopment Association are the principle sponsors of campaign to defeat the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection, a comprehensive eminent domain reform ballot measure slated for the June 2008 ballot.

Over the past two years, their coalition has spent over $7.5 million dollars to defeat eminent domain reform ballot measures in California by using anonymous campaign committees that don’t disclose the source of its revenue or contributors.

We appreciate CLCV’s new found interest in campaign disclosure and the need for greater transparency in the political process. However, they really should apply the same standard to their campaign by demanding a full accounting of every penny that their campaign has used to defeat eminent domain reform in California. California taxpayers in particular would welcome this noble gesture, after all, we are financing the organizations managing these anonymous campaign accounts!

The CLCV and the League of California Cities are co-sponsors/authors of the so-called “Homeowner and Private Property Protection Act,” a ballot measure drafted with a poison pill provision that would nullify protections provided by a competing eminent domain ballot measure, the California Property Owner and Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA).

Californians for Property Rights Protection: http://www.yesonpropertyrights.com

Branner Station neighbors organize: Petersburg VA Progress Index, 10/19/07

By Patrick Kane

There were many questions but few answers at a citizens’ meeting on the Branner Station development. A standing-room-only crowd at the Chester [VA] library heard from an eminent domain attorney and discussed the impact the massive development — and its promised roads — will have on its neighbors.

Organized by Mike Uzel, a local real estate agent, the meeting aimed to get information out to those in the impact radius of the mixed-use project located between Chester and Colonial Heights. No county officials or developer representatives were on hand to answer questions.

Branner Station passed in September on a 2-1 vote. Bermuda Supervisor R.M. “Dickie” King and Matoaca Supervisor Renny Humphrey voted for the rezoning, Chairman Kelley Miller was the lone opposition vote and Art Warren of Clover Hill and Donald Sowder of Midlothian abstained. The project calls for 5,000 homes, townhomes and apartments on 1,600 acres west of Branders Bridge Road. Developer H.H. Hunt promised to build major north-south and east-west connector roads, which will mean buying land from some in the crowd.

Eminent domain attorney Charles M. Lollar of Norfolk said only the government, not a developer, can take land. He said agents for H.H. Hunt would probably try to buy the land they need, and if unsuccessful, turn to the county. Chesterfield agreed to use eminent domain to take private property for the roads. Lollar questioned whether the roads were squarely “public use.”

“That public use has been watered down to maybe public purpose,” he said of recent eminent domain cases in Virginia and the country. The attorney said it was too early to know what defense could be mounted.

Lollar said that property owners in areas planned for redevelopment are in a “state of purgatory” because of the stigma of possible change, and advised them to live their lives as normally as possible and keep up their property.

The 2-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors was also discussed. Uzel presented a Code of Virginia section saying that board members should vote unless they have a conflict of interest.

“What that says to me is that unless there is some conflict of interest, the members should have voted,” he said.

Uzel said many factors — including where exactly the roads will go and when they’ll be built — are still up in the air.

“That line could swing to either side to try to miss as many homes as possible,” he said of the east-west road from Branner Station to Interstate 95.

Jeff Brown, who is helping the group, said the lack of information at this stage is troubling.

“That’s part of the problem. There’s no answers,” he said.

A second meeting for the still-coalescing group wasn’t announced. Attendees offered their contact information, signed petitions and many stuffed cash into a coffee can for the cause. They were asked to contact the media, candidates for office and speak at next Wednesday’s board meeting.

“As an organized group we should be able to do more,” Uzel said.

Petersburg VA Progress Index: http://www.progress-index.com

Winners and losers remain unclear in Newark's arena gamble: Newark NJ Star-Ledger, 10/19/07

NJ Voices

By Joan Whitlow

Yesterday, I found that the rough ways had been made smooth.

The smell of fresh asphalt hung in the air by Prudential Center, Newark's downtown arena, built in lopsided partnership with the New Jersey Devils hockey team. Roads that had been pockmarked with man-size holes and piles of dirt days before were paved, some glistening with new white lines and directional arrows, a transformation worked by men, machine and overtime pay.

The place was busy, with work crews putting on the finishing touches to the complex: building the concrete steps to the entrance, still fussing inside the parking deck.

I found a line of new arena employees waiting to take photos for their worker IDs. The security unit was passing out uniform shirts.

Speaking of security, there was talk last week about closing off the street next to the arena, Edison Place, to traffic as an anti-terrorism measure. Yesterday, I found Edison Place freshly paved and marked with turn arrows all the way to Mulberry Street and the arena entrance. The owner of Star Parking on Edison Place says she has been assured that the security plan won't block off the street until some point beyond her parking lot. She is betting the new red shirts that her parking crew wears on it.

I stopped to check on Virginia Duprey, who has lived in the area around the arena for 52 years and owns a home at the corner of Columbia and Lafayette. A few days ago, she showed me how the crews widening Lafayette into an arena-feeding thoroughfare had gouged up heaps of dirt around her house exposing her foundation. When she asked who was going to fix her house, she was told no one because her house was going to be demolished. That was news to her.

I e-mailed the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corp., which is doing the roadwork, and asked about Duprey's house. I never heard back, but by yesterday, someone had neatly put back the dirt by her house where it was supposed to be. I'm sure that was the plan all along.

Duprey and her neighbor, Frank Eng, say they have lived with a wrecking ball over their heads since the arena was just a twinkle in an ex-mayor's eye.

The city slapped the neighborhood with a designation that allows the use of eminent domain to swap parcels of lands with developers. The official process, however, takes proper notice and time, adequate compensation and relocation expenses. A wrecking crew can't just slap an X on someone's house.

Eng and Duprey say they have been getting certified letters, some of them threatening, from real estate concerns that have no power to exercise eminent domain but imply that they do. One letter warned Eng to "avoid a hostile triggering of eminent domain which we will have to apply if you do not cooperate."

The neighbors have also heard from Edison Properties - owner of a sizable number of the parking lots around town and an official arena land swapper. The communications have all been pleasant and nonthreatening, I was told. Duprey said a representative from Edison has been trying to schedule an appraisal of her house.

There is nothing to stop someone from cutting through the eminent domain red tape by making the property owners an offer they can't refuse. Eng speculates that Edison may want to acquire the properties as soon as possible, then flatten them. One could make money on parking while waiting to see whether the arena takes off before investing in some other retail or commercial project.

The 71-year-old (but doesn't look like it) Eng is a retired Wall Streeter, so when he spoke finance, I listened.

I have tried to contact the owner of Edison Properties, Jerome Gottesman, to talk about the land swapping - and about a rumor that he may be planning to build a children's museum in the big yellow brick warehouse that still stands in the arena district.

In the meantime, the traffic plans for the arena have been revealed: new signage, systems for advising people about the good routes and bad, cops at the intersections holding devices that will let them change the traffic signals from red to green as need be.

Expect chaos - at least at first.

The great dilemma, the traffic planners explained, is that if they make things too comfy for the drivers, no one will do what they want people to do - take public transportation or park away from the arena area and walk.

Arenas are about competition, and there will be competition between those trying to get in or out of town for work and the arena-goers trying to navigate their way. In the long run, it should all even out. The city is betting its shirt on that.

Arenas are about winners and losers. Newark has to come out a winner on this one.

Newark NJ Star-Ledger: http://www.nj.com/news/ledger

Running Horse deal could be risky: Fresno CA Bee, 10/18/07

If Trump pulled out, city would own the land; Autry says he would need commitment first

By Brad Branan and Robert Rodriguez

Fresno Mayor Alan Autry said Thursday that his plan to help Donald Trump buy Running Horse would require pledging city property as collateral.

In a meeting with The Fresno Bee editorial board, Autry and City Manager Andy Souza explained how the city will attempt to buy the properties that make up the unfinished course and resell the property to Trump.

Autry said he wants to expedite the sale of the bankrupt project before the PGA Tour gives up on the possibility of locating a tournament in Fresno.

The city has the legal authority to pull the deal together faster than Trump, including possibly using eminent domain if property owners won't willingly sell, Autry and Souza said.

Yet legal and real estate experts say the plan is tricky and could face legal challenges.

Walter Lauritzen, a real estate agent and part-time business instructor at California State University, Fresno, said the city must make sure Trump is willing to buy all the parcels.

"It is risky," Lauritzen said. "If, for whatever reason, Trump decides he does not want to buy the property, then the city could end up owning it and taking a big hit. I'm sure the city has attorneys that will make sure that doesn't happen, but it is still a risk."

Trump attorney Michael Cohen has said his employer supports the city's plan.

Autry said he won't commit city funds to the project until he has a binding agreement with Trump: "We will have a contract that says he will buy this."

Autry said he will provide details of the proposal to the City Council in a closed-door session Tuesday. Five of the seven City Council members would have to give the proposal their support to approve the financing.

The administration wants to use a loan to finance the purchase of the properties, Souza said. The city would use the Running Horse property and some of its own, such as the Saroyan Theatre, as collateral.

The city could pull the deal together by January, and possibly secure the PGA tournament for 2009, Souza said.

Autry held two fingers a short distance apart and said, "We're this close to having Tiger Woods tee off in southwest Fresno."

The city's plan depends on buying 33 of 38 lots Trump needs from whoever acquires them in a foreclosure auction scheduled for Oct. 26. The remaining lots would have to be acquired from separate owners.

The city plans to negotiate directly with property owners and hopes to buy land without the use of eminent domain, Souza said.

The city hasn't made "any promises to use eminent domain. It's an option," Souza said. Only three properties have homes, and only one owner is firmly holding out, Souza and Autry said.

Legal experts said the proposal raises questions.

Attorney Richard Harriman of Fresno said state law allows cities to use eminent domain for public-use projects, such as extending sewer lines or creating a city park.

"But what we are talking about here is the taking of property from a private landowner and transferring it to a private developer without competitive bidding," Harriman said. "I don't think that is fair and I doubt it is legal."

Autry said he doesn't see any problem working solely with Trump because no else has come forward with a credible offer.

There is also a question of whether it is proper for the city to commit to eminent domain before holding a public hearing.

"If a landowner says they are not going to put up with this, the city is looking at two and a half years of litigation," Harriman said.

Development consultant Dirk Poeschel of Fresno said the issue of fairness in the bidding process can be worked out by structuring the bid in a very specific way.

"The city could develop a process where they can ask for someone who is interested in developing a PGA course," Poeschel said. "Those who can do that, submit your proposal."

Poeschel said the advantage for the city to buy Running Horse is that it has a vision for that piece of property and will work to see it realized.

"The disadvantage is that they can overpay or buy something that the marketplace does not want," Poeschel said.

Fresno CA Bee: http://www.fresnobee.com

Plan targets Urban League site for library: Springfield MA Republican, 10/18/07

By Mike Plaisance

Calling it a moral issue, a City Council candidate and an incumbent councilor want the city to consider taking the Urban League of Springfield property at 765 State St. by eminent domain and returning it to a full-fledged library.

The proposal has drawn sympathetic but cautious reactions, given the costly legal battle that likely would ensue, as well as a "no comment" from the Urban League.

Council candidate Morris Jones said on Wednesday the 2003 sale of the branch library at 765 State St. from the private Springfield Museums and Library Association (now the Springfield Museums Association) to the Urban League for $700,000 was wrong and should be corrected.

Jones and Councilor Timothy J. Rooke, who is running for re-election, want a city Law Department evaluation about possibly taking 765 State St. City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula didn't return calls seeking comment.

"We can do that and I support that," Jones said.

Jones, who was on the City Council from 1983 to 1992, said the people who live and work in Mason Square deserve the return of a full-fledged library at 765 State St.

"That's a moral question," he said.

The library association reported in 2003 that the Mason Square Library had the lowest circulation of the branch libraries, but very high program attendance.

Library Director Emily B. Bader said today that except for a period in the year or so before the 2003 sale in which renovations put some of the library off limits, attendance was always high from Mason Square users.

"That library was being extremely well used," Bader said.

Space for a library still exists at 765 State St., but officials and Mason Square residents dismiss it as only a part of a room that is inadequate as a library.

In December, Mayor Charles V. Ryan appointed a search committee to study sites for a new Mason Square library branch.

The search committee examined a dozen locations and voted unanimously on July 13 to recommend the city begin negotiating to buy Muhammad's Mosque 13 at 727 State St. - with committee members maintaining during the study that the best spot remained 765 State St.

But a month later, mosque officials told Ryan they had reconsidered and won't be selling the site.

Rooke said it is clear the Mason Square area wants 765 State St. to be its library and other possible sites have been reviewed, so that warrants a possible taking by eminent domain.

The Urban League was emphatic with the mayor's search committee that it won't sell 765 State St.

Still, Rooke said it is worth risking a legal battle to look into eminent domain.

"I'm hoping they would reach some spirit of cooperation for the sake of the kids," Rooke said.

A. Craig Brown, of the league's board of directors, said in a voice-mail message the league had no comment on the eminent domain proposal.

Ryan, who said he believes 765 State St. remains the best site for a library for Mason Square, said he would have to study the issue before he could give his position on the eminent domain possibility.

City Councilor Domenic J. Sarno, Ryan's opponent in the Nov. 6 race for mayor, also said he would need to do a review before commenting.

Elizabeth B. Stevens is on the Mason Square Library Advisory Committee and was on the mayor's search committee. She would love to get 765 State St. back as a library, and while she doubts the chances of the eminent domain plan, she said, "I wish them well."

Springfield MA Republican: http://www.repub.com

Eminent Domain Lives... In Williamsburg: The Gothamist, New York NY, 10/18/07

... according to a recent court ruling, the city [of New York] is taking two Williamsburg properties via eminent domain for Bushwick Inlet Park. The properties are located along the East River between North 9th and 10th streets. According to one real estate expert, the city will only pay about $100 per square foot, compared to the $200 per square foot it could garner on the open market, even though the owners are entitled to the fair market value.

Other area properties on the eminent domain chopping block include the Greenpoint Monitor Museum (its president called the taking a "disgrace.") The city has offered to make the property part of a park and to relocate the museum off the waterfront to an undetermined street. We hate to say it, but [renderings of the proposed] park actually looks sort of pretty.

It's no secret that there's been an increase in use of the eminent domain power. High-profile projects that have resorted to it include Atlantic Yards, Willets Point in Queens, the Second Ave. subway project, the New York Times Building and Columbia's Manhattanville campus (although the university later renounced its use). All these takings have spawned a new term: eminent domain abuse.

This month, the city actually abandoned a plan to use eminent domain to secure properties for a parking garage and public plaza on a Duffield St. block in downtown Brooklyn - due to a technical oversight. Some of the homes were abolitionist homes involved in the Underground Railroad. While preservationists declared a victory, we're not really sure that the city is going to run away from this one just yet. In other words, another "blight" determination could be just around the corner.

Last week a federal appeals court heard arguments in the lawsuit filed by Atlantic Yards opponents, who claim the taking of their properties is not for public use, but, rather, to benefit a private developer. The suit was dismissed earlier this year, but plaintiffs want it reinstated.

The Gothamist, New York NY: http://gothamist.com

Eminent domain: Used properly, it's a tool of last resort: Bay City MI Times, 10/18/07

Our View

The legal doctrine of eminent domain is rearing its ugly head around here again.

This time, MBS International Airport is suing in court to claim 155 acres of farmland for a new, $50 million passenger terminal.

It's always a touchy subject, when the government tries to take away someone's land.

But, sometimes, it's the only way to accomplish something that will benefit hundreds of thousands of people.

Out at MBS Airport near Freeland, airport officials have been in negotiations with farmer Ronald F. Krauss to buy his acreage to build a 75,000-square-foot terminal.

It has been a perfectly reasonable approach by a public airport - jointly owned by Bay County and the cities of Saginaw and Midland.

As Krauss told local newspapers in February, the two sides have been dickering over price.

With negotiations at a standoff, the airport is suing to have a court determine the fair market value that the airport should pay for the land it needs.

That's exactly how eminent domain ought to work.

The government pays a fair price for the property that is needed for the greater public good.

But in the Land of The Free - ''Don't Tread on Me'' - a lot of people get queasy when it appears that government is forcibly taking away private property.

Yet, the alternative would be to let a single person stand in the way of projects intended to benefit the majority of the people.

MBS wants a new terminal so it can get the more than 400,000 people in its service area to use the airport. That would entice more airports to use the field, and, just maybe, offer competitive fares.

That's the greater public good.

Eminent domain was used to clear wide swaths through the countryside and cities to make way for our interstate highways.

It was used to move three businesses in downtown Bay City to accommodate the new Wirt Library.

Basically, it's a legal tool of last resort.

The city of Bay City, for example, did not use eminent domain to clear the 48 acres of now-vacant land along the Saginaw River for redevelopment.

That strategy kept the city out of what was a legal gray area for eminent domain - government taking private property for private projects, such as shops and condominiums.

Yet, in several projects out East recently, government used eminent domain to take property for private development. In Kelo vs. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice constitutional.

That decision ignited a national political firestorm over fears that government can take any land for almost any reason.

It gave eminent domain a dirty name.

Not that it was ever a very attractive way to acquire property.

Though, when haggling over the fair price of property stands in the way of public projects, it remains a useful way to seal a deal - well within the bounds of hundreds of years of legal custom.

For the project to expand and improve MBS International Airport, it remains a reasonable approach.

Bay City MI Times: http://www.mlive.com/columns/bctimes

Bulldozing the American Dream: The American Magazine, 10/18/07

‘Urban renewal’ schemes that rely on eminent domain disproportionately harm the poor
By Timothy B. Lee

For the first four decades of his life, Joseph Erondu lived the American dream. He moved to the United States from his native Nigeria in 1976, received a dentistry degree from Washington University, and opened a dental practice in the Gaslight Square neighborhood of St. Louis. At the time, the area was, in the words of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes.” But Erondu persevered. He brought a small measure of order to the community, and provided much-needed dental care to an underprivileged clientele that had trouble getting out to suburban dental offices. “Gaslight Square was his love,” says Erondu’s wife. “He and his children and I would pick up trash from around dilapidated buildings; he thought of it as a lifetime opportunity.”

Erondu was later thrilled to learn that the city was planning to redevelop the area — until he learned that he wasn’t welcome in the new Gaslight Square. St. Louis wound up acquiring his land using eminent domain, forcing Erondu to rebuild his practice from scratch in another neighborhood. Perhaps as a result of the stress, Dr. Erondu fell ill while his new practice was being constructed. He died on June 23rd, 2005, the same day the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Kelo decision.

Erondu’s property loss is a story that has been repeated across Missouri and across the United States. Entrepreneurs purchase property in a marginal neighborhood and struggle to build a viable business, only to have the city take their property and give it to a wealthier business with better political connections. Every time that happens, it sends a powerful message to future entrepreneurs that they should think twice before setting up shop in low-income communities.

That’s just one of the ways in which urban renewal policies designed to help the poor do just the opposite. Many urban planners argue that the power of eminent domain is needed to combat “blight” in urban areas. But closer examination shows that eminent domain only shifts the problems of poverty to another neighborhood, while destroying the social fabric that is essential for a genuine revitalization of poor neighborhoods. States that truly care about the welfare of their urban poor should prohibit the use of eminent domain for private urban redevelopment projects.

Consider the McRee Town neighborhood, which was one of the most notorious slums in St. Louis during the early 1990s. In 1998, the city began drawing up plans to “redevelop” the neighborhood by demolishing the existing housing stock and replacing it with more expensive single-family homes.

Local property owners and social advocates alike pleaded with city officials to spare well-maintained properties that were providing much-needed affordable housing.

In a 2003 letter to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Reverend Gerald J. Kleba, a Catholic priest whose parish included many McRee Town residents, charged that the redevelopment plan “moves hundreds of poor families from McRee Town into the larger city where hundreds of families with Section 8 vouchers already have no place to live.” In 2000, Jestene Bowen, a resident of one of the buildings slated for demolition, said, “I guess it’s good for the community.” But she worried that her $16,000 bus driver salary would “put me in an area that’s worse.”

The developer had originally said it would construct low-income housing to accommodate residents like Bowen. But the first homes have now been completed, and a quick glance at the builder’s website tells a different story: the cheapest homes are priced at $209,900, far beyond the financial reach of residents who had been struggling to pay rents as low as $275 per month. The Riverfront Times noted in 2003 that many residents had originally come to McRee Town after they “had been displaced by other neighborhood redevelopment efforts over the years.” With the McRee Town evictions, the cycle began all over again, further undermining poor residents’ sense that they had any control over their destinies.

Prohibiting the use of eminent domain for slum clearance would certainly be inconvenient for urban planners. But it would be good for low-income residents. It would preserve affordable housing and reassure entrepreneurs like Dr. Erondu that it’s safe to establish businesses in poor neighborhoods. Most important, it would force city officials to come up with redevelopment plans that are actually good for the residents of underprivileged neighborhoods, instead of merely evicting the city’s poorest residents to make room for wealthier ones.

Since Kelo, some states have moved decisively to protect property rights. But Missouri has not. In 2006, the state legislature passed a bill that made modest procedural changes to eminent domain law and increased the compensation paid to certain property owners. But the bill still allows land takings to fix “blight”—and the definition of blight is still so vague that it can be used to justify almost any property seizure. Only an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting property takings for private use will prevent the kinds of abuses that have occurred in Gaslight Square, McRee Town, and dozens of other Missouri communities.

The American Magazine: http://www.american.com

Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, is the coauthor of a new study from the Show-Me Institute on eminent domain abuse in Missouri

Families March to Save Threatened Nabe: Downtown Brooklyn Star, Brooklyn NY, 10/18/07

Pols Lead Discussion About Emminent Domain and Luxury Development in Downtown Brooklyn

By Jeffrey Harmatz

Tackling a process that has already begun, a convention was held on Saturday to promote discussion among residents about eminent domain and the possibility of being priced out the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods that they call home.

The Downtown Brooklyn Plan calls for several million square feet of new retail space and luxury housing in the middle of what has been an affordable residential neighborhood for the past few decades. These new construction projects, many of which have already broken ground, provide no affordable housing or services that will cater to the established community, and critics say that they are being built in an effort to squeeze out the current residents and change the character of the of the neighborhood.

Local politicians spoke alongside neighbors at the convention, which was organized by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE). The event culminated in a march down the streets of Downtown Brooklyn to protest the new construction and inform Brooklyn residents of the upcoming changes. Council members Charles Barron and Letitia James, assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and a representative from Borough President Marty Markowitz were on hand at P.S. 67 to discuss the issue with residents and hear their stories.

"Displacement is on the way up and affordable housing is on the way down, and it’s so plain that even Stevie Wonder can see it," said Jeffries. "Public housing is an important part of the fabric of this neighborhood and a big part of what initially attracted developers."

The changes that are coming to the Downtown Brooklyn area are symptomatic of a trend that is taking hold of the entire city. In the past decade, eager developers are quick to seize working-class neighborhoods steeped in local character and charm and develop them without consideration for the original residents. Such neighborhoods all over Brooklyn are being redeveloped, leaving the established community with even fewer options than they originally had. Organizations like FUREE hope that by uniting the neighborhoods, they can protect and preserve them.

"We demand to get what we deserve," said Arnetha Singleton, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, "and what we deserve is affordable grocery stores, laundromats, and check cashing stores. We are human beings and we pay taxes. We have to really unite."

Not everyone who spoke placed the blame for the displacement on the developers and government.

"I’m ashamed of this neighborhood," said Claire Bradley, a sergeant in the NYPD, raising the ire of the gathering. "People on the outside look and say, ‘I’d be willing to pay a million dollars to live there,’ and they see that the people who do live here, who pay reduced rent, leave garbage and trash all over the place. I respect this neighborhood, and the first thing we need to do is clean up our own buildings."

Many people in the audience also expressed their dismay at the plague of violent crime in the neighborhood, and cited it as another obstacle to overcome if the neighborhood is to resist development, as well as what was termed a job crisis.

"We need to make sure that as these buildings go up, some of our young people have jobs on the construction sites," said Jeffries.

At the conclusion of the discussion forum, the families left the P.S. 67 campus and, led by the Approaching Storm Marching Band, marched through the Fulton Street Mall carrying anti-eminent domain signs and handing out literature.

Joy Chatel, who owns a house widely regarded as being an integral part of the Underground Railroad that may be taken away through eminent domain, said, "They’re changing the fabric of this downtown area, and the new fabric does not include us."

Chatel was joined by James on Tuesday on the steps of City Hall to protest the use of eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn. Chatel and others have filed a lawsuit against the city, which caused the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development to withdraw its original eminent domain determination. Another hearing will be held on October 29, and another 60-day determination period will follow.

Downtown Brooklyn Star, Brooklyn NY: http://www.brooklyndowntownstar.com

Study Points to Continuing Eminent Domain Abuses: Missouri Net, Jefferson City MO, 10/17/07

By Steve Walsh

More than a year after eminent domain legislation was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Matt Blunt (R-MO), eminent domain abuse is still a concern. And, a study by the Show-Me Institute finds the use of eminent domain for private profit has continued unabated in Missouri.

Tim Lee, co-author of the study, says HB 1944, the legislation passed last year, failed to address the financial incentives that spur cities to redevelop ordinary neighborhoods, often by designating the neighborhoods as "blighted." He says these abuses occur, for the most part, in the state's largest metropolitan areas.

The study concludes eminent domain abuse has had a negative impact on local communities, adding the abuses will only worsen until the Legislature passes a constitutional amendment strengthening property rights in Missouri.

Missouri Net, Jefferson City MO: http://www.missourinet.com

Guaranty Building dispute carries on: Buffalo NY Business First, 10/17/07

DEA leaving Guaranty for new Buffalo home

The good news for Hodgson Russ LLP is that one governmental agency has exited the Guaranty Building. The bad news is a lawsuit against the federal government continues.

Hodgson Russ owns what is one of downtown Buffalo's landmark buildings, having acquired the 13-story structure five years ago. The law firm wants renovate the building and eventually bring all of its operations, spread out among three sites, under one roof. The firm employs some 350 workers.

The General Services Administration, however, has not fully complied. The GSA, responding to litigation launched by Hodgson Russ this past summer, filed eminent domain proceedings shortly thereafter. Gary Schober, president of the law firm, said both sides are trying to resolve the dispute amicably.

"The impact of what they've done won't go away," he said. "The firm is incurring economic damage out of pocket and is causing an interruption of business."

In the meantime, the Internal Revenue Service has all but vacated space it had been occupying on the fourth and fifth floors, having relocated to the Olympic Towers, according to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who has backed Hodgson Russ in the dispute. Higgins has termed the GSA's position as "bureaucracy at its worst."

Though the IRS has left, Schober said the Drug Enforcement Agency remains and the GSA, invoking the right of eminent domain, has condemned the DEA's space on the second and third floors until July 2008.

A GSA official was not immediately available for comment but Higgins, in a statement, said the process of finding a new office site for the DEA is underway.

Buffalo NY Business First: http://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo

In Eminent Domain Appeal, Yards Plaintiffs Face Skeptical Court: Brooklyn NY Downtown Star, 10/18/07

By Norman Oder

The biggest challenge to the $4 billion Atlantic Yards arena-plus-towers project has always been the federal eminent domain lawsuit organized by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. While the plaintiffs - 14 residential and commercial tenants and property owners - may have gained some traction in an appeals court on October 9, they still have a tough road ahead.

In June, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis dismissed the case, ruling the public purposes associated with the project - among them subsidized housing, blight removal, new transit facilities, and a sports facility - trumped any inquiry into whether the project is, as plaintiffs charge, a sweetheart deal.

Garaufis, in fact, did not even address the plaintiffs’ claim that the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards differed significantly from previous cases, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, because in Brooklyn case city and state officials publicly backed a developer before calling for any bids or trying to independently determine the outline of the area slated for redevelopment.

More than 60 people, mainly project opponents, listened closely as three judges of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case in a Lower Manhattan courtroom. The judges were skeptical but engaged, letting the argument extend for an hour-well more than the initial time allotted.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff relied on Kelo, which upheld eminent domain because the city “carefully formulated a development plan.” He also cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s non-binding concurrence, which cited “evidence that respondents reviewed a variety of development plans and chose a private developer from a group of applicants rather than picking out a particular transferee beforehand.”

In court papers and outside the courtroom, Brinckerhoff also pointed to an obvious contemporaneous example: the city’s solicitation of multiple bids for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Hudson Yards site. In the Brooklyn case, the MTA put its 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard up for sale 18 months after Atlantic Yards was announced, and the entire 22-acre site was never put up for bid.

Arguing the appeal, Brinckerhoff didn’t get far before he was interrupted by Judge Robert A. Katzmann, who suggested that Atlantic Yards would include “classic cases of direct public use,” cited in Kelo, “that would foreclose much of your argument.”

Brinckerhoff responded that, in this case, the blight determination was made years after the decision to have Forest City Ratner develop this project.

Judge Edward Korman asked if there was “any dispute” that some 62 percent of the project site was blighted, given that land stretching from the north side of Pacific Street is part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area, or ATURA. (It was established in 1968 during very different times, but reaffirmed by the City Council ten times, most recently in 2004.)

Brinckerhoff pointed out that his clients’ properties - on the south side of Pacific Street and the north side of Dean Street in Prospect Heights - are all outside ATURA. “Does that matter?” Katzmann asked. “Does there have to be a lot-by-lot determination?”

Brinckerhoff said no, as long as the sequence was legitimate. In the Supreme Court’s Berman v. Parker case, he pointed out, the circumstances were “radically different,” as a legislative finding that the area was in need of renewal was followed by a request for proposals.

In Brooklyn, however, there was no legislative determination, citing the role of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), an “unelected body.” The ESDC is a defendant, along with Forest City Ratner, former Governor George Pataki, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and other city officials.

Korman cut him off, asking how this affected the question of public use or public purpose.

“It lessens the deference owed to decision makers,” Brinckerhoff replied. “The sequence gives a powerful inference,” he said, “that the taking was motivated to benefit a specific developer.” Forest City Ratner was the only developer considered, he said, and the after-the-fact blight study concerned only the footprint that Forest City Ratner had identified.

Katzmann asked if there was any specific relationship between the developer and public officials. Brinckerhoff noted that Pataki went to law school with Bruce Ratner, that Ratner was known as a past contributor to Pataki, and there were reports that they were friends. Still, he said, there was no need for evidence of a quid pro quo.

The plaintiffs aim merely to proceed with discovery, to gain pre-trial information through documents, depositions, and interrogatories. Katzmann asked how much discovery the plaintiffs sought.

Brinckerhoff was cautious, as if not wanting to suggest a fishing expedition. “Presumably rather limited,” he said.

Katzmann asked what the plaintiffs want to find out.

“To explain these anomalies” regarding the sequence, Brinckerhoff said.

Korman asked Brinckerhoff what, in the best case scenario, he wished to find.

“There’s every possibility,” Brinckerhoff responded, that there are documents “that make it clear the government was uninterested” in other developers and projects, and that the governor and mayor had relationships with Bruce Ratner that led them to favor him.”

(As for the city’s motive, part of it was answered by Andrew Alper, then president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who testified at a May 4, 2004, City Council hearing, “The developer came to us with what we thought was actually a very clever plan. It is not only bringing a sports team back to Brooklyn, but to do it in a way that provided dramatic economic development catalyst in terms of housing, retail, commercial jobs, construction jobs, permanent jobs.

“So, they came to us, we did not come to them,” he continued. “And it is not really up to us then to go out and find to try to a better deal. I think that would discourage developers from coming to us, if every time they came to us we went out and tried to shop their idea to somebody else. So we are actively shopping, but not for another sports arena franchise for Brooklyn.”)

Brinckerhoff told the judges that “the notion that a stadium is a public use is just wrong.” A stadium “is a private, money-making enterprise,” he said, not different from a hotel that offers public access.

Katzmann acknowledged that courts might want to say something “about the wisdom of a policy, but we’re constrained.”

Brinckerhoff reminded him that courts play a role in policing eminent domain when it seems to be motivated to benefit a specific private individual.

“There’s no explanation,” he said, for why an MTA spokesman, shortly after the project was announced, said that the property was going to go to Forest City Ratner, before later issuing an RFP.

“We have this area in Downtown Brooklyn,” Korman said, making the common error of not locating the project in Prospect Heights. “Somebody submits a proposal similar to Ratner. It goes through the hoops...” What if it benefits a private party?

“That in itself is not a problem,” Brinckerhoff responded. “It’s when the private party has driven the process.”

But what about a mixed motive, Korman asked, to benefit the public and the developer?

The previous cases, Brinckerhoff responded, differ significantly in the sequence: “All we’re asking for is that this case can be remanded so the public can know this particular decision was legitimate.”

ESDC attorney Preeta Bansal declared “the analysis of this matter begins and ends with Kelo,” contending that the “multiple public purposes” made it an open and shut case.

What about the after-the-fact blight study to which Brinckerhoff alluded, asked Katzmann.

Bansal focused on the ATURA designation, renewed in 2004. “It’s undisputed that the project would alleviate blight” in 63 percent of the site. “That is enough to basically to end the case,” she said.

Citing the benefits, she noted that it would “create a publicly owned sports arena.”
Publicly owned? asked Katzmann.

“And then leased” to a private entity, Bansal acknowledged. Several people in the crowd snickered, knowing that the lease would be for $1.

She cited the planned Urban Room, “a nice entrance to the subway” and transit improvements “that Brooklyn has been trying to do for decades.”

“What if the process is tainted?” Katzmann asked.

The constitutional analysis, Bansal said, does not depend on the sequence. Bansal then gave a hypothetical worst-case scenario in which a smoking-gun memo or video showed that a public official stated, “I want to do this for Bruce Ratner.”

It would not make a difference, she said, to the dismay of some onlookers. “The fact that there might be illicit motive,” she said, even if it’s the principal motive, if it results in public use, “that’s the end of the inquiry.” She said the issue was whether public officials could have rationally concluded there was some public purpose.

Katzmann tried to drill down to an inflection point. What if an area was 20 percent blighted, or 50 percent, or 80 percent - how much blight would be needed to assume that decision-makers acted rationally?

There’s no clear line of demarcation, Bansal said, suggesting the court’s inquiry would be “fact-specific. But we’re not close,” given the ATURA finding. “I don’t think this case is anywhere near the line.”

With respect to the sequence, she added, the “New York legislature has made a considered judgment that private enterprise-initiated projects...are to be favored.”

(Actually, when the ESDC, then called the Urban Development Corporation, was established in 1968, the effort to encourage “maximum” private participation in project was hardly focused on developments like Atlantic Yards, but instead intended to get the private sector to finally invest in low- and middle-income subsidized housing.)

Few developers can do these kinds of projects, she added, not mentioning the Hudson Yards example. “The fact that a private developer came to the city is of no constitutional moment.”

“Your adversary,” Katzmann said, “suggested that other developers could have done it for less money, and were not considered.”

That, Bansal declared, was not a federal issue. “Perhaps they have a claim under state law.”

Given brief time for rebuttal, Brinckerhoff, responding to Bansal’s hypothetical about how the presence of some public use trumps private benefit, asserted, “There’s no question that Kelo prohibits that fact pattern.”

Korman, trying to characterize Brinckerhoff’s argument, said, “you conclude we should reverse so the public will know the manner in which this project was developed.”

He added, “Is this lawsuit a pretext?”

Brinckerhoff said it was so “my clients can know, when their homes are taken,” that the process is legitimate. (He left out how some simply oppose Atlantic Yards.)

Before the day’s proceedings began, Korman announced that he had received an Atlantic Yards mailer “some years ago” and responded in the affirmative, expressing support for the project, but without any eye to any legal case. He said he’d recuse himself upon request.

The plaintiffs made no move to do so - Korman has a distinguished reputation - but as the argument wore on and Korman asked some tough questions, they might have had second thoughts.

It was unclear how long the court will take to rule. Also pending since May is a decision on a lawsuit filed in state court challenging the environmental impact statement for the project.

Brooklyn NY Downtown Star: http://www.brooklyndowntownstar.com

Use eminent domain on mills: South Coast Today, New Bedford MA, 10/17/07

Letter to the Editor

By John Bullard

It seems to me that we have gotten to a point in New Bedford where certain mill owners feel they can hold the city up for ransom by threatening to demolish historic mills. The City Council bears a large measure of responsibility for this by routinely overturning the Historic District Commission.

Why the City Council takes the side of out-of-town real estate speculators over the interests of New Bedford citizens, present and future, escapes me. But I'm certainly not voting for any councilor who won't stand up for our heritage by protecting the Cliftex and Fairhaven Mills.

The owners of these mills turn down market-based offers to relieve them of the responsibility of property ownership in favor of a hoped-for and undeserved windfall from the city that wants to preserve the buildings. What have they done to deserve a windfall, and why does the City Council aid and abet this hostage-taking?

In his opinion piece, Mr. Giroux says the city should buy the property if it wants to save it. While I strongly disagree with Mr. Giroux's reasoning, I would suggest a variation of his idea. The city should use its power of eminent domain to condemn these properties, which the owners say have outlived their economic life. The New Bedford Redevelopment Authority could then purchase the properties at fair market value as determined by appraisers. Once the city acquired the properties, it could seek developers with more imagination and resources than the current in-over-their-head speculators.

This plan would require the City Council to work with the mayor. That may be too much to ask of the current council, but wouldn't it be nice if the council did something constructive about historic properties for a change?

South Coast Today, New Bedford MA: http://www.southcoasttoday.com

John Bullard is a former mayor of New Bedford

Owner on Mooney fights Caltrans on eminent domain: Visalia CA Times-Delta, 10/17/07

Visalia man losing land to make room for bus stop

By Gerald Carroll

A Visalia property owner says he stands to lose more than $1 million if Caltrans follows through on the eminent-domain seizure of a strip of his Mooney Boulevard parcel.

Dave McWilliams' 33,000-square-foot property is located in the 3700 block of South Mooney Boulevard, near Costco and Circuit City. On Sept. 11, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Patrick O'Hara ruled that Caltrans could acquire a 4,874-square-foot portion of the property to make room for a bus stop.

The stop, which includes a bus bay, is part of an overall widening project for that portion of Mooney.

Caltrans would take the front 10 feet of a tile store but leave the rest to McWilliams.

"That bus stop will seal off any access to my property from Mooney," McWilliams said Tuesday, "rendering it worthless and impossible to sell."

Because of the parcel's proximity to a major retail center, McWilliams said, he's received "hundreds" of offers to buy that spot over the years.

"The offers have been anywhere from $700,000 to nearly $1 million," he said. "That's what I stand to lose here."

Caltrans offered $87,732 for the strip of property nearest Mooney. But its appraiser placed a value of zero dollars on the building, court documents say.

The building is insured for $224,000 and is "probably worth a lot more than that," the owner said.

The no-value appraisal represents "theft, plain and simple," McWilliams said.

The building now is rented by Rubio's Ceramic Tiles. McWilliams said he stands to lose $45,000 a year in rent.

No one will buy the property without direct access to Mooney, he said.

"It's a lost cause," McWilliams said.

Rubio's will be given a "relocation allowance" of $10,000 or more by Caltrans, Rubio's Manager Oswaldo Angulo said.

The tile shop will relocate to 1324 S. Mooney Blvd. by the end of the week, he said.

Caltrans relocation agent Rita Velazco-Dias visited McWilliams' property Tuesday with Walnut Creek-based appraiser Roland Burchard and other Caltrans officials. McWilliams, who said he was confused by the appraiser's presence, denied the officials access.

"Why bring in an appraiser when Caltrans has already appraised the value of the building as zero and has already seized the land?" McWilliams asked.

The Caltrans representatives called Visalia police. After extensive discussions with the parties involved, Visalia Police Sgt. Corey Sumpter advised McWilliams to seek legal advice.

"No appraisal will take place today," he told Burchard.

No arrests were made.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gloria Sammaniego said the legal process involved in the eminent-domain proceedings has not reached the point of physical eviction.

"The [judge's] ruling does allow us to enter the property at any time and take any actions deemed necessary," Sammaniego said. "We chose the most logical course today under the circumstances."

Sammaniego said Caltrans officials will meet today to decide what their next step will be.

Visalia CA Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com


Improve 'golden' area with zoning, incentives: Cherry Hill NJ Courier Post, 10/16/07


Cherry Hill officials should continue to avoid using eminent domain as a redevelopment tool at three underused sites.

Cherry Hill's so-called "golden triangle" - an area bounded by Routes 38 and 70, and Cuthbert Boulevard and Haddonfield Road - is certainly a planning nightmare.

Residents live amid the constant buzz of highway traffic and sit close to large office buildings and businesses. Soon, they'll have a county probation office as a neighbor.

One practically brand new shopping center, the Garden State Pavilions, is dying because a newer, fancier shopping center is springing up at the old racetrack next door. There's no road connecting the two shopping centers, although there is supposed to be.

And, occupying some of the most beautiful views of the Cooper River are a National Guard armory and a trailer park.

However, despite the haywire planning of years past that led to this eclectic mix of uses crammed into a small, traffic-choked area, we would urge Cherry Hill officials to continue to keep their finger off the trigger when it comes to using the power of eminent domain.

Three sites within the golden triangle - a stone business on Route 70 west, a car lot on Cuthbert Boulevard and a strip of stores next to the Wal-Mart on Route 38 - are designated redevelopment zones, where it would be particularly easy for the township to take the property from its owners and hand it over to a private developer.

David Benedetti, Cherry Hill's director of community development, says the mayor is not eager to use eminent domain, however, and that it should only be an absolute last resort. That's the right way to proceed. The township should work with the owners of these sites and others to find buyers who want to improve the sites. The township should also make it easy to change the zoning so redevelopers are more interested in the sites.

But neither Cherry Hill, nor any other municipality, should be in the business of forcibly grabbing one person's or company's property to give it to another. Eminent domain is a government power that should be rarely used and, when it is, there should be extremely clear public need, such as when land is needed for a new road or school.

We hope these underutilized sites are eventually redeveloped, along with other parts of the golden triangle that are being misused.

Certainly, Cherry Hill residents would benefit by seeing better stores or more jobs come to the township at these sites. The way to do it properly is to have smart planning and zoning, incentives for redevelopers to buy the properties themselves from current owners and a committment to not using eminent domain to grab land from one private owner and give it to another.

Cherry Hill NJ Courier Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com

Brooklyn Residents Chant 'Save Our Neighborhood, Yo': The Village Voice, New York NY, 10/15/07

By Neil deMause

A massive throng — well, let's say a spirited assemblage — of about 100 residents of Fort Greene and surrounding neighborhoods marched through downtown Brooklyn on Saturday, protesting what they say is the demolition of a traditional African-American shopping district to make way for high-priced condos. The marchers, organized by the Brooklyn-based Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), chanted "Hell no, we won't go!" as they followed behind East New York's Approaching Storm marching band, which set off innumerable car alarms along Myrtle Avenue and Willoughby Street with its raucous beats.

The downtown that the marchers traversed has already seen significant changes since the Voice profiled the area in May. Many of the stores on the block of Willoughby between Duffield and Bridge Streets that was targeted by developer Al Laboz for his "Willoughby West" condo tower are now closed; Jack Fuzailov, who was pictured here fending off the forces of gentrification with an electric razor, has found a new space for his barber shop two blocks west.

The Albee Square Mall, meanwhile — the space made famous by Biz Markie and flipped by would-be Coney Island redeveloper Joe Sitt this spring for a 400% profit — is entirely depopulated, its stores empty, the doors of anchor tenant Forever 21 covered in plywood. In the now-desolate plaza outside, the Approaching Storm took a breather while Joy Chatel addressed the crowd through a bullhorn. Chatel, whose row house at 227 Duffield Street has been targeted by the city for demolition despite indications that it was a stop on the underground railroad, complained that the Bloomberg administration wants to have it both ways: "They renamed my block Abolitionist Place, but they're taking the descendents of Frederick Douglass out of their homes. How much evidence do they want, black people in the basement?"

Chatel and her supporters at least had one victory to cheer: Last week, the city abruptly withdrew its eminent-domain claim against Chatel and several other building owners, saying it had neglected to include the results of a blight study in its official filing. (By law, eminent domain can only be used to seize "blighted" properties — though in the famous words of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, "We don't mean 'blight' in the real sense of the word 'blight.'")

While happy enough for the breather, Candace Carponter, the attorney who had filed a lawsuit against the eminent-domain takings in part because of an inadequate blight study, notes that the city will be starting the process anew with a public hearing on October 29. "They've set themselves back probably 120 days," she tells the Voice.

Trombones or no, the mood on Saturday was very much one of folks shouting into a hurricane; behind speakers' heads rose the skeletons of apartment towers already going up on nearby Livingston Street. If downtown Brooklyn as we know it disappears, though, it won't be for lack of, um, fury.

"We're just going to let people take something from us," thundered Chatel outside the shuttered mall. "Harriet Tubman would shoot you in the back for that."

The Village Voice, New York NY: http://www.villagevoice.com

UA Goes to Court to Take Block of Land: Akron OH Beacon-Journal, 11/3/07

Business owners say they don't want to go, plus offers are too low

By Carol Biliczky

The University of Akron has filed lawsuits in Summit County Probate Court to take more than a dozen pieces of property by eminent domain.

The actions target homes and businesses in a block bounded by East Exchange, Nash, Spicer and Brown streets i land that is needed to make way for a $55 million stadium east of campus and west of state Route 8.

Two of the holdouts say that the university isn't offering enough money and that they want to stay on this part of East Exchange, sometimes called the Zip Strip. ''We want to be compensated for our loss of business,'' said Joseph Nemer Jr., who owns a bar, warehouse and other businesses in the area. ''We want to find a nice spot. We want respect.''

The university also filed against Manny Nemer, who owns Aroma Coffee and Tea and Manny's Pub, just up the street at 445 and 451 E. Exchange. Manny Nemer rents part of 445 E. Exchange to Chopstix restaurant.

Manny Nemer said he did not want to relocate, but would do so if the university found him a location across the street. He said he wants to stay in the same area. The Nemers' properties run from 357 to 469 E. Exchange, which includes the Sun Bar and Grille, and 354 Nash St., Joseph Nemer Jr. said.

Also sued were the Odd Corner, a store at Exchange and Brown streets owned by Harry Jackson; houses at 444 and 446 Nash St. owned by Tamas Mesterhazy of Silver Lake; and four properties owned by Fred Fanning of Fairlawn at 425 and 431 E. Exchange and 430 and 424 Nash.

The university has come to agreements with dozens of other property owners, sometimes offering them relocation expenses and compensating them for loss of business.

One of the homes that the university purchased was owned by Jack W. Morrison Jr., son of university Trustee Jack Morrison. After two members of the Ohio Controlling Board questioned the $110,000 purchase this week, the university and the elder Morrison asked the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate the transaction to ensure it was done in accordance with Ohio law.

Commission Director David Freel said Friday he has asked the university not to take any further action on the property - such as tearing the house down - until the investigation is completed.

He said that the commission could refer the purchase to the county prosecutor and could assist the prosecution if it comes to that, but has no power to directly fine or sanction public officials.

''We will investigate as soon as we can,'' he said.

University officials have said they want to buy all the property for the stadium by the end of the year, break ground for the project in January and complete construction in time for the first home football game in fall 2009.

University Officials May Face Hurdles in Getting Land to Build Proposed Football Stadium

Local business owners don't fear the 'Roo

As University of Akron officials ready plans for a new stadium, they may face hurdles - not the least of which may be a stout Lebanese businessman.

Manuel Nemer, 55, says he will dig in his heels to stop UA from taking his commercial property on East Exchange Street.

He's operated Aroma Coffee and Tea since 1994 and Manny's Pub since 1984, waiting for the day UA would unveil a new stadium near the campus and his businesses could be part of the action.

That time appears to be here. UA trustees are expected to act on a $55 million stadium proposal with 30,000 seats when it meets Aug. 1.

But building a replacement for the antiquated Rubber Bowl will mean buying up lots of parcels on 12 acres of the crowded urban landscape between the east side of campus and state Route 8.

UA already owns 86 parcels. Over the years, it has been quietly buying up land as it was available.

Last month it hired the real-estate services company CB Richard Ellis to negotiate the last 29 parcels that it needs, UA spokesman Ken Torisky said.

Ted Curtis, UA vice president of capital planning and facilities management, declined to comment about the process.

Most of the structures are turn-of-the-20th-century houses that have been converted to rentals on handkerchief-size lots. But a sprinkling are businesses situated on East Market Street's so-called "Zip Strip" of eateries, bars and stores that serve UA students.

The first step for the university's acquisition effort is an appraisal, to set the value of each of the properties - the amount the university would be allowed to pay by law.

One of the businesses that's been approached is owned by Harry Jackson, and he's none too happy.

He said he will fight to get the most he can for his small Odd Corner store at Exchange and Brown streets, ideally situated directly across from campus. He's been selling T-shirts, adult items and tobacco products for almost 35 years and is determined to stay in the area, be that in the same building or a nearby one.
He said he even offered to leave UA $2 million to $3 million for scholarships in his will if it would let the business remain.

But that proposal has fallen on deaf ears, he said.

"I'm quite willing to fight," Jackson said. "Be sure to let people know I do not intend to close."

As for Manny Nemer, he is keeping his fingers crossed that UA will back off.
"I want to pass this on to my children," he said in the cluttered back office at Aroma Coffee and Tea. "I'd like to leave my name around."

He paints himself as a hard-working immigrant in search of the American Dream. He came here as a teen with $6 in his pocket and has worked hard to put his children through Catholic schools and colleges.

"I had few hours of sleep, few hours to see my kids grow up. No time to join my wife for their school meetings and school activities and no time to even help during the nights of their sickness," he said in written comments prepared by his wife, Colette, on a manila folder.

Money won't buy him off, he said. Where would he rebuild?

He's willing - even eager - to abandon the renovation and expansion plans he has in hand for the coffee shop, pub and part of a building he leases to Chopstix restaurant in favor of one that suits the university. He will build whatever they want, he said expansively.

If UA takes him to court for eminent domain - the governmental right to acquire property for a public purpose - a jury would side with him, he insisted.

"We are optimistic and confident that we can deal with Akron U in a wise and fair way -- hopefully," he said.

UA Seeks State Ethics Probe of Home Sale
Son says trustee didn't advise him what properties school might want, or help him buy house later sold at profit to college

The University of Akron asked the Ohio Ethics Commission on Thursday to investigate UA's purchase of a house owned by a trustee's son.

UA officials say Trustee Jack Morrison didn't help his son acquire the property at 334 Spicer St. and abstained from voting when fellow trustees approved the purchase this year.

''We don't think we did anything wrong, and Jack doesn't think he did anything wrong,'' UA spokesman Paul Herold said. ''We're going to turn this over to the Ohio Ethics Commission just to be sure.''

A court document about another purchase in the university area says the elder Morrison has provided financial help for his son's business of buying properties, but not the Spicer Street home.

The university bought the 108-year-old home this year for $110,000, 40 percent more than Jack W. Morrison Jr., the son, had paid for it the previous year.

It is one of many the university plans to acquire either through a direct purchase or eminent domain to make way for a new stadium east of campus and west of state Route 8.

For almost two years, the younger Morrison, a 28-year-old attorney, or his company, Braymor Development, has accumulated 18 properties around the university valued at almost $900,000, according to Summit County records. His other properties are on Beltz Court and Allyn, Kling, Brown, Power, Rankin and Sumner streets. Those properties have not been sold to the university.

In a deposition he gave in January in a breach-of-contract lawsuit he had filed over an attempt to buy a house at 444 Kling St., he quoted another investor as calling the area ''beachfront property.''

''They want to expand the practice fields to Power Street, and this house is right on the practice fields,'' the younger Morrison said. ''That's why I was interested initially.''

On Thursday, the younger Morrison said he buys houses cheaply, fixes them up and rents them to students.

He said it was a coincidence that he bought 334 Spicer St. and it later was acquired by the university. He said his father did not advise him what properties might be of interest to the university.

Morrison, with his father as his lawyer, lost the lawsuit over the 444 Kling St. property and has appealed the case to the 9th District Court of Appeals.

In the deposition, he said his father provided financing for some of his projects. ''When I first started, I needed some money to put down on the first house,'' he said.

He cited homes at 355 Rankin, 331 Cross and 365 Rankin as ones his father helped finance.

In an interview with the Beacon Journal on Thursday, the senior Morrison said he loaned his son money from time to time, and he did not know how it was used.

''I don't know how he finances his properties,'' said senior Morrison, who is president of Amer Cunningham, the Akron law firm where the son is an associate. ''If he recalls I loaned him money, I wouldn't dispute that.''

He said he has nothing to do with his son's businesses.

In the deposition, the younger Morrison said he first visited the 444 Kling St. property with his father. In various projects, he said, he has ''had some help with doing some repairs with my father here and there.''

He also said in the January deposition that, for the Spicer street home, he invested $10,000 to $15,000 in improvements. That is significantly less than was reported in two appraisals conducted in the spring.

Appraiser Howard Myers said in his report that Morrison Jr. told him he invested $28,000 in improvements, excluding his labor.

The younger Morrison had hired Myers to do the appraisal, which became one of two that the university used in setting its purchase price.

UA spokesman Herold said the university accepts appraisals from property owners as long as it also obtains one on its own. In this case, the second appraisal was conducted by John W. Emig, who put the value of Morrison's improvements at $34,000.
Morrison's house was among 14 UA purchases approved Monday in a 5-2 vote by the Ohio Controlling Board, with one member questioning the property's steep appreciation in a declining market. The board has final oversight on capital acquisitions by state agencies and institutions.

Stadium Plan Approved
UA football facility to cost $55 million, seat 30,000

University of Akron officials said "Wow" a lot Wednesday as they plunged ahead with plans for a $55 million stadium, the linchpin of the second phase of their campus redesign.

The 30,000-seat stadium will be named for InfoCision and the field for Summa Health System, the two largest donors to the athletic project to date.

"This will be football the way it was meant to be," UA President Luis Proenza said. The construction of the stadium was one of two major items approved by trustees on Wednesday.

They also took early steps to find financing for more projects to come - a residence hall for 450 to 500 students next door to the stadium and a parking deck with 1,100 to 1,500 spaces somewhere on campus.

All the projects are part of UA's continuing Landscape for Learning, which has invested $350 million over the last decade to beautify and modernize the downtown campus.

The long-sought stadium will return football to the campus, and the university made the most of the announcement. At a balloon-festooned reception, officials gave out T-shirts emblazoned with "Roo Town," a play on the schools' mascot, Zippy the kangaroo.
Cheerleaders, a band and Zippy were on hand, as were colored render Please seeings depicting the look of the red brick, stone and glass stadium.

A stream of UA officials praised the proposed facility. Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said the goal is to "build the nicest stadium in the country."

The project will be funded through a $30 million campaign that launched Wednesday with almost $21 million collected or pledged to date, plus perhaps $25 million in general revenue bonds.

UA students will not be charged for the stadium unless they hold a referendum and vote to contribute to the project through special fees. Each student already pays $222.60 a semester to retire bonds and operate the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and Student Center.

The stadium will offer something for everyone, including a variety of seating options - from private boxes and loges to end-zone grass berm - office space and 45,000 square feet on two levels for classrooms.

The facility with artificial turf could be used for community events - everything from marching band activities to summer athletic camps to concerts. The club level of the press box, which seats 486, will be available to the public for meetings, receptions and more. Pricing has yet to be worked out.

UA officials say the stadium is critical to recruiting and retaining students, including student-athletes.

Ted Curtis, UA vice president of capital planning and facilities management, said the facility will bring something new to campus - the opportunity for students and alumni to hold tailgate parties, building camaraderie and team spirit.
Students gave that a big thumbs up.

"It's gorgeous, a striking design," said Adam Ferrise, a communications major from Cuyahoga Falls. "If that's the way it's really going to look, wow."

Ryan Bahill, a nutrition major from Akron, said the stadium would attract many more students to games - including her - because it would be much more conveniently located.

"I think it's a good way to get students involved more on campus and to get them to unite," said Teresa McQuaide, an English major from Warren.

At this stage, the project does not include its own parking deck, but Curtis said that won't be a problem.

About 10,000 campus parking spaces will be within walking distance of the stadium and 7,500 more are in downtown Akron, a short shuttle-bus ride away. As each vehicle typically carries three people, that should be more than enough for even a filled-to-capacity stadium, he said.

With construction to begin in October, the university is continuing to buy up residential and business property on the stadium's 12-acre footprint east of Lee Jackson Field and north of East Exchange Street. UA officials have said they will go to court to invoke eminent domain if they need to.

And the new stadium project does not include retail shops or restaurants, as was once envisioned. Proenza, the UA president, said it was deemed more cost effective to use the space for classrooms.

Over the next two years, the university also will continue to spend at least $375,000 a year to maintain the 66-year-old Rubber Bowl, which the university bought from the city of Akron for $1 in 1971.

Proenza said no decision has been made yet on the Rubber Bowl, but it will almost certainly be sold.

UA officials also refused to disclose the size of the gifts from Summa and from Gary and Karen Taylor, owners of InfoCision, citing their requests for privacy.

The Taylors also asked that the stadium be named for their company and not for them.
Later Wednesday, Gary Taylor said the gift included "multiple millions" spread over 20 years. UA named the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing for him when he initially gave $1.5 million. He later gave another $2.1 million.

Akron OH Beacon-Journal: http://www.ohio.com

City could start eminent domain for K Street properties: Sacramento CA Business Journal, 11/26/07

Michael Shaw

The city of Sacramento on Monday said it may initiate eminent domain proceedings as a way to acquire nine K Street properties owned by downtown landlord Mohammed "Moe" Mohanna.

Those addresses - located in the most blighted areas of K Street, the 700 and 800 blocks - have been the center of a dispute between Mohanna, the city and another developer.

The city sent Mohanna a letter stating that the council will consider a resolution Dec. 11 that would authorize the city's redevelopment agency to start eminent domain proceedings.

For the past few months, Mohanna and Mayor Heather Fargo have held discussions on resolving that dispute, but those talks have not produced any results. In addition to exploring eminent domain, the city will ask the Sacramento Superior Court to terminate an agreement with Mohanna or force him to abide by the agreement's terms.

Sacramento CA Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento

City Panel Approves Columbia’s Plan for Expansion in Harlem: New York NY Times, 11/27/07

By Charles V Bagli

After a tumultuous and bitter meeting replete with heckling, the New York City Planning Commission voted yesterday to approve Columbia University’s much-debated plan for a 17-acre campus expansion in Harlem. The plan now goes to the City Council, which is expected to modify it before giving final approval.

The commission’s decision was an important step in the often-difficult process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp.

Of the 12 commission members present for a special public meeting, 10 voted in favor of the university’s expansion. One member, Karen A. Phillips, who represents the city’s public advocate and has been influential in Harlem as a former president of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, voted no. Another, Irwin G. Cantor, who represents the Queens borough president, abstained, citing provisions in the plan that would allow the university to press the government to use eminent domain to acquire land for the expansion.

Adding a wrinkle to the project, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a similar redevelopment proposal, a community-initiated rezoning plan known as a Section 197a document, which had been put forward by Community Board 9.

The differences between the Section 197a document and the Columbia University plan will have to be resolved, but Amanda M. Burden, the chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said in a statement that she did not think those differences were great.

Members of Community Board 9, local property owners, some community groups and residents of the affected neighborhood oppose the university’s proposal. They say small businesses and tenants would be displaced by a project that would create a private enclave.

“It’s wrong to take private property and hand it over to another private owner,” said Ann Whitman, whose property would be condemned by the state under the expansion plan. “We’re in the fight for our lives. My neighbors, black, white and Latino, are standing up for right against wrong.”

People on both sides of the issue expect further demonstrations and, possibly, lawsuits.

“We’ll stand in front of those bulldozers,” said Tom DeMott, a leader of the opposition Coalition to Preserve Community. “This battle is not over by a long shot.”

The City Council is expected to hold a hearing on the project next month and to vote on it in January.

Many people who crammed into the commission’s meeting room in Lower Manhattan booed and hissed throughout the proceeding. Critics have said that the scale, density and design of the project would overwhelm the neighborhood in Harlem, an area that has been subject to rapid gentrification and rising real estate values.

The commission did make some modifications to Columbia’s proposal before approving the planned expansion, between 125th and 133rd Streets, and from Broadway west to the river. Two research buildings planned for Broadway were eliminated and replaced with university housing. In addition, the height of the proposed buildings on the west side of Broadway, at the north end of the site, were cut to 180 feet from 260 feet. On the east side of Broadway, they were cut to 120 feet from 240 feet.

Columbia completed a draft environmental impact statement for the project in June, but the criticism had begun much earlier. The university intends to build academic and residential buildings, including space for its arts and business schools and research labs.

Columbia has defended the plan as necessary and promised not to seek the use of eminent domain to make people leave their homes. (The university has left open the possibility of asking the state to use eminent domain to acquire nonresidential property.)

But Columbia’s assurances have not had the intended effect. The expansion plan was sharply criticized at a public hearing last month and was one focus of a student hunger strike earlier this month. As part of the real estate boom, colleges and universities have been erecting new buildings around the city, straining town-gown relations.

New York NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com