Monday, December 07, 2009

Daily News editorial endorses court decision in Columbia case, doesn't grapple with AY similarities

From a New York Daily News editorial today, headlined Total condemnation: State botched eminent domain for new Columbia campus:
New York State's supposed economic development geniuses have only themselves to blame for the scathing court ruling that barred the use of eminent domain to spur Columbia University's $6.3 billion expansion plan.

The Manhattan Appellate Division cited persuasive evidence in declaring that the Empire State Development Corp. essentially concocted a determination that the neighborhood where Columbia wants to build was blighted.

In the court's estimation, ESDC officials "hatched a scheme" to trump up a blight finding in order to justify taking properties from private owners and handing them to the university. This was done via a consultant that had been in the pay of Columbia and whose neighborhood study was "idiocy," the court concluded.
Compared with AY decision

While the editorial noted that the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state two weeks ago in the AY case--subject of a wrongheaded Daily News editorial--it fails to acknowledge that the dissent in the Columbia case cited the AY case, while the court opinion ignored it.

Yes, there are some differences in the underlying facts of the Columbia and AY cases. And the state's highest court might in fact uphold the challenge to the state's use of eminent domain for Columbia on narrow grounds, without revisiting the Atlantic Yards case.

But the court should confront the essential similarities between the two decisions: the use of underutilization to determine blight and the Empire State Development Corporation's vague blight standards.

Moreover, the majority opinion in the Columbia case pointed to the evidence of pretext--that blight was not identified as a justification until after the project was announced. In his dissent in the Atlantic Yards case, Judge Robert Smith cited similar evidence in the Atlantic Yards case, but the majority ignored it.

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