Just when almost everyone thought that Manhattanville had state approval wrapped up, the project has suddenly hit a major speed bump. Earlier this afternoon, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the state could not use eminent domain to obtain parts of West Harlem for Columbia’s expansion.
The 3-to-2 decision found that “the record makes plain that rather than the identity of the ultimate private beneficiary being unknown at the time that the redevelopment scheme was initially contemplated, the ultimate private beneficiary of the scheme for the private annexation of Manhattanville was the progenitor of its own benefit…The record overwhelmingly establishes that the true beneficiary of the scheme to redevelop Manhattanville is not the community that is supposedly blighted, but rather Columbia University, a private elite education institution,” thus violating the Kelo precedent.
Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby declined comment to Bwog, while plaintiff Nick Sprayregen told Spec, “The majority of the court obviously saw what we saw, that the whole finding of blight was preposterous and engineered specifically to give all the private property over to Columbia.” Still, the decision is not the end of the line: Empire State Development Corporation spokesman Warner Johnston told City Room the decision was “wrong and inconsistent with established law,” adding that “E.S.D.C. intends to appeal this decision” (the ESDC, not Columbia, was the only major defendant in the case). Next stop: the Court of Appeals, which has recently been favorable to eminent domain cases. Old updates after the jump.
Update, 3:31 PM: City Room says: “Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, criticized the court decision as ‘wrong and inconsistent with established law.’ He added, ‘E.S.D.C. intends to appeal this decision.’” If appealed, the case would go to the last stop in New York State, the Court of Appeals. If appealed again at that level, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Update, 3:13 PM: The New York Observer has more. The decision reads, in part, “the ultimate private beneficiary of the scheme for the private annexation of Manhattanville was the progenitor of its own benefit.”
The full decision is here. A choice bit: “The exercise of eminent domain power…to benefit a private elite education institution is violative of the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution, article 1, § 7 of the New York Constitution.”
“N.Y. State Court Annuls Use of ‘Eminent Domain’ Power to Expand Columbia Campus” is the breaking headline on The New York Times, but there’s no full story yet. Stay tuned for more.