Posts Tagged ‘blight’

Nick’s Newest Op-Ed: “The Eminent Domain Game is Rigged”

September 19, 2008

Appearing in the New York Daily News, September 18, 2008

Government Bad Faith

September 14, 2008

As we have reported, already two NYS courts have come down hard on the conflict of interest caused by the state hiring the same consultant as Columbia had already retained.  In other words, this firm, AKRF, which had already been under contract to Columbia to ADVOCATE ON ITS BEHALF was then hired by the state to perform the (theoretically unbaised) “blight study” – the necessary ingredient  before the ESDC can start condemnation proceedings. 

This unholy alliance only was found out by our attorneys, led by Norman Siegel, through our numerous (and costly) Freedom of Information Law requests. 

It is our belief that on the basis of this conflict alone, the courts should throw out the entire condemnation process. We may soon be asking the courts to do just this.

The ESDC Hearings – The Height of Cynicism

September 13, 2008

Two weeks ago the Empire State Development Corporation, (ESDC – the state agency that Columbia is “renting” to threaten condemnation), held the legally required hearings in West Harlem ostensibly to “hear the people”. There were four hearings over the course of two days. Believe it or not – not a single director of the corporation thought it important enough to come to the hearings. Not a single person. Not a single hearing. Furthermore, in all likelihood, we believe that the directors probably have never even bothered to come to Manhattanville to see for themselves the so-called “blight”.  They are hypocrites!.

Weekly Standard: Razing West Harlem

September 11, 2008

By: Duncan Currie, August 9, 2007

A Word of Thanks from Nick Sprayregen & Family

September 11, 2008

We just want to thank the hundreds of people who have visited this site in just the past number of hours. Your response has overwhelmed us!

And we send an additional word of thanks to the many of you who signed the petition and wrote wonderful thoughts.

What we all need to do is to let all our friends and family know about this site and the attempted “land grab” by Columbia University of an entire neighborhood of West Harlem.

We would also add a cautionary note. This community has been fighting this eminent domain abuse for over fours years and we are still fighting a “David versus Goliath” type of battle. It has happened here and it can happen anywhere. We must all stick together and be strong. Let this battle over West Harlem be the test case that makes a difference – not just for West Harlem but more importantly, for all Americans everywhere!

NYT Article – Harlem Area is Blighted, State Agency Declares

September 10, 2008

By: Timothy Williams, July 18, 2008

NY Post Op-Ed – Columbia’s Greed

September 10, 2008

by: nick sprayregen, december 26, 2007

Sign our petition on Care2.com

September 9, 2008

SIGN THE PETITION and STOP THE ABUSE!!!

September 8, 2008

To sign the petition, just scroll all the way down to “Leave a Reply,” fill in the required information and click “Submit Comment.”  Thank you so much for your support.

We, the undersigned, object to the use of eminent domain in the Columbia University Expansion Plan.
First, Manhattanville is not a blighted community and Eminent Domain is not needed to stimulate economic development or to eliminate blight.
Second, The Columbia Plan has been developer driven and developed principally to benefit Columbia. The taking of private property and transfering it to Columbia, a private institution, is unconstitutional and illegal because it does not constitute a “public use” and is without a dominant public purpose.
Third, since Columbia now owns over 80% of the property in the affected area and will have control over 96% of the area, Eminent Domain is not necessary or appropriate to attain any legitimate public purpose in Manhattanville.
By signing our name below, we, individually and collectively, say NO to the use of Eminent Domain in the Columbia Expansion Plan in West Harlem/Manhattanville.

Preliminary Objections to Blight Findings, Sept. 4, 2008

September 4, 2008

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Issues, Facts and Objections – Sept. 4 Hearing

September 4, 2008

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Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

September 4, 2008

Columbia University

Has No Right to My Land

By NICK SPRAYREGEN
September 3, 2008; Page A21

In the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government is permitted to take private property only for “public use.”

This clause was once limited to true public projects such as the construction of highways, fire houses and public libraries. But over the last 50 years it has been bastardized by the powerful (in collusion with compliant politicians and the acquiescence of the courts) into a weapon used routinely to forcibly take other people’s property for nonpublic uses. What is occurring in West Harlem today is a prime example of this abuse.

Columbia University, a private institution, officially announced its desire for a new campus five years ago. The university zeroed in on the Manhattanville area of Harlem — between 125th and 134th Streets, and between Broadway and the Hudson River. Since that time, while wielding the sledgehammer of the possible use of eminent domain, Columbia has purchased roughly 80% of Manhattanville.

My family has owned for almost 30 years four commercial Manhattanville properties. We run a self-storage business, plus we lease to various large retailers such as a discount store and a supermarket. For over four years we have been fighting the state and Columbia in their joint attempts to condemn my properties for the school’s expansion.

This week, the board of directors of the state agency threatening the condemnation — the Empire State Development Corporation — will hold two legally required public hearings, ostensibly to give the public a chance to be “heard.” I believe that this is merely perfunctory.

Under New York state law, in order to condemn property the state first has to undertake a “neighborhood conditions study” and declare the area in question “blighted.” Earlier this summer the state released its study, which concluded that Manhattanville is indeed “blighted.” This gives the state the legal green light to condemn my four buildings and hand them over to the university.

The study’s conclusion was unsurprising. Since the commencement of acquisitions in Manhattanville by Columbia, the school has made a solid effort to create the appearance of “blight.” Once active buildings became vacant as Columbia either refused to renew leases, pressured small businesses to vacate, or made unreasonable demands that resulted in the businesses moving elsewhere. Columbia also let their holdings decay and left code violations unaddressed.

Only a few years ago, this area was undergoing a resurgence. Virtually all property was occupied, many by long-standing family operations such as my own. Now most of those businesses are gone — forced out by the university. Still, Columbia has not been able to freeze all positive change in the neighborhood. Just in the past few years, three upscale restaurants have opened here. They seem to be thriving.

There is also a conflict of interest in the condemnation process. The firm the state hired to perform the “impartial” blight study — the planning, engineering and environmental consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) — had been retained by Columbia two years earlier to advocate for governmental approval of the university’s expansion, including the possible use of eminent domain.

When I go to court in a few months to contest the condemnation, I will face an overwhelmingly unfair process particular to New York, and to eminent domain trials. I will not be permitted to question any of the state or Columbia’s representatives, nor will I be allowed to have anyone take the witness stand on my behalf. My attorney will only be provided with 15 minutes to speak to the court on a matter that Columbia and the state have been working on for over four years.

Another problem is that in New York, the precise definition of what is blighted is nowhere to be found. It is virtually impossible to defend oneself from something that is not properly defined.

I am still denied access to documents with facts surrounding the Columbia expansion plan, asked for through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. I filed 12 different FOIL requests and have gone to court four times. The courts have now twice ruled that it was improper for the state to refuse to hand over all communication between it and AKRF.

Still, I look forward to my day in court. I am cautiously optimistic that it will expose as unconstitutional what Columbia and the state are attempting to do.

Mr. Sprayregen is the president of Tuck-It-Away, a West Harlem based self-storage company.