Posts Tagged ‘sprayregen’

NYT Article – State Officials Approve Expansion by Columbia

December 19, 2008

 By: Corey Kilgannon and Stacey Stowe



Comprehensive Article from Weekly Standard – Columbia University, Slumlord

December 1, 2008

By: Jonathan Last, December 8, 2008

NYS Court Hearing Today –

October 16, 2008

The hearing was adjourned from October 16th to October 23rd.

We MUST Show Our Outrage

October 8, 2008

Folks – its real important that we all know what we are up against. Eminent domain abuse is the ugliest violation of civil rights being perpetuated today by an unholy alliance between rogue segments of our government and some of the largest and most unethical private entities in our country.

We need to join together in the fight between West Harlem and the state of New York and Columbia University and send a message. Eminent domain abuse stops HERE! NOW! EVERYWHERE!

Please sign the petition.

Village Voice – Everyone Listens to Columbia’s Disaster Expert – Except Columbia

October 1, 2008

By: Elizabeth Dwoskin, October 1, 2008


NY Times: 2 Gas Stations, and a Family’s Resolve, Confront Columbia Expansion Plan

September 23, 2008

By: Timothy Williams, September 21, 2008

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

September 19, 2008

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

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!

Reason Magazine: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

September 11, 2008

By: Damon W. Root, September 3, 2008

NY Daily News Op-Ed: Columbia, Play Nice

September 10, 2008

By: Errol Louis, January 27, 2007

NY Sun Editorial – Columbia’s Domain

September 10, 2008

may 3, 2006

NY Post Op-Ed – Columbia’s Greed

September 10, 2008

by: nick sprayregen, december 26, 2007

Sign our petition on

September 9, 2008


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.

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

September 4, 2008

Columbia University

Has No Right to My Land

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.

Zero Hour in West Harlem (from The NY Observer, July 2008)

September 4, 2008

For more than three years, Nicholas Sprayregen has kept his word to Columbia University.

The largest private landowner in the footprint of the university’s planned 17-acre West Harlem expansion, he has vowed time and again to fight the university’s attempts to oust him, so long as the school threatens the use of eminent domain.

Now, as the bulk of the area’s politicians have endorsed the expansion, community opposition has gone from a boil to a simmer and all but one other private-property owner has agreed to sell to the university, the fight’s final chapter is poised to be strictly a legal one between two parties: the university and Mr. Sprayregen.

Last Thursday, New York’s Empire State Development Corporation declared as blighted the area northwest of Columbia’s main campus, starting the process to acquire Mr. Sprayregen’s four properties through eminent domain. The action sets the stage for a lengthy legal battle with the institution, as the owner of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage vows to keep the challenge going.

Still, speaking from his West Harlem office on Friday, the energetic 45-year-old seemed to have adopted, at least temporarily, a more somber outlook than he usually conveys.

“I’m pessimistic that we will be successful,” he said, surrounded by piles of documents related to the expansion. “I have a feeling that if we’re going to get anything, the only way it’s going to happen is that we’re first going to have to lose in the New York courts and then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and hopefully have them take on the case, and then win.

“That’s obviously a long shot.”


SINCE THE UNIVERSITY first announced its intention to expand in the area in 2002, and especially in the past year, as the proposal made its way through the city’s rezoning process, Mr. Sprayregen has watched the landscape around him shift dramatically, with a constant stream of victories for the university.

Three years ago, he was joined by five other business owners in a group that opposed the expansion and vowed to fight property takings. But as of mid-June, he is now the only member left, and just one other private landowner—the Singh family, which owns two gas stations—remains without a deal with Columbia.

Mr. Sprayregen met community opposition last year in an attempt to rezone his properties himself, and he has all but given up hope on a land-swap proposal he made to Columbia, saying university officials in a recent meeting seemed unwilling to part with the property he was eyeing.

The bulk of the political process surrounding the project has also come and gone as well. The local community board opposed the plan, but after a concession package, the City Council voted for the university’s requested rezoning, clearing the way for the school to proceed.

It was through this seven-month rezoning approval process that Mr. Sprayregen sought to gain enough momentum to leverage a deal with Columbia in which it would drop eminent domain from its plan. Local elected officials, particularly members of the City Council, are highly influential in this process, and at least in Mr. Sprayregen’s thinking, could have pushed Columbia to reach a deal he considered fair.

But Columbia proved successful in swaying the Harlem politicians to its side, perhaps the most significant element of its success with the expansion to date.

Enlisting the help of lobbyist Bill Lynch, a former aide to Mayor David Dinkins, the university emphasized the effect the expansion would have on creating jobs and providing housing. Just before the passage of the rezoning in December, it reached an agreement with the elected officials and members of the community to provide tens of millions in commitments to below-market-rate housing, open space, hiring practices and other concessions.

The plan won an easy approval in the City Council, and when the state released the blight study and a general project plan last week, it came with statements of support from, among others, U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Governor David Paterson, who once represented the area and who previously called for a statewide moratorium on eminent domain.

Not on that list is State Senator Bill Perkins, the former councilman who took Mr. Paterson’s seat in 2006. Since the rezoning passed, Mr. Perkins has been the lone elected official in the area still critical of the expansion, saying there is a “hue and cry” in the community against the plan, and preparations for the use of eminent domain seem like a “cooked process.”

“The community does not feel as if their needs have been taken into consideration, and they do not feel that, in the end, they will be in the picture,” he said. “I think [Columbia officials] have done a poor job addressing some of the concerns that they have, and I’ve tried to help them recognize it, but I guess they felt they had what they needed in terms of so-called political support and decided to move on.”


In contrast to the rezoning, the use of eminent domain does not require approval from elected officials, and now that the state has declared the area blighted, condemnations could begin in coming months, after a public comment period.

At that point, Mr. Sprayregen expects to begin litigation, and his attorney, Norman Siegel, said he expects to challenge the finding of “blight,” a requisite for condemnation.

“Over the past seven years, Columbia has purchased many of these lots and then they had a practice of vacating and undermaintaining the property,” Mr. Siegel said. “They benefit from the conditions that they either created or allowed to continue.”

Columbia has previously denied any intentional neglect of the properties in the footprint, and David Stone, a university spokesman, said via e-mail, “We also continue to be hopeful that we can reach mutually beneficial, negotiated agreements with the two remaining commercial property owners.”

As for the effect litigation would have on the start of the expansion, Mr. Stone declined to speculate, but part of the area where Columbia wants to build its first buildings contains one of Mr. Sprayregen’s properties and the two gas stations belonging to the Singh family. (The Singhs did not respond to requests for comment.)


NEW YORK’S LAWS on eminent domain are viewed as rather favorable to the state when compared with other laws nationwide, making the climb for Mr. Sprayregen a distinctly uphill one.

Landowners in other eminent domain cases often hope that a prolonged legal battle will derail a project through a changing political landscape or economic climate. But Columbia’s plan seems prone to more stability than a typical private developer’s. The university has a multibillion dollar endowment; already owns the bulk of the land in the footprint; and has always said the expansion is a long-term proposition, and thus a two-year fight through the court system—landowners in Brooklyn have been challenging eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards project for more than a year and a half—does not seem likely to spoil the university’s plans.

Such a fight can be expensive for both sides. For Atlantic Yards, an Empire State Development Corporation spokesman said the state has spent more than $8 million on legal fees, which apply to litigation and other expenses (the state’s fees are reimbursed by developer Forest City Ratner, and Columbia University will reimburse the state for fees related to eminent domain).

Mr. Sprayregen, who estimated he has spent about $1 million so far in legal expenses and other fees, said he was prepared to commit a substantial sum to continue the fight.

“I think if we’re able to take it all the way to the Supreme Court, it will cost another $2 million,” he said. “Obviously, we now have a real legal fight on our hands.”