As Projects Cue Up, Louder Calls for Stricter Eminent Domain Laws

It’s been something of an eminent domain-filled day so far, with three events focusing on the state and city’s ability to acquire private land, particularly for economic development: First a hearing, then a press conference, and a scheduled court appearance.

Why all the fuss?

A number of the larger private development projects in the city–the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, Columbia University’s planned West Harlem expansion and the proposed redevelopment of Willets Point in Queens, to name a few–plan to use eminent domain to take property and create large, contiguous space for new development. Naturally many of the affected property owners are resistant, and some lawmakers have taken an interest in the issue, calling for more restrictions on the tool’s use.

State Senator Bill Perkins, along with Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Efrain Gonzales, held a hearing this morning in Harlem where he said he intends to create a commission to study reform of New York’s eminent domain laws. While most states saw a backlash against its use following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, New York’s laws went unchanged.

"Something has to be done," Mr. Perkins said. "We’re going to put together the commission," and work to pass new legislation.

Then came a press conference in East Harlem, protesting the planned use of eminent domain at all of the projects around town, but particularly a rezoning of the eastern portions of 125th Street to make way for a large mixed-use project, which potentially needs forced acquisitions. Willets Point business owners, the major landowner in the Columbia footprint, Queens Councilman Hiram Monserrate and other advocates all chimed in.

Then this afternoon, landowners in the footprint of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project were scheduled for a court appearance in their challenge in state court on the environmental review of the project, which used eminent domain and found the area as blighted. Landowners also have a suit in state court challenging eminent domain, which follows a federal lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear.

[The article originally stated incorrectly that owners in the Atlantic Yards footprint had a hearing on a lawsuit challenging the use of eminent domain.]

As Projects Cue Up, Louder Calls for Stricter Eminent Domain Laws