Last December, the Empire State Development Corporation decided to use eminent domain to seize land in West Harlem for Columbia's ambitious Manhattanville development. (NY State officially "blighted" the 17 acres in July 2008.) But now a state appellate courts has overturned the use of eminent domain. The Observer reports, "The decision says, the clear beneficiary was Columbia, not the public. Columbia, by buying up property and not maintaining sidewalks, helped to create blight, the court found, and the university underwrote costs for the entire project, rather than the city or state committing funds." And here's text of the decision:

"The record shows no evidence that ESDC placed any constraints upon Columbia's plans, required any accommodation of existing, or competing uses, or any limitations on the scale or configuration of Columbia's scheme for the annexation of Manhattanville.

Thus, 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.


In this case, 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. These remarkably astonishing conflicts with Kelo on virtually every level cannot be ignored, and render the taking in this case unconstitutional."

The ESDC's vice president of public affairs Warner Johnston says, "ESDC believes the decision of the Appellate Division, First Department in the matter of the Columbia University Manhattanville Campus to be wrong and inconsistent with established law, as consistently articulated by the New York State Court of Appeals, most recently with respect to ESDC's Atlantic Yards project. ESDC intends to appeal this decision."

City Room notes, "The court’s decision is not fatal to to its expansion plan. It already owns or controls 91 percent of the 17 acres—61 of 67 buildings—in the project area. It can simply build around the other property owners, or come to some sort of agreement. But the state and the university had always sought the entire site." The holdouts were storage business owner Nick Sprayregen and the Singhs, who operate gas stations in the area.

Last week, the state's highest court dismissed challenges for the use of eminent domain to seize Brooklyn property for the Atlantic Yards project.