Eminent Domain

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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For the past several years, Nicholas Sprayregen has stood his ground against the combined forces of Columbia University and the powerful quasi-public entity known as the Empire State Development Corporation. At issue is Spraygregen's refusal to sell four buildings (all part of his Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage business) to Columbia so the University can proceed with a 17-acre west Harlem expansion that president Lee Bolinger describes as necessary for Columbia to "continue to be one of the great Universities of the world." From the outset, Columbia has dangled the threat of eminent domain over the heads of Sprayregen and his fellow property holders, scaring all but two into cutting their losses and selling their land. But as Sprayregen told The New York Times:

This is about the powerful growing more powerful at the expense of those who have less. Columbia is not a public university; what they're doing by threatening to use eminent domain is as unethical from a business perspective as anything I've ever come across. Property rights abuse is running rampant, but what's unique in this instance is that eminent domain always seems to be used against the down-and-out, people who can't afford to fight back in a meaningful way. I can. But I think it's anti-American that I'm probably on the losing side.

Sadly, he's probably all too right about that last part. Back in July, the Empire State Development Corporation declared the entire 17-acre site to be "blighted," which is the invariable prelude to eminent domain proceedings. Today's New York Sun reports that Columbia is pushing hard for the property, declaring that this "vital" project requires city and state support. Sprayregen, whose lawyer is the famed civil libertarian Norman Siegel, promises to take the fight to the Supreme Court. Here's hoping this one turns out better than Kelo.

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  1. It won’t turn out any better than Kelo.

    The Court is absolutely terrified of the possibility of accidentally crafting a precedent that could be leveraged to defend property rights against an expropriatory or regulatory state, and it will therefore err on the side of fucking this guy over.

  2. Goddamned savages.

    This country is such a fucking lie, now.

  3. If Columbia was a public university, I’d squirm in my seat, hem and haw and mumble something like “it sucks, but it’s legit”.

    Since Columbia isn’t a public university, I’ll condemn it as just another attack on the rights of politically unconnected citizens. You can bet that Nicholas Sprayregen doesn’t attend cocktail parties with sitting judges. You can double down that the high mucky mucks of Columbia University do. Equal protection under the law my ass.

  4. Someone should get those anarchist radicals from the RNC to terrorize Columbia.

  5. Does anyone think that the outcome for this will be any different than Kelo?

  6. In my neighborhood, the builders constantly buy the old houses and tear them down to build mcmansions. My wife and I always talk about sad we would be if they ever did that our home. I would never sell to a builder. We live in a house that was built by a family back in the 1930s. We are only the second owners. The kids who grew up in the house still live near by. It would be a tragedy to tear it down. That said, at least the builders buy from willing sellers. Someday, they could just get the town to declare our house “blighted” because it is worth less than a million dollars and force us to sell.

    I am sure these people like their homes to. It just infuriates me. What is really galling about it, is that I am sure the President and the Board of Trustees of Columbia pride themselves on being so concerned for the well being of the less well off. Assholes.

  7. can’t see where it’d be any more acceptable if it was a public uni

  8. Columbia is a public asset and exists for the greater good of the proletariat. Property owners, on the other hand, are bourgeois fascists that need to be deprived of their land by the kind, loving hands of the government.

  9. Billy – You, and the cake, are also a lie.

  10. Students of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

  11. Does anyone think that the outcome for this will be any different than Kelo?

    I sure hope not…another Kelo decision will push every state legislature to adopt even stronger property rights legislation.

  12. In my neighborhood, the builders constantly buy the old houses and tear them down to build mcmansions.

    Funny that new custom homes are called mcmansions but old homes ordered from a Sears catalog are not.

    My guess is that the zoning codes and building regs have taken the character out homes built today. Rather then Mcmansions you should call em government housing. I am sure McDonalds, a private corporation, unregulated would not make such unlivable homes as “smart growth” has.

  13. Nick Sprayregen wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about his plight which is also worth a link.

  14. My guess is that the zoning codes and building regs have taken the character out homes built today.

    I would say a complete disrespect for place, tradition, materials, and craft is what the “McMansion” is all about. It has nothing to do with “smart growth”. Only the tiniest fraction of a percent of the country is under “smart growth”.

  15. Heh, that was me. I’m no longer enlightened.

  16. “Property rights abuse is running rampant, but what’s unique in this instance is that eminent domain always seems to be used against the down-and-out, people who can’t afford to fight back in a meaningful way.”

    Agreed on the point, of course, but what is “unique” about this? People with power fuck the people without. Isn’t that how every aspect of human society has worked since the beginning of time?

  17. How would eminent domain be more legitimate if Columbia was a public university? (which it most certainly does recieve all kinds of public subsidies anyway)

    I say that IF eminent domain is a necessary evil, it should only be used in point-to-point infrastructure situations. Columbia could just eat shit and build a fucking satellite annex somewhere else in the city, or a replacement campus where they can find cheap land.

  18. McMansions can generally be found in areas with fucked up zoning laws, which may include “smart growth” projects. But I think it has more to do with the trend away from quality craftsmanship in favor of cheaper shit. Which is perfectly alright, I don’t give a fuck whether or not some asshole wants to live in a flimsy piece of shit.

  19. If Lee Bollinger is so concerned about Columbia becoming “one of the great Universities of the world” he would have had the trustees fire his sorry ass ages ago.

  20. I’m rooting for the brutalists; bring on the concrete and slit windows!

    Nothing says, “liberal arts”like portcullises.

  21. The sit-ins at Columbia a few decades ago were over Columbia’s plan to expand at the expense of local neighborhoods. Where are those original student protestors now?

  22. At times it seems like the term “McMansion” can be almost as elastic as “judicial activism.” I’ve heard them simultaneously criticized for having too small of lot size and for increasing sprawl, something that seems near-contradictory. Granted, generally the feeling is that the lot size is too small relative to the size of the house, but in many places that I’ve seen them, McMansions are on smaller lots than the houses they replaced, and thus increase density.

    McMansions AIUI basically arise because someone wants a large house for cheaper than it would cost custom and land is too expensive in their area to have a large lot (or they don’t want to pay for it), but they still want to have the separation of a detached single family home rather than a townhouse. They also tend to be too similar to other newly built homes in the same neighborhood yet too different from the older homes nearby, at least for many’s taste (including, often, mine), and have dramatic landscaping that flattened the land and eliminated existing trees (while planting young ones) because it’s cheaper that way.

    Funny that new custom homes are called mcmansions but old homes ordered from a Sears catalog are not.

    Ehh, these types of criticisms have been levied at prefab or mass produced homes for years. Levittown, of course, but also the song Little Boxes, and a host of other examples. The advantage here for criticism is that the buyers tend to be a little wealthier, more upper middle class, than the earlier purchasers of mass-produced homes.

  23. McMansions can generally be found in areas with fucked up zoning laws, which may include “smart growth” projects.

    “Smart Growth” is “fucked up zoning laws”…it is only a new name for the same bullshit.

    Granted, generally the feeling is that the lot size is too small relative to the size of the house

    What the hell is a zero-lot-line Brown Stone if not the biggest home you can put on a lot?

    But I think it has more to do with the trend away from quality craftsmanship in favor of cheaper shit. Which is perfectly alright, I don’t give a fuck whether or not some asshole wants to live in a flimsy piece of shit.

    You sir are an idiot. Look at any modern home and you will find that it is bolted to the foundation multiple times and uses larger beams and does not have 2x4s in the wall…they are 2x6s and often made of steel. The “old holes” you are thinking of are not the original homes but in most cases over the past 100 years of their existence have been updated and improved over time. The reality is you cannot make a “cheap” home anymore like the ones you hold some weird fantasy about.

  24. I would say a complete disrespect for place, tradition, materials, and craft is what the “McMansion” is all about.

    Hey dipshit

    look up International Building Code.

  25. You can bet that Nicholas Sprayregen doesn’t attend cocktail parties with sitting judges.

    What makes you so sure Sprayregen doesn’t attend cocktail parties with sitting judges? He’s a wealthy business owner and real estate developer.

    And Anonymo, that’s what he’s saying is unique–not the eminent domain is often used against the poor and powerless. He’s saying it’s unique in this case that it’s being used against someone rich and powerful, someone willing to spend $2 million in legal fees to prevail.

  26. “You sir are an idiot. Look at any modern home and you will find…”

    That the city inspectors are given “gifts” and let a bunch of code violations slide. Take a tour of new condos in Chicago- they’re built horribly. Most of the “carpenters” are from South America, Poland or Russia. These guys (in general) have no experience with modern building methods. *yes I’ve built homes, done roofs, plumbing, etc. Every window in my house leaks, the fit and finish looks like a 5 year old did it, the back porch will need to be replaced in 10years maximum. Why did I buy it? This was the best one I could find after 2 years of looking. Of course I’ve made money on it and most of these problems will be passed on. I would hate see what kind of housing we would have without the even the corrupt inspectors.

    I can’t even complain because I’m responsible and will have to vacate my home until repairs are made. I have to go after the builder myself and I can forget about any inspector getting what’s due.

    I guess the market will take care of it… in a few decades.

  27. Every window in my house leaks, the fit and finish looks like a 5 year old did it, the back porch will need to be replaced in 10years maximum.

    Sucks for you, but you don’t speak for everyone. The “McMansions” (god I hate that term) here in the North Dallas area are superb.

  28. “…but you don’t speak for everyone…”

    Yes I do.

  29. Goddamned savages.

    This country is such a fucking lie, now.

    Angsty, but sadly true.

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