Property Rights

Detailing Columbia University's Eminent Domain Abuse


Armin Rosen, a Columbia University student journalist and senior editor at The Current, the university's "journal of contemporary politics, cultural, & Jewish affairs," has a long and highly detailed account of Columbia's eminent domain abuse in its attempt to control the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville, where the university wants to build a fancy new research campus. As Rosen notes, Columbia officials behaved less than honorably with local property owners:

Columbia has a policy of not commenting on its past negotiations with former Manhattanville landowners, and the public has no means of knowing exactly how the state's explicit willingness to use eminent domain on Columbia's behalf aided the university in property acquisition. But the secondary record proves that, in the words of Manhattanville activist Andrew Lyubarsky, CC '09, "Columbia used eminent domain as a sort of sword of Damocles hanging over landowners' heads if they weren't going to sell." This was confirmed by [Manhattanville business owner Ramon] Diaz, who maintains close relationships with the landowners-turned-University tenants in the project footprint. "Columbia was using the threat of eminent domain before they even had it approved," says Diaz. "When people were being difficult they would always insinuate that they were going to get a lot less if [the ESDC] could exercise eminent domain." And once they had sold, Columbia made them sign a "gag order" which Diaz says extends to private conversations as well as public statements (he suggested that he would not have been able to talk to me at all if he had already cut a deal with Columbia).

There's plenty more ugliness to the story, including overwhelming evidence that the Empire State Development Corporation (the state agency which wields the power of eminent domain) actively colluded with Columbia in order to produce the very conditions that would then allow the state to seize property on the university's behalf. Thankfully, New York's courts have actually been paying attention. In a sharp ruling last December, the state's Supreme Court Appellate Division condemned Columbia and the ESDC's actions in no uncertain terms. As Justice James Catterson put it:

the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry. It was utilized by ESDC years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain but this project has always primarily concerned a massive capital project for Columbia. Indeed, it is nothing more than economic redevelopment wearing a different face.

The next step is the state's highest court, which I'm sad to say recently gave the thumbs up to eminent domain abuse in the Atlantic Yards case. Perhaps this time they'll get it right.

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  1. To those showereing paeans of praise for retiring Justice Stevens –

    Fuck you assholes.

    1. +100

  2. The next step is the state’s highest court, which I’m sad to say recently gave the thumb’s up to eminent domain abuse in the Atlantic Yards case. Perhaps this time they’ll get it right.

    Perhaps magical flying gophers will start crawling out of my ass.

    1. There’s an ap for that.

  3. Mr. Lyubarsky should really try to understand the proper usage of a reference to the Sword of Damocles.

    1. Exactly why Columbia needs to expand their Classics department.

      On other people’s property.

  4. I think eminent domain is a great idea. Libertarian fanatics wouldn’t know the greater good if it bit their tiny shriveled balls off. Market fundamentalist fucks.

      1. Why the D-?

        1. He’s probably grading on a curve, and given the low-quality trolls lately using proper punctuation automatically bumps you up to a D-.

          1. Good use of imagery as well. And his syntax supports the imagery.

    1. I know you’re just trolling Max, but I’ll reply anyway. You’ve obviously never seen abuse of eminent domain up close and in person. There’s a very nice marina in Winthrop Harbor IL called “North Point Marina”. Rich people can moor their Lake Michigan cruisers and there’s a decent beach and nature trails for the rest of us.

      Most people don’t remember how it got there. When I was quite young that entire area was a residential neighborhood, just another part of Winthrop Harbor. There were some public beaches but the area was home to a lot of families. The homes weren’t run down, they were decent middle class. Some homes right on the lake were, of course, mansions. In response to excessive lake front erosion in the late 60’s/early 70’s the state decided to make the entire area a nature preserve and they used eminent domain to kick out all of the residents. Some homes were literally picked up and moved, others were just destroyed. I was young, but I saw schoolmates and friends of my parents get traumatized by the forced displacement.

      Then the land just sat there for years with some nature trails and a public beach.

      Eventually someone in Springfield came up with the funds to make North Point. I’m the first to admit that it’s a nice marina. If I had the money for a big boat, it would a great place to moor it. But to this day I don’t see how any public good was good enough to force all those people out of their homes.

      I’m not willing to say that eminent domain should never be used, but that childhood experience stuck with me for life and I’ve always believed that eminent domain should be very, very rarely used.

      Maybe the sliver lining in this story is that the state of IL inadvertently started me on the path to Libertarianism at a young age.

    2. I know, dude. Most of us wouldn’t be where we are if enlightened government officials hadn’t declared the natives’ residential areas blighted and launched a campaign of massive economic redevelopment.

  5. Max, i hope your home gets seized so your local government can sell it cheap to some dude who wants to build a stadium for his crappy sports team, and that you subsequently spend three days dying from explosive anal prolapse. I really do.

  6. the state’s highest court, which I’m sad to say recently gave the thumb’s up

    My only comment is that “thumbs up” has no apostrophe. Thank you.

    1. It is a contaction of “thumb is up”. At least it could be. Nah, your probably right.

      1. You’re grammar is terrible.

          1. You guy’s our setting a pour exampel for teh children.

            1. I give these replies two thumb is up.

    2. However, “thumbs-up” does have a hyphen. “Give the thumbs up” means that you’re surrendering the opposable digit on each of your hands.

      1. Maybe. Maybe-not.

  7. maybe it’s a jok

  8. love sb. have no reason DG3bsFFY

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