Columbia’s plan OK’d: High Court reversed App. Div.

Court of Appeals reversed First Department’s strongly worded opinion. In 2001, Columbia University contacted the City’s Economic Development Corporation in an effort to redevelop West Harlem as part of a campus expansion. Not long after, EDC issued a West Harlem Master Plan that stated that West Harlem could be redeveloped through rezoning. EDC, after it issued the master plan, hired a private firm to examine the neighborhood conditions of West Harlem. The study concluded that the area was blighted.

While the study was ongoing, Columbia began purchasing property to effectuate its own redevelopment plan. Two years after the purchasing began, Columbia met with the Empire State Development Corporation and EDC to discuss its plan and the proposed condemnation of privately owned land. Empire State retained the same consultant that Columbia had used, who also found the area suffered from blight. Empire State later hired a second consultant with no connection to Columbia to conduct another blight study. The study also found blighted conditions throughout the area. Shortly after, Empire State authorized the acquisition of property through eminent domain, and several affected property owners filed petitions challenging the determination.

The First Department granted the petitions, ruling that Empire State’s decision to use eminent domain for Columbia’s benefit violated the federal and State constitutions. Despite Empire State’s claim that the project would serve the public purpose of alleviating blight, the First Department found that nothing in the record supported that determination. 6 CityLand 175 (Dec. 2009). Empire State appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeals reversed the First Department, ruling that Empire State had a rational basis for finding that the area suffered from blight and that Columbia’s plan included public uses, benefits, and purposes. The Court stressed that Empire State was entitled to deference and that the First Department had incorrectly substituted its own judgment for that of Empire State’s. The record, according to the Court, did not show Empire State had acted in bad faith, especially since it had hired a second consulting firm with no ties to Columbia to conduct a blight study. The Court also concluded that, regardless of whether the area suffered from blight, Empire State could exercise its power under eminent domain because it properly qualified Columbia’s plan as a civic project serving the civic purpose of advancing higher education.

Kaur v. N.Y.S. Urban Development Corp., 2010 N.Y. Slip Op. 05601 (N.Y. June 24, 2010) (Attorneys: Norman Siegel, for property owners; John R. Casolaro, for Empire State).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.