Archive | Post-Kelo Reform

George Will on “Blight” Condemnations in New York

George Will has written a Washington Post column on the abuse of “blight” condemnations in New York:

On Aug. 27, 1776, British forces routed George Washington’s novice army in the Battle of Brooklyn, which was fought in fields and woods where today the battle of Prospect Heights is being fought. Americans’ liberty is again under assault, but this time by overbearing American governments.

The fight involves an especially egregious example of today’s eminent domain racket. The issue is a form of government theft that the Supreme Court encouraged with its worst decision of the past decade — one that probably will be radically revised in this one.

The Atlantic Yards site, where 10 subway lines and one railway line converge, is the center of the bustling Prospect Heights neighborhood of mostly small businesses and middle-class residences. Its energy and gentrification are reasons why 22 acres of this area — the World Trade Center site is only 16 acres — are coveted by Bruce Ratner, a politically connected developer collaborating with the avaricious city and state governments.

To seize the acres for Ratner’s use, government must claim that the area — which is desirable because it is vibrant — is “blighted….”

The Constitution says that government may not take private property other than for a “public use….” In 1954, however, in a case concerning a crime- and infectious-disease-ridden section of Washington, D.C., the court expanded the notion of “public use” to include removing “blight.”

Since then, that term, untethered from serious social dangers, has become elastic in the service of avarice….

I discussed the state high court decision upholding the Atlantic Yards condemnations in this post. For my earlier analyses of the case, see here and here. Will’s column also discusses the recent court decision striking down Columbia University’s [...]

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New York Intermediate Appellate Court Invalidates Taking of “Blighted” Property for Transfer to Columbia University, but Contradicts Recent State Supreme Court Decision in the Process

In Kaur v. New York Urban Development Corporation,a close 3-2 decision [HT: Neighborhood Retail Alliance], a New York intermediate appellate court has invalidated the taking of property in the Manhattanville neighborhood of New York City for transfer to Columbia University. Columbia and the government claimed that the land in question was blighted. However, the court ruled that there was no evidence of any real blight (especially before Columbia acquired much of the surrounding area after 2002), other than claims of “underutilization” of property. And mere “underutilization,” the majority concludes, is not enough to justify the condemnation of property as “blighted.” As the court puts it, “[t]he time has come to categorically reject eminent domain takings solely based on underutilization.” I wholeheartedly agree with this general sentiment. Indeed, I have often argued against broad definitions of blight that allow virtually any property to be condemned on the grounds that some other use might lead to increased development (see, e.g., here). Overbroad definitions of blight undercut many of the eminent domain “reform” laws enacted in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision upholding “economic development” takings in Kelo v. City of New London. I also think the majority makes a strong case that the blight determination in this case severely flawed, and in large part the product of the government’s desire to transfer property to a politically influential university. Indeed, I have often criticized Columbia’s plans to use eminent domain in Manhattanville, in a series of posts going back to 2006 (see here for the most recent post, and links to earlier ones).

There is, however, one major problem with the Kaur decision: it seems to contradict the New York Court of Appeals’ (the state supreme court) recent decision in the Atlantic Yards case, Goldstein v. New [...]

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New York Court of Appeals Upholds Atlantic Yards Condemnations

The New York Court of Appeals has issued its opinion in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, an important property rights case. The 6-1 decision upholds the condemnation of numerous properties in Atlantic Yards project area in Brooklyn for the purpose of transferring them to powerful developer Bruce Ratner, who plans to use most of the land to build a new stadium for the New Jersey Nets and to construct “luxury” housing. This outcome is not surprising. As I explained in this post, where I predicted the result, New York courts are among the most hostile to property rights of any in the country. New York is also one of only seven states that hasn’t enacted eminent domain reform of any kind since the federal Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision upholding “economic development” condemnations in Kelo v. City of New London.

Significantly the Court concluded that the property in question could be condemned because it is “blighted” and blight alleviation is a “public use” recognized by the New York Constitution, thanks to a constitutional amendment allowing the condemnation of slum areas. This despite the fact that it is very far from being a slum of any kind, and much of it is actually middle or lower middle class housing. Indeed, the opinion itself notes (pg. 14) that the Atlantic Yards area “do[e]s not begin to approach in severity the dire circumstances of urban slum dwelling” that led to the enactment of the blight amendment. To get around this problem, the Court held that “blight” alleviation is not limited to “’slums’ as that term was formerly applied, and that, among other things, economic underdevelopment and stagnation are also threats to the public sufficient to make their removal cognizable as a public purpose” (pp. 15-16, [...]

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NY Times Blog Discussion on the Implications of Pfizer’s Decision to Abandon its New London Facility Near the Site of the Kelo Takings

The New York Times Room for Debate blog has a forum on the implications of Pfizer’s decision to abandon its New London headquarters. Pfizer and its New London facility had previously played a key role in instigating the condemnations that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the use of eminent domain for “economic development” in Kelo v. City of New London. My contribution argues that Pfizer’s role in the Kelo takings and their failure to produce any actual development bolsters the case for strengthening protection for property rights. Here’s an excerpt:

Far from producing the promised “development,” the condemnation of private property in New London under Kelo damaged the local economy by destroying homes and businesses and wasting taxpayer money.

This result should not have been surprising. Government planners who undertake “economic development” condemnations have strong incentives to approve takings that benefit well-connected interest groups, even if they end up destroying more development than they create. Usually, as in Kelo, those targeted for condemnation are poor or politically weak.

I previously wrote about Pfizer’s role in the Kelo case and its recent withdrawal from New London here, here and here. [...]

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Texas’ Amendment 11: Another Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform that Falls Short

It hasn’t gotten much media attention, but last week, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 11, an eminent domain reform measure that purports to ban “economic development” takings of the kind the Supreme Court upheld in Kelo v. City of New London. Texas badly needs stronger protection for property rights, since it has a long history of eminent domain abuse, including recent examples documented by the Institute for Justice (the libertarian public interest firm that represented the property owners in Kelo) in this report.

Unfortunately, the new Texas law is one of a long series of eminent domain reforms that fall short of actually forbidding the kinds of abuses they supposedly target. The amendment does forbid the taking of property for “the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues.” , But it continues to permit condemnations in areas with “urban blight.” And, as I document in this article (pg. 2124), Texas is one of many states where the definition of “blight” is so broad as to include virtually any property that the government might want to condemn. Indeed, Texas’ definition counts as “blighted” any area that, due to a wide range of possible causes, creates an “economic or social liability to the municipality” where it is located. This includes any area that creates an “economic . . . liability” because of insufficient development. Furthermore, the new Amendment still allows the power of eminent domain to be wielded by private organizations if they are “granted the power of eminent domain under [state] law.”

Amendment 11 is a small improvement over Texas’ previous almost completely toothless post-Kelo reform law (which I discussed in this article, pp. 2124, 2135-37). The main positive change is that “blight” now has to be shown on a property by property [...]

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New York’s Highest Court to Hear Important Eminent Domain Case

The New York Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court -is about to consider an important property rights case, Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. The case involves a challenge to the condemnation of large amounts of property for the purpose of transferring the land to influential developer Bruce Ratner, who plans to use most of it to build a stadium for the New Jersey Nets (which he owns), and “luxury housing.” The targeted property owners argue that these takings are not for a “public use,” as the New York state constitution requires. Certainly, the case is a fairly egregious example of the use of eminent domain power to benefit private interests. I wrote about this taking in a 2008 post addressing the federal court case in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld these condemnations under the federal Constitution (as it was required to do, given the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London):

…[T]he fact that much of the condemned land is to be used to build a sports stadium raises serious red flags about the true likelihood that the general public will benefit from the condemnation. Numerous studies by economists show that public subsidies for stadium construction create no economic benefits for the general public….

Second, the court claims that the creation of “affordable housing” for the poor is one of the public benefits to be expected from the project. The project will indeed create some new housing units (in addition to the stadium). However, as the Second Circuit opinion concedes (pg. 15), almost 70% of the new housing units will be “luxury” units for the wealthy, and the remainder is mostly not guaranteed to be ever built and is still intended for the “middle class” rather than

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Goldstein v. Pataki and the Shortcomings of Kelo:

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently decided Goldstein v. Pataki, a case challenging the condemnation of homes and other property in Brooklyn for the purpose of transferring them to developer Bruce Ratner, owner of the New Jersey Nets. Ratner plans to use the land to build a new stadium for the Nets, as well as other facilities, including some 2250 new housing units.

Not surprisingly, the Second Circuit upheld the condemnations. Under Kelo v. City of New London, they had very little choice. As I discuss in great detail in this article, Kelo mandates very broad judicial deference to the government in determining whether a condemnation is a genuine “public use” under the Fifth Amendment. Any potential benefit to the general public is sufficient, even if it is greatly outweighed by the project’s cost.

The case nonetheless reveals some of the serious shortcomings of Kelo and related precedents. Goldstein v. Pataki is a correct application of Kelo; it is also an example of the sort of abuse that more robust judicial protection of property rights could prevent.

First, the fact that much of the condemned land is to be used to build a sports stadium raises serious red flags about the true likelihood that the general public will benefit from the condemnation. Numerous studies by economists show that public subsidies for stadium construction create no economic benefits for the general public (see, e.g, this book published by the liberal Brookings Institution).

Second, the court claims that the creation of “affordable housing” for the poor is one of the public benefits to be expected from the project. The project will indeed create some new housing units (in addition to the stadium). However, as the Second Circuit opinion concedes (pg. 15), almost 70% of the [...]

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