Nick Sprayregen, the last remaining holdout in the way of Columbia University’s Manhattanville expansion project, has just had his fortunes reversed—quite literally, as now it appears the school has a good chance of taking Sprayregen’s land through eminent domain to make way for its new 17-acre campus. Last December, Sprayregen won an unexpected court decision, which was overturned today in a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. The Observer astutely points out that even justice Robert Smith, the lone dissenter in the major Atlantic Yards case, sided with the majority this time out.
At issue was whether the Empire State Development Corporation has the right to take private land and convey it to Columbia, which the lower appellate court found it did not, as in the judges view there was no clear public purpose. In today’s reversal, the justices found that the agency made a clear and compelling case for the project, and it was not the place of the judiciary to overule them:
ESDC considered a wide range of factors including the physical, economic, engineering and environmental conditions at the Project site. Its decision was not based on any one of these factors, but on the Project site conditions as a whole. Accordingly, since there is record support — “extensively documented photographically and otherwise on a lot-by-lot basis” (id. at 526) — for ESDC’s determination that the Project site was blighted, the Appellate Division plurality erred when it substituted its view for that of the legislatively designated agency.
Sprayregen has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, whose ruling five years ago on the notorious Kelo case largely set the stage for such private-to-private-for-public-transfers as this. It remains anyone’s guess how they might hold this time around. (Or even if they will.) Meanwhile, construction on the southern part of campus continues apace.