Posts tagged with "eminent domain":

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Interactive project maps the impact of mid-century urban renewal

Developed by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and released in December 2017, Renewing Inequality is an interactive, online project that maps the demographic profiles and footprints of thousands of urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1966. Using such resources as the federal government’s Urban Renewal Project Characteristics, Renewing Inequality reveals the sweeping scope of urban renewal, which razed entire neighborhoods during the era, as well as the disproportionate impact they had on the country’s African-American communities. Renewing Inequality follows an earlier project released by the Digital Scholarship Lab in 2016, called Mapping Inequality, which details neighborhoods deemed too risky for investment and set on a course of institutionalized neglect and decay. Actively fueling the process of decay was the policy of redlining, which in effect barred communities of color from seeking mortgages or financing to repair their properties. With a cycle of decay institutionalized, these same neighborhoods were prime targets for urban renewal. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal government actively reshaped American cities through urban renewal, based on then-contemporary priorities in use zoning, residential density, automobile usage and highway construction. Equipped with billions of dollars in federal funding, local governments applied eminent domain to displace hundreds of thousands of families across the country, deeming long-standing neighborhoods as “blighted” land unfit for habitation. Ostensibly, relocation assistance and public housing were meant to follow "slum clearance" but in many circumstances, relocation funding or housing never materialized. Not only were homeowners forced into becoming renters, but much of the compensation given in exchange for eminent domain seizure was based on undervaluations of those properties. For example, the Digital Scholarship Lab highlights Cincinnati’s Kenyon-Barr/Queensgate as the largest urban renewal project in national history, displacing approximately 5,000 families. The map highlights that approximately 97 percent of those displaced were people of color, and also reveals that this predominantly minority community was adjacent to Cincinnati’s Central Business District, a focal point for white, suburban office workers–a trend in the displacement taking place in a number of American cities. As noted by the Digital Scholarship Lab, the land seized from many of the impacted African American neighborhoods "was re-purposed for commercial or industrial development or to make way for highways,” an act of “intergenerational wealth theft that helped shape today’s profound inequality” along racial lines. While the wholesale demolition of inner-city neighborhoods is much more uncommon today, large swaths of historic housing stock are currently being razed under the guise of alleviating housing pressure. However, as noted by CityLab, urban areas of older, mid-size housing boast greater affordability and employment opportunities than their modern counterparts, limited as they are by contemporary zoning and uses. It seems we still have a lot to learn from the lessons of urban renewal.
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Last Columbia Hold Out Hung Out to Dry by Top Court

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.
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Manhattanville Ho!

Last month's court victory for opponents of Columbia University's new campus in Manhattanville was not necessarily a defeat for the school's planned 17-acre expansion, and not only because appeals remain. With roughly 94 percent of the area under its control, Columbia has said it plans to continue work on the campus, despite its insistence that it cannot be completed as planned without full control of all buildings therein. Last night, Columbia officials outlined their current approach to Manhattanville for the first time since the ruling at a hearing in Harlem on the future of eminent domain in the state (more on that in Issue 1!). After an hour-and-a-half of grilling the ESDC—the state agency responsible for pursuing eminent domain on Columbia's behalf— State Senator Bill Perkins, in whose district the project lies, set his sights on Marcello Valez, the head of construction for the Manhattanville project at Columbia, and Maxine Griffith, a former planner who is now in-charge of government affairs at the school. The pair were evasive on many issues surrounding eminent domain and the court case—technically, they are responsible for neither—but they outlined their utility, demolition, and construction work that has been ongoing for a few months now. Most notably, 3229 Broadway continues to come down. It was the former building of Ann Whitman, one of the last remaining hold outs who eventually sold to the school in 2008 because she said she could no longer afford to fight. Her plot and an adjacent gas station will soon become home to the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, a major neuroscience project that, at the corner of 129th Street and Broadway, is supposed to be one of the new campus' centerpieces. Work will also soon commence on an art building also on the block and, perhaps most importantly, the entry to the subterranean "bathtub," that, World Trade Center-style, will house most of the campus' infrastructure. The bathtub remains a crucial piece of the Manhattanville puzzle because it is part of the justification for seizing the remaining properties. "If the basement can't connect, it would be difficult to see how the project could move forward," Griffith said, arguing the campus would be much less pedestrian friendly and community accessible with trucks idling on the street and HVAC spewing into the air. (A member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a local opposition group, argued it was all a planning ruse, with the school fully able to build around the holdouts.) As for timing, Valez said that, despite the court case, everything remains on time, which is part of the reason construction work must continue on those properties controlled by Columbia. (That and the donors are old and would like to see something built while they're still alive, Griffith admitted somewhat cheekily.) As for architecture, Renzo Piano is nearing completion on final designs for these two buildings according to Victoria Benitez, a university spokesperson in attendance last night, though no renderings are yet available. She declined to say whether the Genoan architect would be designing the rest of the buildings on campus or whether some might go to other firms.
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Willets Wonderings

It appears the city's plan to trifurcate development out at Willets Point has been a smashing success, as the Economic Development Corporation announced on Friday that 29 developers from across the country have expressed interest in the first phase of the project, an 18-acre swath of land on the western section of the 62-acre Iron Triangle that contains the densest mix of uses. “The quantity and quality of these responses are strong indicators that the development community has confidence in the successful redevelopment of Willets Point despite current economic conditions,” Seth Pinsky, president of EDC, said in a release. An RFP is expected sometime in 2010 for a selection of those 29 respondents. After that, the next hurdle is finishing land acquisition, which stands at 75 percent of the phase one area controlled by the city. If need be, the city has not ruled out acquiring what's left through eminent domain, a specter that has cast a long shadow over the area's redevelopment, though one that could be sunsetting. Following a court ruling that the state could not seize land in the Manhattanville section of Harlem so that Columbia could build a new campus there, Atlantic Yards opponents are hustling to have their ultimately unsuccessful case reheard, a last-ditch effort to impede the sale of Forest City Ratner's bonds. Whether or not they succeed, all this eminent domain tumult—combined with the recent collapse of plans for the Mother of Them All in New London, Connecticut—could nudge New York over the edge, taking it off the list of a handful of states that have yet to enact eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision four years ago. State Senator Bill Perkins certainly thinks so, calling for the governor to live up to his previous promises of a moratorium on eminent domain in the state. How could this all pay out in Flushing, Queens? David Lombino, a spokesperson for EDC, emphasized the agency's strong track record on reaching deals with business owners in the area, despite the continued intransigence of some. "The response from the private sector is encouraging," he said. Should it come down to eminent domain, but eminent domain is no longer there? EDC, while proffering hypothetical projects, does not respond to hypothetical questions.
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Eminent Decision at Coney?

When the City Planning Commission barely altered the city's plans--plans that remain diametrically opposed to those of chief landholder Joe Sitt--we couldn't help but wonder whether the Bloomberg administration would some how grossly undermine its plan, or let it fall on the sword at the City Council, at least part of which is firmly under the sway of Sitt. Thus far, the Bloomberg administration has yet to allow a single one of its nearly 100 rezoning fail at the council, often crafting 11th hour deals. Would, could things be different this time? Well, following a hearing at City Hall yesterday, the Daily News reports that the city's rezoning proposal has indeed run up against council opposition, but not for the reasons we would have thought--or hoped. No, it has nothing to do with the lack of vision for either Sitt or the city's plans. The council's opposition stems from an aversion to eminent domain, which the city's economic development czar suggested could be on the table should Sitt not sell, something he has currently refused to negotiate on, despite repeated attempts by the city. But that's not what struck us as wrong. No, the problem is--shocking, we know--that many of these council members now in opposition to eminent domain once supported it, in a way. Look no further than Manhattanville or Willets Point, where Columbia and the city, respectively, have used the threat of eminent domain to push around small businesses and landholders. Clearly, it's not the principal that matters to the council but the size of one's pocketbook.
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See Bruce in Court!

We recently wrote above how opponent's best hope of stopping Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards Project was not the departure of Frank Gehry but lawsuits. There was a good possibility the "sweetheart" deals the state had crafted to make Ratner's project easier to move forward could have triggered further litigation, but it seems it may not even come to that, as the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, has decided to hear Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's challenge to the state's use of eminent domain. With oral arguments not due until October, the outcome of the suit may not even matter, as it will likely further delay a scheduled fall groundbreaking on the new arena and could make it even harder for Ratner to secure tax-exempt financing before year's end. Update: Forest City Ratner remains confident in the success of its project, with spokesman Joe DePlasco emailing along the following statement:
The Appellate Division ruled unanimously in May in favor of the use of eminent domain because of the public benefits associated with Atlantic Yards. We’re confident that the Court of Appeals will come to the same conclusion. We are moving forward aggressively following last week’s approval by the MTA and authorization by the Empire State Development Corporation. We intend to be in construction before the end of the year.
What he failed to mention but what the Observer astutely, uh, observed was that the decision to hear the case in October was in contravention of a request from the state's attorneys to hear the case no later than September 9. This could be seen as yet another attempt by the state to accomodate the developer's very tight timeline for financing and construction, something that has been an acute complaint for opponents. Whether or not it means greater sympathy from the court, who knows, though it is also a welcome sign of judicial independence. As we noted above, litigation, while often unsuccessful, has been at the heart of opponents' efforts to stall, and thereby derail, Ratner's project. In fact, the deals reached last week will tentatively be rescinded if Ratner cannot secure financing by March 31, 2010, be it tax-exempt or otherwise. Depending on whom you ask, DDDB and company were given a decisive rebuff by the state appellate court's unanimous dismissal of the eminent domain case back on May 15 or a more apologetic there's-nothin'-we-can-do rejection. This may still be the case, but again it may not matter. As the dogged Norman Oder put it a thorough post on his Atlantic Yards Report: "At the very least, the appeal delays Forest City Ratner's announced plans to begin construction by October and severely narrows--but does not close--the window of opportunity to have crucial tax-exempt bonds issued by the end of the year." He also recounts the constitutional issues raised by the lower court's decisions that could lead to a different outcome at the Court of Appeals, which he had previously expounded upon when the state first asked the court to allow its "slum clearance" program to go forward earlier this month.