News | West Harlem

Eminent domain process nears conclusion

The Empire State Development Corporation, in possibly the last step in the eminent domain process, is taking three Manhattanville property owners to court to request final approval to acquire their land. ESDC’s decision to use eminent domain required Tuck-it-Away Self Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and husband-and-wife gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur to sell their properties. These properties will eventually be sold to Columbia, which will demolish them in order to make room for its campus expansion. But more than a year and a half after the New York State Court of Appeals upheld ESDC’s use of eminent domain, Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur still own their properties. None of them have agreed on a sale price, which has caused ESDC to pursue a final agreement in court. Eminent domain law governs the capacity of the state to seize private property for the “public good” in exchange for market-rate compensation. In January 2009, Sprayregen and Singh and Kaur filed separate lawsuits against the ESDC, protesting its decision to invoke eminent domain, but they ultimately lost the court battle, with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding in December 2010 not to hear their final appeal. ESDC spokesman Austin Shafran said in a statement that ESDC filed two condemnation petitions with the New York County Supreme Court last month—one of them a petition to acquire space below street level, which is not controlled by the three property owners, and the other a petition to acquire the gas stations and storage facilities. “The first court appearance on this petition is expected to be late February or early March,” Shafran said. He added that the ESDC is also continuing to negotiate with Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur outside of court. A notice posted on the door of a Tuck-it-Away storage facility on Jan. 31 said that the ESDC will file an acquisition map—which will mark the property that the ESDC seeks to acquire—by Feb. 27, “directing that, upon the filing of the order and of such map, the acquisition of the properties ... sought to be acquired shall be complete and shall vest in ESDC.” Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur, as well as their lawyers, were unavailable for comment. On Thursday, a Tuck-it-Away employee leaving a storage facility on 131st Street said he believed that the building would be demolished soon. Columbia officials said last week that five demolitions would take place this spring in the block where the facility is located. In an interview with Spectator on Friday, University President Lee Bollinger declined to comment, noting that Columbia is not an official party to the legal proceedings. jillian.kumagai@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

Oh no! Not a gas station and a self-storage!!!!! M-ville is loosing its valuable cultural heritage! It is immoral that Columbia University would want to use the land previously occupied by these valuable, historical businesses. We should not stand for this!

Just say no to one the greatest educational institutions in the world! We want gas and extra-space for our junk! Gas and Junk! Gas and Junk! Say it with me!

See you at the protests!

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Anonymous posted on

You are exactly correct. But, don't worry, there will be protests anyway. They can just reopen a block away.

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Anonymous posted on

"...Then you'd better keep your trap shut about property rights from now on. Keep it shut tight."
                                                                                                  Atlas Shrugged

Anon, you're like a fish mesmerized by the sight of a pretty lure (CU's architectural renderings, in this case, if you're having trouble following the analogy).

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Anonymous posted on

Yes these properties may not be "valuable" and CU will replace them with pretty buildings that will not provide property taxes for the community.  Good deal, maybe.  Even if this is a better use of the land, the worry is that properties like this can be taken then what will keep other "less valuable" property from being taken in the future?  Local government with well connected developers will run over private property for the sake of the common good.  If I had a property and it is worth $1.00 and someone says they will buy it for $1.2 then I would sell.  I would like to know what CU offered the property owners initially.  If CU offered a premium for the properties then I may change my mind.       

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Anonymous posted on

CU never made Nick Spreyregan an offer, according to undisputed assertions made in their briefs. It's worth puzzling over why that is, until you consider that he lawyered up early, and Columbia was sure they could make an end-run around the sticky issue of his rights as a property owner for a relatively predictable price tag. Spec filed the FOIL requests that blew the lid off of the story that Columbia was funding the ESDC's efforts to acquire the property by eminent domain. I think it just comes down to the University, knowing price was not really an object, deciding to go with the easier, more predictable route than to attempt negotiations with an independent-minded tycoon with a very good legal team.

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Anonymous posted on

Why would one lawyer up before they try to negotiate acceptable price?  If I thought I would have a snow ball chance in H to sell at a very good price then I would start there.  In our community our local college purchased an apartment building for way over market value.  The main reason was that they would not have to pay property taxes on the property where the previous owner had to.  Easy transaction and all parties got what they wanted.  

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Anonymous posted on

This is a good question. And there is a good answer. I'll just reuse some NY Times reporting:

"...But legislatures in the three states in the New York metropolitan
area, long seen by property-rights advocates as home to some of the
worst abuses of eminent domain, have done little to change the status
quo.

“New Jersey
and New York are among the worst states in the country for eminent
domain abuses — New Jersey is really awful,” said Dana Berliner, a
senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., which
represents residential and business owners facing condemnation. “What’s
interesting is that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are some of the few states that have not managed to pass any decent legislation.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07...

When someone in NY with good connections wants to take your property away, you need to fight hard and you need to start right away. For example, CU paid a consulting company (a company which is the recipient of a lot of other CU business) money to give them the blight reading they needed. The victims of this land grab weren't even given access to this information until they'd started filing FOI requests.

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