September 2nd, 2009 — By — In News & Events

Willets Point United Files Amicus Brief in Atlantic Yards Appeal

Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse (Willets Point United) filed an amicus brief this week in support of a group of fellow NYC property owners, businesses and tenants who are fighting the use of condemnation and the taking of their properties for the proposed Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project in Brooklyn. (For more detailed reporting of the proposed Atlantic Yards project, see Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report.) The case, Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., is pending in the New York State Court of Appeals.

OCA New York Member, Mike Rikon, represents Willets Point United and authored the brief. The members of Willets Point United include businesses and property owners who have organized under the common threat of eminent domain and are fighting the abuse of that power by the NYC Economic Development Corporation in the Willets Point neighborhood (Queens, NY), particularly with respect to the NYEDC’s proposed Willets Point Redevelopment project.

In both the Atlantic Yards project and the Willets Point redevelopment, the taking authorities seek to seize private properties, relocating hundreds of businesses and tenants, in order to give the land to private developers for the purpose of economic development. In Atlantic Yards, that developer is Forest City Ratner, owned by Bruce C. Ratner, who is also principal owner of the Nets basketball team. Interestingly, a large portion of the proposed Atlantic Yards project includes a new $800 million mega-arena for the Nets team.

“The brief is intended to urge New York’s highest court to restrict the use of eminent domain to takings for public use and stop condemnations of privately owned property to give to another, usually well connected, private party for economic development,” explained attorney Mike Rikon.

The majority decision in Kelo v City of New London written by Justice Stevens was wrong, wrong in its holding and wrong on its facts.
– Amicus Brief of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse at 7

Specifically, the brief argues that the New York State Constitution expressly prohibits the exercise of eminent domain for economic development. Yet, over the years, the meaning of public use has become corrupted to include “public purpose” or “public benefit.” Citing such infamous NY cases as Courtesy Sandwich Shop, Inc. v. Port of New York and New Jersey Auth., 12 N.Y.2d 379 (1963) (condemnation of approximately 13 city blocks of private property for the World Trade Center site), the “adulteration” of the simple and direct language found in NY’s public use clause is highlighted. (Brief pp. 10-12.)

The brief urges the NY Court of Appeals to disregard the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo as “…simply wrong in it’s failure to respect the fundamental constitutional right to own property.” (Brief p. 8.) Additionally, it asks the Court of Appeals to follow the decisions of others states that have put an end to this form of eminent domain abuse.

“Finally,” Rikon concluded, “it is argued that the courts in New York should make full review of all issues. At present the courts hold that they are bound by ‘legislative determinations.’ But there is nothing legislative about the determinations which are made by appointed individuals who are not elected or responsible to anyone. In short, the courts reviewing these matters have abdicated their responsibilities.”

The merits brief of the Brooklyn property owners and tenants (Goldstein, et al.) is posted here.

See also our fellow OCA Hawaii Member Robert Thomas’s blog postings here and here.

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