Oral Arguments over Eminent Domain at Atlantic Yards

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The long-awaited Court of Appeals case against Empire State Development Corporation for the use of eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards development project began yesterday. The ESDC argued that the use of eminent domain to condemn private homes and businesses was necessary to promote economic development and because the region was already blighted. The lawyers for the business and home owners, on the other hand, claimed that the state used the blight designation long after planning had begun, to justify the 22-acre condominium and stadium project, and development had been occurring on its own before Forest City Ratner bought the land. The New York Times’ City Room blog brings us some key excerpts from the opening round of questioning, in which the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, questions Philip Karmel, the lawyer for the ESDC:

The majority part of this project is market-rate housing? the judge asked. That is not the purpose of the project, your honor, Mr. Karmel replied. Is it the largest component of the project? Mr. Lippman pressed. It is a significant component, Mr. Karmel said, not quite conceding the point.

In another line of questioning, Judge Robert S. Smith, in a tone that suggested skepticism, asked Mr. Karmel if there were any limits on the state’s ability to take private land, so long as there was a public benefit. Mr. Karmel said that under current law and precedent, there was not.

Judge Smith also questioned Mr. Karmel about the state’s definition of blight. Suppose I am a developer and I want to buy on an area that is half blighted and half not, the judge asked. They can condemn the whole thing, even if only half of it is blighted? The answer, Mr. Karmel said, was yes.

The judges were equally tough on the plaintiffs’ lawyer Matthew Brinckerhoff. As Norman Oder points out in a detailed dissection of the day, a decision is expected by Thanksgiving.
High Court Hears Arguments in Atlantic Yards Case [NY Times]
At Hearing, Judges Skeptical of Both Sides [AY Report]
Court Battle Could Determine Fate of AY [NY Daily News]
Atlantic Yards Appeal Gets Intense in Albany [Brooklyn Eagle]
Atlantic Yards Court Case Begins Wednesday [Brownstoner]
Atlantic Yards: the Profits from Eminent Domain [Brownstoner]
ESDC Approves Revised Plan for Atlantic Yards [Brownstoner]
Image by Tracy Collins

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