Six weeks ago, Cato filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to Columbia University’s strong‐armed attempt to condemn and take over certain land in Upper Manhattan. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will consider the cert petition our brief supports, with a decision on whether it hears the case expected Monday.
In what is probably not a coincidence, then, the Columbia Spectator today came out with a lengthy feature story examining the story behind the dispute, controversial “blight” designations and all. This is excellent student journalism — heck, excellent journalism, period — and here are some key excerpts (full disclosure: the author interviewed me for the piece):
Since it proposed the expansion, Columbia has rapidly made deals with property owners and gained control over nearly every lot in the zone — except for two who have fought to hold on to their land.…
And Columbia has repeatedly said that those parcels, which represent a total of around nine percent of the expansion zone, are vital to the vision.
Eminent domain — the process by which the state seizes private property for the “public good,” providing just compensation for the owner — officially came into the picture in 2004, when the University asked the state to consider condemnation.
And here’s the crux of the legal dispute:
Some neighborhood tenants and owners — most no longer in Manhattanville as Columbia continues to break ground and demolish properties — have strongly contested this blight label.
Nuss remembers a community vibrant enough to support his improvisational group — the No‐Neck Blues Band — local businesses, and his family. He raised his daughter in the Hint House.…
But it’s sometimes hard to believe Nuss is talking about the same area as other residents who say they agree with the determination of blight.…
This disparity in views on Manhattanville’s conditions touches upon a fundamental question when evaluating the process that paved the way for Columbia’s expansion: Was the neighborhood really blighted, and given the process by which the criteria of blight were determined, was the state’s designation of blight an appropriate justification for the use of eminent domain for a private university?
My sense is that whatever “blight” there is was caused by Columbia itself:
“It’s akin to the kid who kills his parents and begs the court’s mercy for being an orphan,” says Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow with the Cato Institute, which filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Manhattanville property owners. “You’re creating your own blight. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”