(Dec. 14, 2009) The New York Court of Appeals, New York State's highest court, has held that a state condemnation authority can use its eminent domain power to acquire property for a private development project to remove urban blight.
The case involves a private developer's plan to develop 22 acres in Brooklyn for a basketball stadium, transportation improvements, affordable and market-priced housing, and open space. The project was sponsored by New York State's development agency, which used its condemnation authority to acquire those properties the developer was unable to purchase directly. Property owners challenged the taking, arguing the exercise of eminent domain is permissible under the New York State Constitution only for a “public use,” and that this taking was for a private benefit. The lower court rejected this argument, and the property owners appealed to the New York Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals rejected the landowners' claims. It observed that rehabilitation of a blighted area is constitutionally sanctioned “public use” and a legitimate basis for exercising the power of eminent domain. While the landowners argued the properties in question were not blighted, the court said that the blight determination was a province of the legislative branch and could only be disturbed by the judiciary if the agency to which the legislature delegated this power acted irrationally or baselessly, which it found was not the case here. The court stated that the determination of whether blight should no longer serve as a predicate for the exercise of eminent domain should be left to the policy-making branches of government. A dissenting judge argued that the use of condemnation to eradicate blight should be used only in cases involving a threat to “public health and safety,” and disagreed with the court's deference to the agency's determination. (Goldstein v. New York State Urb. Dev. Corp., No. 178 (N.Y. Nov. 24, 2009), available at http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/decisions/2009/nov09/178opn09.pdf.)