Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: City must look after the people in eminent domain cases

I keep finding news stories concerning city use of eminent domain to help private builders condemn private property so they can develop it. Development is good because it provides jobs, produces property which can pay taxes and helps the economy grow. The bad thing is private property is taken by eminent domain or the threat of its use.

Eminent domain is when government has the right to take private property if it is needed for the good of society. I had always felt it was a sacred act to be used judiciously, but today it is being proposed in several places in the city for private development.

Close to Fresh Meadows is the proposed development of the Iron Triangle in Willets Point. The city Economic Development Corp. wants to spend $3 billion to build a convention center, hotel, shops, offices and housing in an area of Willets Point that contains hundreds of tax-paying businesses in an area the city has neglected for decades. The city claims it has control of 40 acres of the 62 acres in the Iron Triangle, but owners who do not want to sell and move their businesses say the city only has pending deals with 10 of the property owners. There are claims back and forth. Assisting the Iron Triangle businesspeople is City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside). He is a fighter for lost causes of the little people.

The city never provided the infrastructure found in any neighborhood and never gave permits for owners to provide their own infrastructure, but now suddenly had its Department of Building close down a few buildings as being “unsafe.” There was supposed to be a hearing June 22 in Flushing Town Hall, but it never took place. Instead, the owners and tenants had another rally. Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain has hired a lawyer, Michael Rikon, who helped draft the New York State Eminent Domain Procedure Law, which dictates the process through which government can acquire private land in the state.

Another big development where eminent domain is threatened to be used is the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. A plan for a basketball arena and housing towers over the train yards is stalled because people do not want to sell their property. This is another multimillion-dollar private project.

Also, in Coney Island there is a proposal for a developer to develop the 10 1/2 acres of beachfront property he owns, but the city wants to rezone 47 acres of Coney Island and build a new 27-acre amusement and entertainment district. The developer cannot get the city to rezone the property the way he wants it and the city claims he wants to flip the property to make money. The city offered the developer $60 million less than the amount he wanted for the property. The rezoning plan allows the city to take the property through eminent domain. Sounds like the Atlantic Yards and the Willets Point development proposals with the threat of eminent domain.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments could take private property for business development if the property is blighted. Making a ruling does not make it right, though. After the Kelo decision, there was talk of states passing laws saying they did not want eminent domain to be used to help private developers.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. The Kelo decision changed the use of eminent domain.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: I was reading an article about the killing of people at the Binghamton, N.Y., immigrant center in April. The killer shot people, then killed himself. The problem was the police were fearful the killer might be waiting in ambush for them, so they did not enter the facility for an hour. This caused a wounded women to bleed to death.

It is understandable the police want to be careful, but with the current state of body armor and shields, it is important the police plan to quickly enter a shooting site so the wounded can be treated. If necessary, new equipment should be purchased by police departments using federal money so local police can be trained to quickly and safely respond to shootings.

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