Court rejects use of eminent domain for Columbia’s Manhattanville campus

December 03, 2009 05:29PM

A state appellate court has rejected the use of eminent domain in Columbia University’s plan to develop its new Manhattanville campus on 17 acres in West Harlem, 9 percent of which is currently owned by two families unafraid of fighting to keep control of their properties. The Singh and Sprayregen families, owners of the storage warehouses and gas stations in question, had sued the Empire State Development Corp., the state’s development agency, which tried to seize their buildings so that Columbia’s new campus could run uninterrupted, with an interconnected underground facility beneath it. Attorneys for the families argued that the state should not use eminent domain on behalf of a private institution; the general public would not benefit from Columbia’s new campus, they said. The state countered that the area in question is blighted — a point of contention from opponents — and said that it will appeal today’s decision, which they said is inconsistent with established law. Just last week, the state’s highest court upheld the state’s use of eminent domain for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development in Brooklyn, although the state is contributing heavily towards funds for that project.