The Empire State Development Corporation, in possibly the last step in the eminent domain process, is taking three Manhattanville property owners to court to request final approval to acquire their land.
ESDC’s decision to use eminent domain required Tuck-it-Away Self Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and husband-and-wife gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur to sell their properties. These properties will eventually be sold to Columbia, which will demolish them in order to make room for its campus expansion.
But more than a year and a half after the New York State Court of Appeals upheld ESDC’s use of eminent domain, Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur still own their properties. None of them have agreed on a sale price, which has caused ESDC to pursue a final agreement in court.
Eminent domain law governs the capacity of the state to seize private property for the “public good” in exchange for market-rate compensation. In January 2009, Sprayregen and Singh and Kaur filed separate lawsuits against the ESDC, protesting its decision to invoke eminent domain, but they ultimately lost the court battle, with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding in December 2010 not to hear their final appeal.
ESDC spokesman Austin Shafran said in a statement that ESDC filed two condemnation petitions with the New York County Supreme Court last month—one of them a petition to acquire space below street level, which is not controlled by the three property owners, and the other a petition to acquire the gas stations and storage facilities.
“The first court appearance on this petition is expected to be late February or early March,” Shafran said.
He added that the ESDC is also continuing to negotiate with Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur outside of court.
A notice posted on the door of a Tuck-it-Away storage facility on Jan. 31 said that the ESDC will file an acquisition map—which will mark the property that the ESDC seeks to acquire—by Feb. 27, “directing that, upon the filing of the order and of such map, the acquisition of the properties ... sought to be acquired shall be complete and shall vest in ESDC.”
Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur, as well as their lawyers, were unavailable for comment.
On Thursday, a Tuck-it-Away employee leaving a storage facility on 131st Street said he believed that the building would be demolished soon. Columbia officials said last week that five demolitions would take place this spring in the block where the facility is located.
In an interview with Spectator on Friday, University President Lee Bollinger declined to comment, noting that Columbia is not an official party to the legal proceedings.