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Patrick Yuan, Staff photographer

The ESDC has gone forward with its appeal of the court ruling against the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville.

The Empire State Development Corporation is officially going forward with its appeal in favor of eminent domain in Manhattanville after losing in a surprise court decision in December. On Jan. 8, ESDC—the state body that approved the use of eminent domain for Columbia's Manhattanville expansion project in December 2008—formally appealed the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division's decision last month that ruled that such use is illegal. The Appellate Division ruling declared eminent domain—the process by which the state can seize private property for "public use" in exchange for market-rate compensation—illegal in the 17-acre expansion zone, dealing a major setback to the University's campus development plans. The ruling argued that the expansion of an elite private university does not constitute a public use, and condemned alleged "collusion" between Columbia and ESDC in determining blight in the area. It was a surprising victory for Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage owner Nick Sprayregen and gas station owners Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, the only remaining private property owners in the expansion area who have not struck land deals with the University. Singh and Kaur filed a separate lawsuit, but it was substantially similar to Sprayregen's, and the Appellate Division ruled on both cases simultaneously. Norman Siegel—Sprayregen's attorney and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union—served ESDC with a "notice of entry" on Jan. 5, a step the winner of a court case takes to officially start the 30-day period in which the loser can appeal the decision. ESDC, which had announced its intention to appeal immediately after the Dec. 3 ruling, formally did so on Jan. 8, according to ESDC spokesperson Warner Johnston. Now that the appeal has been filed, new legal briefs will be exchanged between the two parties. "The ESDC has requested that we prepare new briefs and all parties have agreed to that," David Smith, the attorney for the Singh family, said. ESDC will first submit their briefs, then Sprayregen and Singh will respond with their briefs, and then the state will have another opportunity to respond. At that point, the case will be scheduled in May or June before the court goes on holiday for the summer, Smith said. Echoing language he and Sprayregen have used throughout their multi-year fight against eminent domain in Manhattanville, Siegel said he was "cautiously optimistic that we will prevail in the Court of Appeals." Sprayregen cited as a point of concern the recent Court of Appeals ruling which upheld the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, but he said he sees reason for a favorable outcome. "It concerns me only to the degree that virtually all cases up until now have been decided in favor of the state and the private beneficiary," Sprayregen said. "But we're the exception and we're making a difference and I do think that the Court of Appeals will be able to see the significant differences between the fact pattern in Brooklyn and the fact pattern here and will uphold our decision," he said, adding, "we think we have a strong legal position." Though Columbia is not a direct party to the case, University spokesperson Robert Hornsby said Columbia supports ESDC's decision to appeal. kim.kirschenbaum@columbiaspectator.com

Norman Siegel Nick Sprayregen ESDC David Smith
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