New York’s Seizure of Private Land for Public Good?

Last month, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the state of New York may legally seize private land for private developers use. In the 6-1 decision, the court allowed the seizure of a 22-acre plot located in downtown Brooklyn – effectively allowing the Atlantic Yards Project to proceed – reasoning it would allow for improvements on the “blighted conditions” of the property. The recent ruling falls in line with the 2005 decision by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London that similarly allowed a corporation to seize private homes and businesses to build a research campus.

The New York court’s ruling has raised arguments from opponents that ownership rights amount to being worthless if a government deems private land for the ‘public good.’ The Atlantic Yards Project, headed by Forest City Ratner Cos., seeks to develop office towers, apartments, and most notably an $900 million arena for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. The only dissenter on the court’s bench stated, “It might be possible to debate whether a sport stadium open to the public is a ‘public use’ in the traditional sense, but the renting of commercial and residential space by a private developer clearly is not.” The New York Court of Appeals, however, ultimately ruled that the definition of ‘blight’ is a matter for the legislature, not the courts, to change.