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Columbia University Expansion Allowed by High Court

Columbia University’s Expansion Allowed by Supreme Court
The Low Memorial Library at the Columbia University campus in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Columbia University can move ahead with plans for a $6.3 billion expansion of its Manhattan campus after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by neighboring businesses whose property may be taken over by eminent domain.

The justices today refused to question findings by a state development agency, Empire State Development Corp., that the area is blighted and that the Columbia expansion has a legitimate public purpose. The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the plan in June.

The property owners argued unsuccessfully in their Supreme Court appeal that the process was fraught with favoritism, violating their constitutional property rights. “ESDC worked backward, pre-ordaining Columbia as the beneficiary of its eminent domain power,” the appeal said.

In rejecting the appeal, the justices declined to revisit aspects of their 2005 ruling that said local governments can constitutionally take property as part of an economic development plan.

The 17-acre site, in the Manhattanville section of West Harlem, is less than a mile from Columbia’s main campus in New York City’s Morningside Heights section. It will add more than 6.8 million square feet to the university, including a new business school and science facilities.

The plan was challenged by the owners of four self-storage facilities and two gas stations that would be razed.

‘Extremely Disappointed’

The attorney for Tuck-It-Away storage, Norman Siegel, said he will study the Supreme Court rules and may ask the court to reconsider its position.

“We’re extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to hear this important eminent domain case,” Siegel said in a phone interview. “The court of appeals decision is a terrible precedent regarding eminent domain and the rights of property owners in New York.”

President Lee Bollinger of Columbia said in an e-mail statement that the university project “will be a vibrant center for a new level of intellectual and civic engagement for both our university and our community.”

The Empire State Development Corporation urged the Supreme Court not to hear the property owners’ appeal. The agency has said the project will create 14,000 construction jobs over 25 years and 6,000 university positions.

‘Significant Step’

“This victory represents a significant step toward achieving the many goals of the project, including strengthening New York as an international center for premier education and academic research programs,” the development corporation said in an e-mailed statement.

The first phase of the project, scheduled to be completed in 2015, will include a science center and new homes for Columbia’s business, arts and international and public affairs schools. Later phases are expected to be completed around 2030, according to the university’s website.

The rebuff marks the second time in less than three years that the nation’s highest court has refused to question a multibillion-dollar New York City project. The justices in 2008 rejected an appeal by property owners objecting to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn that will include a new sports arena.

The case is Tuck-It-Away v. New York State Urban Development Corp., 10-402.

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