Features

Land grabbers

"Land grabbers" Continued...

Issue: "Cities of God and Man," March 27, 2010

When Goldstein first moved in, he had neighbors and a block that wasn't pitted with empty lots. Now all his neighbors have sold their property to FCRC. As we walk the length of the development project, Goldstein points out gaps where a homeless shelter, a historic bakery, auto shops, and residential spaces used to stand. Ratner has already bought and destroyed the buildings there, leaving lots filled with gravel and bricks.

Yes, there are cracked sidewalks, barbed wire fences, and graffiti-but there are also brand new condominiums. Goldstein jokes that as long as you can get a cappuccino a few blocks away, a place isn't blighted. He can get a cappuccino at Starbucks and shop at a mall an avenue away. From the homeowners' perspective, FCRC is creating blight instead of fixing it.

FCRC's plan states that the project would provide 2,250 affordable housing units and 1.8 million square feet of new office space, build an arena for the New Jersey Nets, and provide eight acres of public space. But the ambition of the project means it won't be completed until 2019, according to a recently modified plan-and there's a loophole. Ratner has up to 25 years to finish the project, which could mean more empty lots for decades.

Now that the state holds the title to Goldstein's property, his building may become another empty lot. The New York Court of Appeals recently ruled against Goldstein, saying that even if the definition of blight is too broad, that "is a matter for the legislature, not the courts." Days later, another New York court came to a very different decision in a similar eminent domain case that would take private property to expand Columbia University. The Appellate Division worded its decision strongly, saying the determination of blight was "mere sophistry," used "years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain" for "a massive capital project." The court concluded, "It is nothing more than economic redevelopment wearing a different face."

While the state now officially owns Goldstein's property, it could take months to claim possession of it, and Brinckherhoff says his client may still prevail: "The war is not over. We have lost a number of battles but there's still quite a few left."

Goldstein is holding on: "This is my home. I bought it to live in it. I started raising a family in it. It has meaning to me. I'm not sure how long you have to own your home before it becomes a travesty that the government takes it."

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