Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #33: Is Eminent Domain Being Used with Restraint? NO

This is evaluation item #33 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Is Eminent Domain Being Used with Restraint? NO

Jane Jacobs was aware that eminent domain was an extraordinarily drastic and ruthless tool which, even in those situations where it can properly be defended involves the causation of ruinous harm (even with full compensation being paid). The question then is whether it is being used with restraint. In the case of Atlantic Yards the answer is “no.” It is clear that at least one complete block, the block with the Ward Bakery building, (which block wraps around another similar block that is not being condemned) is being condemned without any good reason. This block (where the historic Ward Bakery building was acquired and torn down) is the home to many other worthy buildings, such as Henry Weinstein’s, that are indistinguishable in quality from those not being torn down on adjacent property. It has been noted by us and others how odd and unprecedented it is to have a historic district (the recently designated Prospect Heights Historic District) and an eminent domain site interlock like strangely configured jigsaw puzzle pieces.

If anything, the block with Weinstein's building on it is a survivor that ought to continue to survive. It spent forty years adjacent to a city-declared urban renewal site (the ATURA, or "Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Site" without city officials ever thinking that it should be considered part of that redevelopment site. While technically it abutted that ATURA site, it was physically and for practical purposes separated from the ATURA by the Vanderbilt rail yard cut. While the rail yards were nominally included in the ATURA they were more of a practical barrier between the sites considered blighted 40 years ago and property on the Prospect Heights side. For 40 years there was no focus on the developing the yards themselves and city officials apparently never thought that the abutting blocks in Prospect Heights which were economically healthy should be included. If anything, that area recently has been thriving even more.
(Above: Why is eminent domain being used to take the properties on this block that used to have the Ward Bakery Building on it? Why cross the rail yards to take down all the buildings visible on that block in the Google Earth image of the site outlined below? For more about the greed of including this block in the site click here.)

(Image above from our Wednesday, October 29, 2008, Puzzle Pieces: Proposed Prospect Heights Historic District, LPC Public Hearing.)

(Image above of interlocking project site where condemnation will be used and Prospect Heights Historic District by Tracy Collins.)
(Image above from Atlantic Yards Report: Henry Weinstein’s building on the same block as where the Ward Bakery Building was torn down.)

JJ Cites: [The direct consequences of the exercise of the power of eminent domain on the commercial tenant is drastic and often ruinous. P. 311. . .by employing quite extraordinary and ruthless social powers. P 313]

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