A state court ruled on Thursday that the state could not use eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University to obtain a 17-acre site in West Harlem, dealing a major blow to the university’s plans to build a $6.3 billion satellite campus.
In a 3-to-2 decision, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court annulled the state’s 2008 decision to take property for the expansion project [pdf], saying that its condemnation procedure was unconstitutional.
Columbia embarked on its first major expansion in 75 years in 2003, saying it had outgrown its cramped Morningside Heights campus. It planned to replace the low-scale industrial buildings north of 125th Street with school buildings, laboratories, restaurants, a jazz club and tree-lined streets.
While it bought most of the land between 125th Street and 133rd Street, between Broadway and Riverside Drive, a warehouse owner and a gas station owner challenged the state’s finding that the neighborhood was blighted and its decision to condemn property in the project area on behalf of the university.
Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, criticized the court decision as “wrong and inconsistent with established law.”