Court Upholds New York City’s Use of Eminent Domain for Hudson Yards Project

An appellate court dismissed five consolidated actions challenging New York City’s and the MTA’s use of eminent domain to obtain land for a project on Manhattan’s West Side. In Matter of C/S 12th Ave. LLC v. City of New York, the Appellate Division First Department upheld the City’s approval of property acquisition and easements related to the project, as well as the Determination and Findings generated by the City and the MTA. The court also held that condemnation of an entire parcel is reasonable where the project for which the parcel is sought only requires a portion of the parcel, but partial demolition of the existing structure is not feasible.

Owners of property subject to condemnation for the project, which is known as the No. 7 Subway Extension Hudson Yards Rezoning and Redevelopment Program, challenged the City’s authority to acquire their land. Petitioners’ numerous claims include arguments that the City failed to comply with requirements of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law, engaged in unconstitutional spot zoning, acted ultra vires, and failed to state an adequate public use to be served by the project.

The court held that Eminent Domain Procedure Law 204 does not require “extreme accuracy” in reference to the property to be acquired; rather the procedural requirement is satisfied when the acquiring agency sets forth the approximate location and the reasons for the location selection for the proposed project. In reaching its determination that specificity is not required, the court pointed out that the taking challenged in the EDPL claim is a temporary easement needed to construct and support portions of the project. In addition, the court reasoned, the easements were sought for structural stabilization of the subway tunnel during its construction, and precisely where the stabilization points would be required could not be determined in the planning stage of the project.

Petitioners claimed their property was singled out for a use classification that differs from that of the surrounding areas in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. In examining this claim, the court found that there was a rational relationship between the disparate treatment of the parcel and the legitimate government purposes of well-considered development, generating jobs, and increasing the tax base. The court thus upheld disparate treatment of the property and discounted petitioners’ spot zoning claim.

In reviewing petitioners’ argument that the City’s actions were ultra vires, the court held that the actions were within the scope of its authority and further found that the Hudson Yards project constitutes a public use as required by the Constitution, since it serves a public purpose, citing the broad definition of public use upheld in Kelo v. City of New London.

The court also noted because the EDPL provided an adequate mechanism allowing the property owners to seek compensation, the challengers bore the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the challenged rezoning plan destroyed the economic value of the property. The court held that petitioners did not satisfy the burden and therefore allowed the regulations to stand.