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Another Voice: Stop using eminent domain as a weapon

Another Voice: Stop using eminent domain as a weapon

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Eminent domain is a legal concept that allows a government entity to take private property for public use. Its application by New York public officials is being weaponized as the latest strategy to torment wealthy residents.

I am concerned about the unfair, arrogant way I have been treated by the Town of Amherst and its supervisor and that it encourages other New York politicians to follow their example.

For many years, I owned a successful combination convenience store gas station at the heavily trafficked intersection of Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard. Around 1999 in a road widening, improvement project, Amherst took some of my property, making it such that I was no longer allowed to operate gas pumps or have space for vehicles. During this period, I have continued to own and maintain this half-acre parcel, paying its annual tax bill. I believe the property is now worth much more than the $81,000 the town offered me after condemning the property in 2018.

Prior to the town’s action, I had offered either to acquire a neighboring plot which would give me adequate room to reopen the convenience store/gas station or construct a park facility for local residents to use and enjoy. I was willing to maintain it at my expense, so long as I held ownership and had the legal right to do what I wanted with this property in the future.

I fought the seizure in New York State Supreme Court. I lost this case, along with my appeal. In this costly litigation, I learned how New York’s eminent domain laws are skewed to favor government condemnation. While eminent domain is supposed to be reserved for clearly defined public benefit, the courts have limited the rights of property owners.

Since this past July, Amherst now has “possession.” However, I have a three-year window to file a “demand for restitution” which I intend to do.

One of the keys to my successful career has been real estate investment, especially with distressed properties where I have made the commitment to bring about improvements and increased value. Many real estate investors will not engage in risky transactions and unstable projects. The political vandalism by Amherst sends a message to property owners and developers in the Buffalo region. This legal coercion shows a lack of respect for those people and business enterprises who are making investments and paying taxes in their communities.

Random, uncritical use of eminent domain discourages investor confidence and interested buyers. As real estate equity turns into the prey of politicians, people with assets are less likely to become stakeholders.

John Catsimatidis, a New York resident, owns one of the largest privately held companies in New York and was a Republican-Liberal candidate for mayor of New York in 2013.

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