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Clarkstown’s Stalled TOD In Nanuet Raises Questions About The Efficacy Of Eminent Domain
By Paul Adler
The housing crisis in New York is a growing concern, with skyrocketing rent prices and a lack of affordable housing options plaguing both urban and suburban areas. One potential solution that holds promise is Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), but recent setbacks in Clarkstown highlight the need for stronger developer commitments and municipal tools such as eminent domain to ensure success, especially when recalcitrant owner/developers obstruct progress.
The housing crisis and the promise of TOD proves that New York’s housing crisis is not unique; it’s a nationwide issue. TODs offer a glimmer of hope by combining residential, commercial, and public transportation infrastructure in one place. By promoting density around transit hubs, TODs have the potential to increase housing supply, reduce commuting times, and lower the carbon footprint. However, the success of these projects relies heavily on developer commitment, seller cooperation where the seller and developer are unrelated, and adherence to zoning regulations.
Unfortunately, the Clarkstown example of TOD zoning in Nanuet and the recent failure of the developer (who had an option/contract to buy the land from the current owner) to follow through on a TOD project, serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced in implementing such initiatives. Despite initial enthusiasm and investment, the developer withdrew without a reason, leaving the community and local authorities in a lurch. This scenario underscores the need for developers to be held accountable for their commitments, not only to prevent wasted resources but also to ensure housing solutions are realized. It also shines a light on situations where one single entity that controls most of the property in the TOD may hold too much power in determining the success or failure of the TOD.
The zoning jurisdiction needs more developer accountability to ensure the success of TODs. It is imperative that developers be held to their promises. One way to achieve this is by binding developers to zoning regulations from the outset. Clear and enforceable agreements between municipalities and developers can help prevent backtracking and project abandonment. By agreeing to specific terms and timelines, developers are more likely to see their projects through to completion, benefiting both the community and their own bottom line.
While binding agreements can go a long way in ensuring developer commitment, there must also be consequences for failure to meet obligations. Eminent domain, the power of a government to take private property for public use with just compensation, can be a last resort tool for municipalities. However, even when projects seem to be going nowhere, its use should be judicious and considered only after all other options have been exhausted.
Eminent domain is a double-edged sword, raising questions about property rights and the public good. Striking the right balance is crucial. It should only be invoked when there is clear evidence of developer negligence or abandonment and when the project’s importance to the community’s well-being is undeniable. And, when a recalcitrant seller of land is the cause of the delay, eminent domain may be the impetus to bring the parties back to the table.
Transit-Oriented Developments represent a beacon of hope in addressing the housing crisis. Their success hinges on developer accountability and adherence to zoning regulations. While eminent domain may be an option of last resort, it should be wielded carefully to ensure that the public good is prioritized while respecting private property rights.
Paul Adler is Chief Strategy Officer of Rand Commercial. firstname.lastname@example.org