“Public use, just compensation”

One aspect of #mvhsdowntown that has received a great deal of attention is MVHS’s purchase of properties within the project footprint. As of April 2019, nearly 70% of property owners have signed purchase option agreements, most of the remaining owners are negotiating, and a few have said publicly that they will await likely eminent domain proceedings, that is, they will resist the transfer of their property for the project “in court.”

The City of Utica and Oneida County have indicated that they will act as the appropriate governmental authorities, should eminent domain become necessary as a last resort for the project to go forward. Some opponents have said repeatedly and publicly that the City and County’s use of eminent domain, i.e., to take properties for a private not-for-profit entity’s project to provide healthcare for the public, and/or to provide parking for the new facility and Downtown Utica generally, would be “illegal.” They have also stated that eminent domain itself is “theft” and “evil.”

“The co-founder of the ‘no hospital’ group that opposes eminent domain voted to take private downtown property for public use on August 10, 2016.”

The U.S. Constitution does not prohibit eminent domain; the Founders said that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Determining what constitutes “public use” and “just compensation” is often at the heart of legal challenges to eminent domain, successful and unsuccessful. The building of the NYS Thruway, the SUNY campus in Marcy, and many other projects, large and small, have involved eminent domain. For some individuals and businesses, the taking of their properties was without question a hardship—but “public use” decided the matter; the collective, greater good and the benefits for the many outweighed the hardship imposed on the relative few.

In fact, when property owners refuse “just compensation,” eminent domain occurs across the country, practically every day. In our community, in addition to the examples cited above, it has happened more recently. As discussed on “First News with Keeler in the Morning” on WIBX radio on June 18, 2018, a public entity, the Utica Memorial Auditorium Authority,  voted to take private property in 2016 for “public use,” a planned arts, sports and entertainment district. The Authority board, whose members included the co-founder of the “no hospital” group that opposes eminent domain, unanimously approved the use of eminent domain on August 10, 2016.

Let us hope that the use of eminent domain, a hardship for some, can be avoided here, as our community seeks to enhance healthcare and overall quality of life by advancing the Downtown Utica healthcare campus project.