New York Village to Constituents: Our Way or Eminent Domain for Your Way

Long Island property owner Athene Ziglis and her husband Pantelis are facing the loss of her property after government officials in Patchogue Village, New York decided it should be the site of a million-dollar, taxpayer-funded development project.

Athene told The Long Island Advance that she’s tried to put everything on her property, including a coffee shop, pizza place, parking lot and food truck. Village officials denied the proposals. Now, Mayor Paul Pontieri is threatening to use eminent domain because, he ironically claims, “Nothing has ever been done; they never came with a plan to build anything. That lot has always been vacant and I have a feeling it would continue to be vacant. We never want to go to condemnation, but there’s a point in time when we have to make a decision that’s for the betterment of the entire community.”

In other words, as Ziglis puts it, the village prevented her from developing her property and is now using the village-caused lack of development as an excuse to condemn and take the property.

Under Mayor Pontieri, the government’s goal is to turn the Ziglis property into a transportation hub, as part of a $1.6 million proposal from Suffolk County. Ziglis also believes village officials want to build a hotel nearby and use her lot for spillover parking. Village officials acknowledge their efforts to attract a hotel but claim it’s too early to know what role the Ziglis lot would have in their preferred development.

Nevertheless, village attorney Brian Egan championed a long history of government officials using eminent domain to turn their constituents’ private property into public parking. He described it as “an integral part of the county’s overall transportation plan.” Against these governmental plans, the current owner’s desire to keep the land and use it as she sees fit is an inconvenient obstacle. But eminent domain would remove the inconvenience of the Ziglis family asserting their constitutional rights.

New York’s eminent domain laws are notoriously permissive, allowing for government agents to take private property for any public projects, as long as the property owner is compensated fair market value. Not coincidentally, Ziglis claims that even if she were willing to sell, the government is radically undervaluing her property so as to avoid paying a fair price for it.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has made a name for itself contesting eminent domain abuses around the country. An IJ lawsuit against the village of Port Chester, New York led to the state legislature changing the law and a full public apology to IJ’s client from the village, which also renamed a nearby street corner for him. Across the state line, IJ successfully defended property owners in Long Branch, New Jersey against eminent domain over bogus charges of blight. IJ attorneys also defeated eminent domain for government-favored development against a Nashville business owner.

IJ is currently suing a New Jersey state agency in Atlantic City to prevent it from using eminent domain to destroy a home a couple of Holocaust survivors left to their son. The Institute won a previous eminent domain lawsuit in Atlantic City after the same state agency tried to turn an elderly widow’s home into a limousine parking lot for a hotel and casino owned by future President Donald Trump.

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