Syracuse, N.Y.—Today, residents and supporters of the Burnet Road neighborhood in Clay, New York, announced the formation of a new group, the Save Burnet Road Coalition. The group of homeowners and local business owners is organizing to stop the Onondaga County Industrial Development Authority (OCIDA) from destroying a multi-generational rural neighborhood in order to expand a “commerce park” that has remained empty for decades. OCIDA claims that it needs additional land on both sides of Burnet Road to expand the White Pine Commerce Park and has threatened to use eminent domain to intimidate residents into selling their property quickly. In reality, OCIDA is aggressively working to uproot a rural community on behalf of a giant corporation that hasn’t even agreed to start building.
In August, OCIDA voted to authorize the use of eminent domain and could soon hold a public hearing to begin the process of kicking out the rightful owners to make way for a private development project. The blatant abuse of eminent domain for economic development—seizing land from private owners and giving it to a large corporation—is illegal in states across the country, but New York’s courts and legislatures have allowed it to run rampant.
The Coalition is calling on OCIDA and county leaders to renounce plans to use eminent domain, and to reverse their previous vote.
The land in question is part of an ever-expanding “commerce park” that has, in reality, remained vacant since the 1990s. Despite millions of dollars spent increasing the size of the park, OCIDA has failed for decades to attract a single tenant to the area. The county’s current goal is a large semiconductor chip manufacturing plant, though similar attempts in 2019 resulted in failure, and the land continues to sit empty.
OCIDA has a history of threatening to abuse eminent domain for projects that fail to materialize. In 2005, the county attempted to seize the land of dozens of business owners in a deal with a separate developer, but ultimately gave up in the face of overwhelming public opposition led by a coalition of property owners and their supporters known as the Salina 29.
Current residents of Burnet Road, like Robin Richer and her husband Paul, grew up on the road and aren’t willing to sell. “This road has been a community for over 40 years,” said Robin. “No amount of money can replace that community or the history our family and friends have built here.”
The Richers’ story is a familiar one for families on the road: Many of their parents or grandparents built the home they grew up in, and when it came time to move out of their childhood home, they moved a few homes down to stay in the neighborhood they loved.
Other property owners point to the unique value of the road. Britta Serog, whose family owns a farmhouse at the north end of Burnet Road, notes, “People want to live in that area because it still has a rural character, yet is close to everything and not polluted.” Serog also points out that the county’s purchased properties include protected wetlands and hundreds of acres of irreplaceable prime agricultural land.
The group is working with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public-interest civil liberties law firm dedicated to stopping the abuse of eminent domain. IJ represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London and has successfully litigated on behalf of property owners throughout the country. IJ has helped save more than 20,000 homes and small businesses from eminent domain abuse through grassroots activism.
“If these homes are not safe, then no home in New York is safe,” said Chad Reese, assistant director of activism with IJ. “In America, your home is supposed to be your castle. But in New York, your home is your castle only until a government official wants to take it for something else they want to see there.”