Hochul offers “shovel ready” land for businesses with local families

Governor Kathy Hochul recently made headlines when she announced this FAST NY Shovel-Ready Grant Program, which promises up to $200 million to attract high-tech industries, particularly semiconductor manufacturers, to New York by developing potential locations across the state. The publication cites Onondaga County’s White Pine Commerce Park, which Hochul visited earlier this year (bringing with Senator Chuck Schumer and US Assistant Secretary of Commerce Don Graves) to tout efforts to get a chipmaker there with huge amounts of state and federal funding to lure money.

But Hochul doesn’t mention that the White Pine site she wants to offer the semiconductor manufacturer is anything but “shovel-ready” — quite the opposite already taken.

It was recorded by Paul and Robin Richer, who live there in a house that Paul’s father built on rural Burnet Road in the 1950s. And it’s being taken away by their neighbors, many of whom also live in the homes they grew up in as children. County officials plan to use the homes of this long-established community, tearing them down and turning the land over to a private company.

The practice of using private property for private economic development is deeply unpopular and un-American. Most Americans assume that the government uses significant domains solely for public purposes, like building a public school or a courthouse—something the public will own and use.

A family on Burnet Road made signs that read "Burnet Street" and "A little piece of heaven."
A family on Burnet Road made signs reading ‘Burnet Road’ and ‘A little piece of heaven’.
Google Maps

But the widely maligned Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs. City of New London noted that the US Constitution does not prevent governments from taking one person’s property and giving it to another private party just to promote economic development. Following the decision, 44 of the 50 states passed increased protections against Kelo-sanctioned economic development revenues.

New York, on the other hand, has failed to protect its citizens and abuse of major domains continues unabated.

The threat of such abuse is not limited to upstate neighborhoods like Burnet Road. New York allowed that Expropriation of the private property of its citizens for what are ostensibly “public purposes” to encourage private development around a sports stadium in Brooklyn, to expand a private Ivy League university in Manhattan, to replace a CVS in Port Chester with a Walgreens, and to improve a golf course on Long Island.

Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul waves to supporters during the New York State Democratic Convention in New York.
Seth Little/AP

This abusive ‘A to B’ revenue is only allowed because New York’s elected officials (and its courts) failed to act after Kelo.

The families of Burnet Road are paying for their government’s failure. The county has tried unsuccessfully to attract a private company to White Pine for more than 20 years. But it had no regrets throwing good money after bad by trying to expand the park, even at the cost of destroying the neighborhood along Burnet Road.

Even if Paul and Robin save their homeland and reject the county’s offer to use significant domain, Onondaga will still have destroyed much of Burnet Road. It has intimidated some Burnet Road residents into abandoning their homes and has largely resulted in these properties falling into disrepair. And if the county’s bid to use a significant area is successful, it will surely destroy a neighborhood and homes that have stood for more than a century to expand the park.

A family home and barn can be seen on Burnet Road
A family home and barn can be seen on Burnet Road, where families may be forced from their homes to build a semiconductor factory.
Google Maps

But what then? The district’s only immediate gain is land that can only be “improved” by the FAST NY grants, and even then only offered to a semiconductor manufacturer. The rest is out of his hands: Officials can’t promise that the maker will choose White Pine over competing locations like those in Arizona, Ohio and Texas, where new semiconductor plants were recently announced.

Anyone who doubts that the county is sacrificing very real homes for a mere “long shot” should consider Kelo. Like Hochul, government officials in Kelo promised a significant area would lead to economic revitalization and thousands of jobs. But today, more than 15 years after the Kelo decision, the vacant lot is just a home for feral animals.

Hochul has promised to roll out the red carpet to a “shovel-ready” site for a semiconductor company — but it’s really just a carpet leading to someone else’s home.

Bob Belden is an attorney at the Institute for Justice. Hochul offers “shovel ready” land for businesses with local families


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