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Columbia, Community Move Toward M'ville Negotiations
By Erin Durkin
Issue date: 9/5/06 Section: News
While developments on the Manhattanville expansion stalled last spring, this summer brought the faint beginnings of community-benefits agreement negotiations and modifications to Columbia's proposed plans.
The University plans to expand in the area stretching from 125th to 133rd streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue and wants to own all the property in that area before construction begins. Many local residents have complained that the new campus would be a hostile environment for anyone not affiliated with Columbia. The changes to the blueprints are designed to combat that perception.
"We want this area to feel like part of Harlem physically," Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin said in July.
The new plan will shift a square of "privately owned, publicly accessible" open space on the proposed campus farther west, so that it will border 12th Avenue between 130th and 131st streets. The building standing between 12th Avenue and the space will be split into two segments at ground level, creating a passageway from the sidewalk. The changes also add more open space-a plaza in front of a new building that will house the School of the Arts and a pedestrian corridor from Prentis Hall on 125th Street to Riverside Park.
The University will also vary the heights of its buildings to assimilate with the rest of the New York skyline.The changes deal only with the physical makeup of the campus, and do not address objections that many residents and activist groups consider more significant-that the expansion will displace all the residents and businesses in its footprint and may contribute to rising rent in the surrounding area.
Also this summer, Community Board 9, Councilman Robert Jackson, and the New York Economic Development Corporation announced the formation of a local development corporation ready to begin long-delayed negotiations toward a community-benefits agreement.
CBA negotiations were originally expected to begin last January. At the request of Jackson and CB9, Columbia waited for the LDC to be ready before entering discussions about community benefits.
Asked in June what an ideal benefits agreement would look like, CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said, "I haven't the foggiest idea ... This will be dictated by the circumstances, discussions with Columbia, what they want, what the community wants, who will blink first," he said.
The members of the LDC? are Pat Jones and Theodore Kovaleff from CB9; Nick Spreyregen representing Manhattanville business owners; Sarah Martin from the General Grant Housing Tenant Council; Maritta Dunn from the Manhattanville Housing Tenant Council; Lisa Polk from the Morningside Gardens Housing Cooperative; Julio Batista representing co-ops and condo owners; Tom DeMott representing tenant, block and neighborhood associations; Debbi Brown from the Manhattanville Area Consortium of Businesses; Christa Giesecke representing Hamilton Heights homeowners; and Rev Grattan representing faith based organizations. Four additional seats on the LDC remain empty.
The LDC had one meeting with Columbia in early August. University spokeswoman LaVerna Fountain called it a "good first meeting" but could not provide details.
Several LDC members described the meeting as preliminary and unproductive. "Nothing happened," said Jones, the CB9 representative, "It was introductory and very short ... We've had no dialogue with Columbia."
Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was present at the meeting. Kovaleff, the other CB9 representative, was absent but said, "The way I view it is Charlie essentially said, 'hey wait, we all have to be on the same page.' That stopped most everything right there ... I believe that he felt that he hadn't been fully apprised of things," Kovaleff said.
Rangel aide Elbert Garcia said that the congressman saw it as his role to make sure that the LDC is broadly representative of the community and committed to coming up with a CBA.
"Our constituents look to us to be their advocate," he said, "It's our area. Our constituents expect us to be involved."
The LDC had a meeting at the end of August with elected officials including Rangel, Councilman Jackson, and State Representatives Danny O'Donnell and Keith Wright to discuss the role those officials would play in the process.
Demott, an LDC member and leader of the Coalition to Preserve Community, which has opposed the expansion, cautioned that "People shouldn't delude themselves into thinking that these vast differences don't exist and that there's some magical ... agreement that can be reached that can erase that."
No more meetings between Columbia and the LDC are currently scheduled.