By SCOTT M. STRINGER
April 18, 2007 -- We must consider the "ripple effects" of Columbia's expansion..
ANYONE who's ever taken a photo knows that nothing is more important than how you frame the subject you want to shoot. The same holds true for urban planning: The success of city zoning often depends on whether planners have properly drawn the boundaries of the area to be rezoned.
That's why I've proposed that, instead of focusing solely on the eight or so blocks that Columbia University seeks to develop for its new Manhattanville campus, we rezone all of West Harlem - from 125th Street to 145th Street, and from Convent Avenue to the Hudson River - as a new special-purpose zoning district.
Under any circumstances, Columbia's expansion - a $7 billion, 17-acre plan with dozens of modern glass buildings, some reaching 25 stories - will be felt throughout West Harlem. But public debate has so far focused mainly on the direct impact that Columbia's new campus will have on businesses and residents in the expansion zone.
The area will experience obvious benefits from the new campus, including jobs, investment dollars and new resources for the arts and culture. There are real issues as well: a community-benefits agreement to be hammered out; legitimate outrage over the prospect of Columbia using eminent domain to condemn people's homes, and more.
But once these concerns are taken care of, there are those.
The tenants in Hamilton Heights' historic tenements, for example, live outside the immediate Columbia expansion zone - but have legitimate reason to worry that their homes will be replaced by glass towers in a newly "hot" college neighborhood.
Similarly, Broadway's thriving commercial corridor north of 135th Street is also outside the expansion zone - but local storeowners fear that they will be pushed out to make way for retail catering to students and visitors.
Overall, a quarter to a half of the nearby properties are vulnerable to redevelopment. There's a clear need for broader rezoning and a West Harlem Special District.
To encourage development that serves local needs, and to keep dorms and laboratories from invading solidly residential areas, special zoning rules should regulate community facilities. And to channel development dollars toward construction of new housing that's truly affordable for current residents, I propose a custom-designed housing program.
The plan also adopts anti-harassment and demolition-restriction provisions like those in other special districts; these impose serious penalties on landlords who harass tenants or demolish viable housing.
These provisions are not just for the community, they are in many ways by the community. Manhattan Community Board Nine suggested exploring many of these concepts in their 197-a plan, a blueprint for building a healthy, stable West Harlem.
It's possible to have an expansion that works for the city, for Columbia and for West Harlem. But a crucial first step in achieving that goal is to enlarge the boundaries of the rezoning discussion by creating a West Harlem Special District. Let's get to work.
Scott M. Stringer is the Manhattan borough president.