CAMPUS AUTO 'WRECK'
PUSH BY COLUMBIA
By AUSTIN FENNER
June 25, 2007 -- Columbia University is moving ahead with its controversial, multibillion-dollar plan to build a new campus on Harlem's western edge, a plan that's proving very expensive for at least one area resident.
Auto mechanic José Luis said the Ivy League college's uptown land grab forced him to relocate his business repairing yellow cabs and used cars - and he estimates it's going to cost him $21,000.
Columbia booted the 38-year-old Dominican entrepreneur from 3251 Broadway two months ago after buying the building from his landlord.
The university gave Luis a one-year lease in a larger location down the block and three months' free rent at $2,250 a month.
But the mechanic isn't happy at all. He said his electric bill shot up from $700 to $900 a month and his insurance premium jumped $250 a month.
Columbia - which owns over 75 percent of the real estate between 125th and 133rd streets and between Broadway and the Hudson River - wants to build a towering campus in western Harlem.
University officials have asked state officials to do an analysis for condemning the property under eminent-domain laws.
The plan took a big step forward last Monday when the City Planning Commission gave the university the green light to begin the public-review phase of its application to rezone the area.
A competing application by Community Board 9, which essentially calls for preserving the current character of the community, is also under review.
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the board's chairman, said the panel is concerned about the size and bulk of the buildings and the potential loss of affordable housing for 132 families.
So far, Columbia has been guarded in its dealings with the community, he said.
"People want to know what type of research will take place inside Columbia's laboratories," said Reyes-Montblanc.
"They won't get one square inch under eminent domain," the board chairman said. "If the area seems distressed or unoccupied, it's because it belongs to Columbia. They own it and they emptied it out."
Attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing four clients fighting the university, said Columbia is bullying them to take its offer on the ground they might get less under an eminent-domain ruling.
Columbia spokeswoman LaVerna Fountain said, "We have an unequivocal commitment to the people living in the 132 residential units to find them equal or better housing. We hope businesses will negotiate with us."