Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crain's: Columbia fireworks set to begin Foes mobilize as university prepares to submit expansion plan for approval

Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 07:20:36 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: Fwd: Today's Crain's article
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"

Note: forwarded message attached.

Anne Z. Whitman, President
Hudson North American
3229 Broadway, New York, New York 10027

Subject: Today's Crain's article
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 10:09:08 -0400
From: "Zuhusky, Katherine"
To: "Anne Z. Whitman"

Columbia fireworks set to begin
Foes mobilize as university prepares to submit expansion plan for approval

By: Anne Michaud
Published: June 10, 2007 - 6:59 am

After a three-year drumroll, Columbia University's plan to develop 17 acres in West Harlem as a satellite campus will go before city officials next week. Now the fight begins.

Many in the neighborhood are worried about the displacement of 160 low-income families and some artists and businesses, as well as the 25-story height of proposed buildings and the type of research Columbia might conduct. While the university says there is no basis for such talk, opponents are stirring up rumors that chemical and biological weapons could be studied.

The rancor is symptomatic of the culture clash that has characterized Columbia University's relations with its neighbors since the 1960s. Critics paint the politically connected university as Goliath, and it's true that the current approval process is stacked in Columbia's favor. But the university's foes will not yield without a fight.

"The moment has arrived," says Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "Columbia's expansion will greatly benefit the city of New York. At the same time, we have an obligation to protect the surrounding community, and that's what this process is all about."

On June 18, the Department of City Planning is scheduled to publish Columbia's application for a zoning change online, certifying it as complete and starting the seven-month land-use review process known as Ulurp.

Community Board 9, Mr. Stringer and the City Planning Commission will review the plan and recommend changes. The City Council will have the final vote.

State's role key

At the same time, Columbia is pursuing a state process to take some properties by eminent domain. A handful of business owners have refused to sell to the university, which has amassed nearly 70% of the land in the project area.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, will have the ultimate say as appointers of the Public Authorities Control Board.

Hired guns are lining up. Columbia, which has paid lobbyists about $1.5 million since 2004, has retained influential African-American lobbyist Bill Lynch.

Lobbyist Richard Lipsky is representing Nicholas Sprayregen, who owns five warehouses in the area and doesn't want to leave. Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel is tracking the eminent domain issues on behalf of a handful of private landowners. And high-profile development attorney Jesse Masyr is representing the principal community organization, the West Harlem Local Development Corp.

Columbia says that its ability to compete for the world's best students and faculty is at stake. It argues that it has fallen behind its peers in space available for academic research, particularly science research. Columbia plans to move its business and arts schools to the West Harlem campus and build a neuroscience research center, as well as a nearby public high school for math, science and engineering. That's all part of the first phase of construction, which could begin as early as next year and be completed by 2015.

The university is less specific about its plans for later phases of the $7 billion project. Robert Kasdin, Columbia's senior executive vice president, says those decisions will be made as university departments outgrow their facilities.

The school's application would permit 18 towers and an underground network six stories deep for tunnels, two power plants, parking areas and loading docks. The target date for completion is 2030.

Community outreach

Opponents say that Columbia is trying to force its project on the community. They want to work with the university to preserve residences, historic buildings, businesses and more than 1,200 jobs.

Ron Shiffman, a planner working on behalf of the community board, says Columbia could make its neighbors happy and still get 85% of what it wants.

State Sen. Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem, says the university doesn't seem to have any interest in compromise. "I don't know if they care, frankly, because they realize they have the upper hand," he says.

For the first time ever, the City Planning Commission — which has scheduled hearings for July 9 and July 23 — will consider two competing plans in Ulurp: Columbia's document and a community vision known as 197A drafted by Mr. Shiffman and other professional planners.

Mr. Kasdin says that conforming to the neighborhood's proposal would accomplish only a third of what Columbia needs. "If it's piecemeal, we won't be able to move a lot of functions underground," he says, adding that open space and a clear passage to the Hudson River would be sacrificed. A piecemeal approach would also undermine their effort to create a campus atmosphere. "We have found that there are intellectual benefits by having students and faculty in close proximity," Mr. Kasdin says.

Sources say that the West Harlem Local Development Corp. might be willing to give Columbia rights to build underground in exchange for some community benefits, such as the relocation of the families and artists who will lose their homes in public housing.

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