Protestors Decry Timing of Environmental Impact Statement
At City Hall, Activists Say Summer Release Shows 'Lack of Respect'
By Josh Hirschland
Issue date: 6/1/07 Section: News
Two dozen West Harlem activists and community leaders converged on the steps of City Hall on Friday to protest the timing of the anticipated certification of Columbia's Environmental Impact Statement for its expansion into Manhattanville.
The certification by the City Planning Commission, expected on Monday, will begin the seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, during which Community Board 9 will have 60 days to review the EIS before taking a vote on whether to approve Columbia's proposed zoning changes. Members of the Community Board have objected to the timing of the certification as it conflicts with CB9's office relocation and its summer hiatus, during which many members go on vacation.
Council Member Robert Jackson, D-West Harlem, said that he had called Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Amanda Burden, head of the city planning coalition, and University President Lee Bollinger to ask them to delay the certification and that the officials had taken such a postponement "under consideration."
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, chair of CB9, called on the City Council to consider legislation that would make it illegal to begin the ULURP process during the summer hiatus. "We will do what we have to do. However, it [the timing] shows a total lack of respect for the local community board," he said, calling the expected timing of the certification "unfair, unconscionable, ... and totally disenfranchising."
Attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing several Manhattanville business owners that have refused to sell to Columbia, said that the timing of the certification seemed like a conspiracy to keep the public from being involved in the process.
"There is a right and there is a wrong. This is wrong," he said. "You don't do it [begin ULURP] during the summer unless your agenda is to push the process through."
In a unique arrangement, the city will take Columbia's plan for expansion under consideration at the same time that it reviews CB9's 197-a plan, an alternate proposal that provides an often-conflicting rubric for development in Manhattanville. Tom DeMott, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, said that this situation placed "a double burden on the community and the community board" and called the timing of the certification "a recipe for disaster ... [that] will not allow community residents to defend the community."
"The future of our community is at stake. ... They're trying to railroad this through. They're trying to railroad this community," said Rev. Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, calling on Bloomberg and Burden to "put the brakes on."
"It's a sham if the public can't fully participate in the process," Kooperkamp added.