Friday, July 13, 2007

Columbia Rules Out Evictions in Expansion Plan


Columbia Rules Out Evictions in Expansion Plan

Published: July 13, 2007

Columbia University announced yesterday that it would not ask the state to use eminent domain to evict residents of 132 apartments in the 17-acre area of Harlem that it wants to move into.

The announcement, covering all the remaining residents in the area, suggests that the university, which is seeking the city’s support for a major northward expansion of its Morningside Heights campus, is trying to be conciliatory.

The move, nonetheless, goes only part of the way to address the concerns of opponents of the expansion plan, including Community Board 9. It has proposed an alternative to the university’s proposal that emphasizes building more low-cost housing and retaining the area’s light industry.
Councilman Robert Jackson, the Manhattan Democrat who represents the area, said the university and the community board had about seven more months to reach an agreement or the Council would act one way or another on the rezoning plan. Four business owners are insisting they are not going anywhere, he said.

“I’ve said to people, ‘I don’t want to vote on this particular matter down the road,’ ” Mr. Jackson said. “Someone is not going to be happy. In the next few months we have to work hard and reach a consensus.”

In a statement, Columbia said its executive vice president, Robert Kasdin, did not eliminate the possibility that the university might ask the state to invoke eminent domain to acquire the few commercial properties that remain in the proposed expansion area.

But in most cases, Columbia said, the university will seek to buy both residential and commercial property from the owners on mutually agreeable terms. The university already owns about 60 percent of the properties in the 17-acre site, Victoria Benitez, a Columbia spokeswoman, said.

The 17-acre area includes four large blocks from West 129th to 133rd Streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue, along with the north side of 125th Street, and three properties east of Broadway, from West 131st to 134th Street. The area is not densely populated, having a handful of low-rise residential buildings next to commercial and light industrial buildings.
Columbia, which completed a draft environmental impact statement last month, has said it needs the expansion to remain competitive in science research.

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