Monday night, members of Community Board 9's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure committee voted unanimously to endorse the board's 197-a plan-a plan for its district that provides standards for development and protects the area from the use of eminent domain.
Over 400 CB9 members, West Harlem business owners and residents, Columbia students, and locally elected officials crowded into the community center of the Manhattanville public houses to express their support of the plan at the public hearing. One by one, 50 people took the microphone and expressed distrust of and disdain for Columbia's expansion plans, while extolling the virtues of the 197-a. Common themes surfaced as speaker after speaker called the plan "responsible," "democratic," and "moral."
Many noted that the 197-a would both preserve West Harlem's character, while allowing for significant and inevitable growth. Of those who spoke, all were in favor of the plan.
"The process by which we forged it took everybody's needs and interests into account," said Tom Kappner of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a group that has assiduously fought Columbia's proposed expansion. Tom DeMott, another CPC member, agreed. The 197-a "wasn't hatched downtown in a corporate office. It wasn't hatched in an ivory tower; it came out of the community."
This inclusiveness may be why the plan took so long to create.
For over a decade, CB9 members and the Pratt Institute have been working on the 197-a plan, which was approved for the ULURP process on June 18th. It is being considered concurrently with Columbia's 197-c plan. If adopted by the City Council and the City Planning Commission, the 197-a plan would not provide for new development--rather, it would create a set of land-use guidelines that developers would have to meet. The plan calls for new developments to be "greener," an idea that finds easy favor among people living and working in an area with high asthma rates.
The plan mandates that 50 percent of all new housing units by set aside as affordable for people who already live in the community-a number lower than the city's calculations of what qualifies as affordable.
The 197-a plan also calls for mixed-use zoning and protects residents from primary and secondary displacement from new developments. But, as Joan Levine, the co-chair of the Morningside Heights Sanitation Coalition said, "the bedrock of the plan is that it would not support the use of eminent domain," which Columbia has said it may ask the state to use to acquire property within its expansion zone.
While many expressed personal approval of the plan, others urged locally elected officials to testify in favor of it. State Senator Bill Perkins, D-Harlem, gave his support of the plan a slight flare by delivering it in the third person. Though he was invited to speak, Councilman Robert Jackson, D-Washington Heights/West Harlem, declined.
Even without a heavy presence of elected officials, those present soon became self-congratulatory and were visibly delighted by the unanimous support.
"Our community knows what it needs, all it needs now is for the city to make it happen," said Mario Mazzoni, a West Harlem resident.
Luis Tejada, executive director of the Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center, agreed. "Get out Columbia," he said. "We don't need a plan other than the 197-a."
The full community board is expected to vote on both the 197-a and Columbia's rezoning plan in mid August.
Also Monday, University President Lee Bollinger and architect Renzo Piano formally presented their expansion plans to the City Planning Commission. On Thursday, Columbia will hold a community meeting to answer questions about its plans.
Picture courtesy of Michael Palma Photographer to the Stars