Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boos for Dinkins Last Night in Harlem

Posted to Real Estate

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boos for Dinkins Last Night in Harlem

Seems Columbia's Manhattanville expansion is just riling more people up. A torrent of community protest rocked West Harlem last night when hundreds of protesters showed up at Manhattan Community Board 9’s public hearing on Columbia University’s proposed 197-C rezoning and academic mixed use development plan. The board voted against the university’s measure 17-to-1, saying that it could not accept the school’s proposal unless if it makes 10 changes to the plan.

The meeting, held at 530 West 133rd Street, lasted well into the night, wrapping up at 11:30 p.m. According to CB9 chairman, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the “community loudly, rudely and disrespectfully declared their independence from the Harlem political establishment.”

Former Mayor David Dinkins, who has said he supports the school’s expansion into West Harlem and its use of eminent domain to obtain commercial space, was booed when he spoke in favor of the plan. And community residents were riled when a busload of union members and residents from Central and East Harlem area came to the meeting. Several altercations occurred between protestors and supporters, Reyes said.

“Columbia University made a big mistake,” Reyes-Montblanc said. “They brought in union reps and a busload of people from all of the areas of Harlem who are in some sort of program run by or influenced by Mr. Lynch. Most of these people didn’t know what was going on or what they were doing.”

Lynch is the Columbia’s paid consultant working who has been working on gathering vocal supporters of the school’s plan. Kevin Wardally, director of political and government operations at Bill Lynch and Associates, said that the group absolutely did not bus anybody in to the meeting.

“I’ve been in places where we’ve bused people in before,” he said. “But we didn’t have to do that. We have a lot of people who are in support of this project. A lot of people see how people who support Columbia’s plan are being treated and didn’t want to put themselves through that themselves.”

Wardally said that the organization had organized the Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville, whose members include Harlem residents, small business owners, laborers and religious leaders in support of Columbia’s expansion. He also said that the group has reached out for labor union support.

“Leadership asked them to be there,” he said of the people who were quoted as saying they did not know why they were at the meeting. “Sure, they asked people to come, but we didn’t bus anybody in.”

Wardally said that the coalition supports Columbia’s plan because it will bring jobs to the area. Vivian Lu, a class of 2010 Columbia College student, attended the meeting. She said that the meeting was made melee by both opponents and proponents of the plan. Lu said that she and at least 100 other attendees were locked out of the meeting by police. Other reports have put the number closer to 50.

“Columbia had it coming for them this whole time by excluding the community on every step of the way,” she wrote in an email. “I truly don’t think either side was listening to each other, but most importantly, Columbia clearly wasn't listening to the community.”LaVerna Fountain, assistant vice president for public affairs at Columbia, was not available for comment.

Last night’s board rejection is non-binding, but bolsters the board’s assertion that the West Harlem community does not support the school’s proposed expansion in the form the way it now exists. The next step for the community is a general report meeting of the community board, where members will concurrently another 197-A plan and ULURP, as well as 197-C plan for Columbia. On Sept. 19, the group will reconvene to vote on Borough president Scott Stringer’s 197-C proposal.

Posted by Carla Zanoni at 2:02 PM

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