Thursday, August 16, 2007

Panel Rejects Columbia’s Expansion Plan

August 16, 2007, 2:09 pm

Panel Rejects Columbia’s Expansion Plan
By Sewell Chan

An rendering of the Greene Center, a
new building by the architect Renzo
Piano, which was part of Columbia’s
expansion plan.
(Image: Columbia University)

After a five-hour hearing on Wednesday — a meeting so contentious that at one point, former Mayor David N. Dinkins was heckled — the land-use committee of Community Board 9 in Manhattan voted resoundingly to oppose Columbia University’s expansion plan unless a number of conditions were first met, including the construction of low-income housing and certain environmental measures.

The vote was not entirely a surprise; the community board had already proposed its own plan for the future of the Manhattanville neighborhood of Harlem. The Columbia Daily Spectator, which has been closely following the meeting, quoted a university official, Robert Kasdin, describing the decision as “a vote to negotiate,” and not an outright rejection.

The Times has been following the Columbia developments. Last November, Timothy Williams explored the important issues in the debate, and in July, Trymaine Lee examined the concerns of neighborhood residents and business owners who fear being displaced by the university’s northward expansion.

Columbia has been working hard, with mixed results, to build support within the community. On Wednesday, several residents and business owners announced the creation of a Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville, a group that says it agrees with elements of both Columbia’s plan and the community board’s. The coalition includes the Rev. Reginald Williams of the Charity Baptist Church of Christ and Hazel N. Dukes, an official in the N.A.A.C.P.’s New York State chapter. Columbia and the coalition have hired Bill Lynch, a prominent lobbyist who was a deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration, and a public relations company headed by Ken Sunshine to help build support for the expansion. (Columbia has devoted a Web site to defending its expansion plan.)

Mr. Dinkins, who teaches at Columbia’s school of international and public affairs, wrote an essay in The Times in May defending the expansion.

It was not clear from the meeting that those efforts have had much effect. The Spectator reported that 22 people testified in favor of the expansion plan, and 73 against. WNYC reported that the police had to turn people away because the auditorium at the Manhattanville Houses Community Center was at capacity.

The full community board is scheduled to vote on the plan on Monday. The community board’s votes are advisory and not binding, but are an important element in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp, which accompanies major changes in zoning.

There are signs that some on the community board are trying to reach a compromise. The Spectator quoted the community board’s chairman, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, as saying, “The community must get over its suspicion and dread of the Columbia expansion and Columbia must overcome the feelings that they know better what is good for West Harlem and our people.”

1 comment:

Bob Feldman 68 said...

Columbia University has also paid over $2 million since 2004 to the corporate law and lobbying firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel to lobby on behalf of Columbia's special interests before "targets" such as New York City's Planning Commission. In 2004, Columbia paid Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel $900,000 to lobby on its behalf. In 2005, Columbia then paid this law firm an additional $258,906 to lobby for Columbia; and, in 2006, $518,000 more was paid by Columbia to Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel to lobby local and state government agencies for Columbia. Yet another $226,443 lobbying contract was given to this same law firm by tax-exempt Columbia during the first six months of 2007, according to the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying's data.

One fo the partners involved in the Land Use practice division in the Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel law firm that lobbies for Columbia, Gary Tarnoff, apparently once worked in the NYC Corporation Counsel's office as a former Deputy Chief of the Administrative Law Division who advised the NYC Mayor's Office on "and luse, zone and regulatory matters"