Tuesday, September 04, 2007

CB9 Rejects Manhattanville Rezoning

CB9 Rejects Manhattanville Rezoning
By Anna Phillips

For Columbia’s proposed expansion into West Harlem—and its many foes and allies—this summer proved crucial as the plan began to wind its way through the city’s review process.

The summer culminated in a vote by Community Board 9 to reject the zoning changes required for the project to go forward.

In early June, as West Harlem’s Community Board 9 was preparing to go on summer hiatus, the Department of City Planning certified Columbia’s application to rezone Manhattanville, as well as CB9’s own plan for the area, known as a 197-a.

Together, the two plans entered the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)—a seven-month process by which various city agencies will eventually review the plans, offer suggestions, and vote on them. The plans are going through ULURP concurrently, “in order to ensure equal consideration of the two plans,” Jennifer Torres, Department of City Planning spokeswoman, said.

Immediately following DCP’s certification of both plans, the agency released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), a several thousand-page document detailing the effects of the Columbia’s proposed project on West Harlem neighborhoods.

The DEIS lays out Columbia’s rezoning plans in great detail, chronicling the three phases of the 25-year plan and describing which facilities will be built and when their construction will occur.

It examines the effects of rezoning on the physical environment and the character of the neighborhood, citing changes in waste, energy, congestion, air quality, and socioeconomic conditions, and looks at each of these factors as they were in 2006 and as they would be in 2015 and 2030, both with and without the expansion plan. The document also looks at how “significant adverse impacts” can be mitigated or avoided, and what alternatives Columbia has considered along the way to developing the current proposal.

Perhaps most striking is the document’s discussion of the area’s changing socioeconomic conditions, as many of Manhattanville’s current residents will either be directly or indirectly displaced—through methods such as rising rents and costs of living.

The DEIS says that about 291 residents would be directly displaced between 2015 and 2030, but says that this number is small enough that it would not adversely affect the neighborhood’s character. It gives the same treatment to the 85 businesses that would be directly displaced—though it says 880 jobs would be lost, the DEIS states that these businesses are not of “substantial economic value.”

But the document does note adverse effects that would occur from indirect or secondary displacement brought on by rising rents. It says that 3,293 residents could be indirectly displaced by the plan, a number that only contains people living in the “primary study area,” which is within a quarter-mile radius of the expansion zone.

The displacement numbers the document offers, and the judgments it makes about what kinds of businesses are of value, have drawn criticism from community members opposed to the plan. But despite the DEIS’s importance—and perhaps because of its sheer size and impermeability—it has not played a central role in the summer’s events.

In the past few months, far more emphasis has been placed on the public review process, as CB9 has voted on its own 197-a plan and on Columbia’s 197-c plan. Both of these meetings—held in the Manhattanville Houses Community Center, but on different days—lasted far into the night and drew hundreds of West Harlem community members, and media attention from all over the city. The meetings also provided a chaotic battlefield for opponents of the University’s plan to voice their disapproval. And voice they did—at the meeting during which CB9’s ULURP committee voted against the 197-c, former Mayor David Dinkins was booed and yelled at until he left the microphone. University President Lee Bollinger got similar treatment.

Providing some support for Columbia was a new organization called the Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville. This group, composed of spiritual leaders, construction companies, and others who feel they and their neighbors would benefit from Columbia’s expansion, was created by Bill Lynch Associates, a consulting firm that Columbia hired in April 2006 to encourage more vocal support from people in West Harlem.

CB9’s several meetings yielded nearly unanimous votes in favor of its own plan and against Columbia’s plan. These votes are advisory and nonbinding. But the language used in the proposal to vote down Columbia’s plan was not entirely damning. In the final meeting of the summer, CB9 members voted against the plan unless Columbia would agree to comply with ten stipulations—among them, that Columbia take eminent domain off the table for business owners, and include green construction and affordable housing in its plan.

“It’s not a vote against [the plan]. It’s a vote to negotiate,” Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin said at the time.

In his comments for the record, CB9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said that both sides would have to give on certain issues and compromise was desirable. “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,” he said.

Bollinger said in an interview that he hopes the ten concerns raised by the Community Board are brought up at meetings that are currently being held to draft a community benefits agreement.

“We have to really take this focus and try to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement,” Bollinger said. “It’s always better to have a unanimous vote in your favor,” he added, noting he still feels confident the plan will move forward because of the support it has from state officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

With CB9’s vote, Columbia’s plan for Manhattanville and the 197-a have passed through the first step of the ULURP process. They now move on to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Stringer will hold public hearings on both plans at the Manhattanville Houses Community Center on Sept. 19.

TAGS: Manhattanville, Rezoning, ULURP


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