Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stringer Votes For Expansion

Stringer Votes For Expansion
By Erin Durkin and Anna Phillips

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and University President Lee Bollinger announced an agreement on Wednesday in which Columbia pledged money for affordable housing and Stringer voted to approve the University’s proposed Manhattanville expansion.

Under the deal, Columbia will create a $20 million affordable housing fund. Details on who will administer the fund, how many housing units it will create, and where they will be located have not yet been worked out.

“I’m hoping that this initial $20 million can be leveraged for a much bigger fund,” Stringer said. He explained that additional money could come from outside sources, and Bollinger suggested that Columbia might offer additional money as part of a Community Benefits Agreement, currently being negotiated with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation.

In addition, Columbia has agreed to use environmentally sustainable construction practices in building its proposed campus, meeting at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design “silver” certification.

The University will also create a new public park at 125th Street and 12th Avenue and pay $30,000 a year for 25 years to maintain it. It will commit $11.25 million over 25 years for the upkeep of the West Harlem Waterfront Park, and will contribute money for playground equipment at I.S. 195, a middle school on 133rd Street, and for grounds improvements at General Grant and Manhattanville Houses.

As a result of the deal, Stringer submitted a favorable recommendation in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the city public review process for the zoning changes Columbia needs before it can go forward with the Manhattanville project. Stringer, who has voiced skepticism about the expansion plan in the past, said at a press conference announcing the agreement that he had been convinced that “Columbia understands the needs, concerns, and fears of the Harlem community.”

The plan now goes before the City Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing next week.

Councilman Robert Jackson, D-West Harlem and Washington Heights, was on hand to support the deal. Jackson will have a formal voice in the process when the ULURP application reaches the City Council. Asked if he would vote to approve it, he said, “It’s not over until it’s over. I support the agreement that has been reached by our borough president.”

Community Board 9 Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc thanked Stringer for “breaking the impasse” in negotiations with Columbia, but said he still had significant concerns about the expansion plan and doubted CB9 would revisit its August vote to reject the plan unless a list of 10 conditions established at that meeting were met.

Among the board’s conditions were demands that Columbia renounce the use of eminent domain to acquire property—something Bollinger again refused to do Wednesday—and call off plans for a seven-story underground “bathtub.” “We stand by our resolution and our 10 points,” Reyes-Montblanc said at the press conference.“It’s a very good beginning, and that’s all it is, a good beginning,” he said of the deal in an interview. “Our concerns are still the same and they have not changed.”

He said that $20 million was “not even a drop” when compared with the community’s housing needs, and that at least $500 million would be required to address them. “That $20 million that he got can be parlayed into a couple hundred million dollars,” he said. “Once you have a bundle of money you can get other people to come in and add a lot more.”

Sarah Martin, president of the General Grant Houses Residents’ Association and a member of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, expressed surprise at seeing her building mentioned in the agreement.

“Why didn’t he [Stringer] ask me what ails Grant Houses, or ask somebody who lives in Grant Houses?” she asked. “If you ask me what I thought was a problem, I would say the elevators, the plumbing, and the entrance doors. Those are the three main problems we have. Surely nobody in this development would have said walkways.”

Martin was equally perplexed that the University would offer to create a housing fund outside of its Community Benefits Agreements with the LDC. According to Martin, discussions about a housing fund were in the works, though the LDC had yet to propose a dollar figure it would find acceptable.

“Why is he [Stringer] trying to make the CBA for us?” she asked. “He should be supporting what we’re trying to do. ... He’s sold this community out,”

Brad Taylor, the president of Friends of Morningside Park, was pleased with the promise of new green space, and generally supported Stringer’s vote to approve Columbia’s plan.

“These contributions to these new parks are all a good development, but I would like to see parity in terms of contributions to historical Harlem parks,” he said. Also, Taylor said he would “like to see that money go into a fund that would be administered by a community-based organization, ... [and] not dumped into a city-wide fund.”

At a public hearing last week in advance of Stringer’s vote, the crowd was split, but a majority of speakers urged the borough president to reject Columbia’s plan, and some cautioned that he would face political repercussions if he approved it. “Politicians, I warn you, this is your litmus test,” Harlem Tenants Council president Nellie Bailey said at the hearing. “If you want to be in office, you’ve got to vote against this plan.”

TAGS: Expansion, Manhattanville, Stringer

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