Monday, September 17, 2007

Stringer’s Office Calls for Changes to M’Ville Expansion Plan


Stringer’s Office Calls for Changes to M’Ville Expansion Plan
By Erin Durkin

A representative for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said Friday night that unless significant modifications were made, Stringer would vote to reject Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville expansion.

Stringer’s recommendation is the next step in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the public review process currently underway for the zoning changes that are necessary before Columbia can build its new campus. He will hold a public hearing on the plan on Wednesday and will submit his recommendations later this month.

“He does not support Columbia’s expansion plan as it is right now,” said Anthony Borelli, Stringer’s director of land use, at a meeting of the Coalition to Preserve Community. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think Columbia could build a new campus in Manhattanville ... We will seek changes to that plan, and if those changes are not possible or are not made, we will not accept this proposal.”

In August, Community Board 9 voted to reject the plan unless Columbia meets a list of 10 demands. The demands include taking eminent domain off the table, building affordable housing, and withdrawing a proposal for a seven story underground structure.

Borelli said that Stringer’s concerns about the expansion plan overlap with but are not limited to the Community Board’s demands. ULURP recommendations made by Stringer, like those of the Community Board, are non-binding, and can be reversed by the City Council.

Columbia officials have signaled that they are willing to make concessions to gain approval for the project. “I anticipate over the coming months concerns that have been raised will be addressed, and a satisfactory outcome will be arrived at,” said Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin.

“Community Board 9 has raised a number of concerns they have and we’re going to try to think through and work through each of those concerns,” Kasdin said. He declined to comment publicly on the specifics of which if any of the board’s 10 demands the University would be willing to meet.

At the CPC meeting, Borelli presented Stringer’s plan for a special zoning district for West Harlem. The plan would rezone an area stretching from 125th to 145th Streets, excluding the footprint of Columbia’s proposed expansion. It would impose limits on building heights, and require developers to provide affordable housing or affordable retail space to build to the highest permissible height.

Borelli said the special district aimed to “preserve the existing physical and social character of West Harlem” and “address the potentially negative secondary impacts that large scale development and other real estate pressures would otherwise have on the community.”

He described the special district as a concrete way of implementing CB9’s 197-a plan, a rubric for the future of development in West Harlem. “The Borough President’s plan is essentially the 197-a plan. The difference is the 197-a plan is just a guide,” he said.

Attendees were generally supportive of Stringer’s plan for a special district, but cautioned that it must not become a quid pro quo in return for Stringer’s support for Columbia’s expansion. The possibility of such a deal was suggested in an article in Crain’s Insider last week.

“We’re going to fight this one way or the other and you’re going to be with us or against us,” said CPC member Tom Kappner in reference to the University’s expansion.Borelli said that there would be no quid pro quo, noting that Stringer’s plan would not undergo the public review process until after the current ULURP is completed.

Erin Durkin can be reached at

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