Friday, October 05, 2007

New York City Planners Weigh Columbia University Expansion

Updated: New York, Oct 05 17:50

New York City Planners Weigh Columbia University Expansion
By Henry Goldman

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Columbia University officials and neighborhood groups offered competing visions for the future of Harlem as they debated the school's $7 billion expansion plan before New York City's Planning Commission.

The university has proposed a special zoning district, saying it needs to add about 17 acres to its 36-acre Manhattan campus in the next 30 years. The project involves an area from 129th to 133rd streets and between Broadway and 12th Avenue, northwest of the existing campus.

``What we're trying to do is find the space to be a great university for the next several generations,'' Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin told the commission.

Manhattan Community Board 9 rejected the Columbia plan last month and instead offered its own proposal, which calls for university expansion while at the same time including a mix of residential, retail and light manufacturing uses in the area. Several neighborhood representatives at the hearing opposed the university's use of eminent domain to take over property owned by longtime landlords.

``Under Columbia's plan they own it, they police it, they operate it and they let people in based on their say-so,'' said Ron Schiffman, a planner and director of the Brooklyn-based Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, hired by the local community board.

``Right now, there's a lot of diversity and embryonic businesses and we don't want to lose these,'' Schiffman said.

City Council Review

The planning commission has until Nov. 26 to decide whether to endorse either the Columbia or the community board plans or recommend a third option to the City Council. The council will have 50 days to review the recommendation.

Some 1,400 families would be displaced by the expansion, Schiffman said in an interview. An agreement between the university and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to contribute $20 million into a fund to help fund affordable housing ``wouldn't come close to making whole the numbers of people who will be forced out,'' he said.

Columbia brochures describe the university's plan as a ``new kind of urban academic campus woven into the fabric of the surrounding community.'' The plan contemplates building almost 7 million square feet of space for a new business school, neuro- science laboratory, auditoriums, art studios and galleries and underground parking. It promises street-level restaurants and stores open to the public and better access to a strip of park land along the Hudson River.
University Description

The university describes the development area as currently ``a largely isolated, underutilized streetscape of garage openings, empty ground floors, roll-down metal gates and chain- link fences.''

Kasdin said the expansion would create 6,000 jobs, and he promised the university would be a good neighbor, permitting the public to traverse the roads through the campus, unlike portions of the existing campus, which is gated.

``All roads will remain open except when construction is done,'' Kasdin said. ``We also know that creating 6,000 jobs with benefits will put pressure on housing in the area, but we accept the premise that we have an obligation to try.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York City Hall at . Last Updated: October 3, 2007 16:40 EDT

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