Thursday, November 01, 2007

BP Rejects Rezoning Plan

BP Rejects Rezoning Plan
By Betsy Morais

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer rejected the rezoning proposal of Tuck-it-Away storage company owner Nick Sprayregen on Wednesday.

Stringer, who has already endorsed Columbia’s opposing plan to rezone the area of Manhattanville where it wishes to expand, made his decision after a thirty-day period prescribed by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

If approved, the 197-c plan set forth by Sprayregen, the largest private property owner within Columbia’s proposed expansion zone, would change the zoning on his properties, which are currently designated for manufacturing, to allow taller buildings and residential and commercial uses.

Stringer passed on his recommendation to the City Planning Commission, saying in a press release, “This proposal uses zoning mechanisms that are illegal and intended to benefit only Mr. Sprayregen while the surrounding community benefits little. The future of this neighborhood is too important to be bogged down by self-serving, untenable proposals like this one.” No word of the vote was sent to Sprayregen himself, who heard the news from a reporter.

According to Stringer, Sprayregen’s plan is illegal because it entails spot-zoning—a practice intended to benefit a single property owner while in violation of sound community planning principles.

“I don’t appreciate that,” Sprayregen said of Stringer’s comments “He’s hiding behind a misinterpretation of what spot-zoning really means because of a personal vendetta.”

Community Board 9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, said, “I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if it’s illegal or not. And I don’t think the borough president is a lawyer either.”

Reyes-Montblanc added that Stringer’s feelings about Sprayregen’s proposal “exquisitely expressed” his own views—but about Columbia’s expansion plan.

“If there’s anyone who should be calling anyone’s activity illegal it should be Mr. Sprayregen and his family,” CB9 member Vicky Gholson said. “They have been victimized.”

Yet CB9 also rejected Sprayregen’s plan by a close vote in September, citing the fact that Sprayregen has not made firm commitments on how much of the housing he builds will be affordable, and asking for changes to be made.

Stringer’s criticisms of Sprayregen’s application also included its inadequate community planning and lack of permanent affordable housing.

Tom DeMott of the Coalition to Preserve Community, which has fought against Columbia’s expansion, defended Sprayregen’s housing ideas and said the plan is “consistent with an organic way of developing the community instead of Columbia’s all or nothing eminent domain approach.”

“This is a conscious political decision,” DeMott added in reference to Stringer’s vote.Sprayregen echoed this sentiment, saying that he finds the rejection of his proposal “very disappointing, but not surprising given how the borough president has just sold out the community.”

“I have no problem with Columbia expanding into our community. I welcome them. But they do not need to resort to eminent domain,” Sprayregen said. “It’s like teaching a child you don’t get everything.”

Sprayregen’s zoning application will go before the City Planning Commission for a public hearing in two weeks.

Also Wednesday, Columbia faced the City Planning Commission for a hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for its Manhattanville plan.

Director of City Planning Ray Gastil gave a Powerpoint presentation on land use and environmental review of Columbia’s zoning proposal.

The hypothetical EIS alternative Gastil offered would achieve a maximum of 65 percent of Columbia’s project aims, with five academic research buildings rather than the proposed seven.
Gastil’s scenario omitted business school space. Many of the commissioners’ questions had to do with Columbia’s plan to build a “bathtub” or below-grade structure under the campus. Gastil’s proposal, unlike Columbia’s, included an only partial “bathtub.”

Irwin Cantor was the most vocal member of the commission. “Everything you’re talking about, you’re telling me it’s not practical. You didn’t tell me anything yet is impossible,” Cantor said about Manhattanville Capital Projects Vice President Philip Pitruzzello’s comments on the logistics of adhering to the EIS. “The issue is money.”

Betsy Morais can be reached at

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