Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Columbia gets approval for West Harlem expansion

Columbia gets approval for West Harlem expansion
November 27, 2007

Columbia University's controversial plan to expand into west Harlem got the go-ahead yesterday during a raucous meeting before a crowd of hostile protesters.
The City Planning Commission approved Columbia's construction of an arts, business and science campus on 17 acres in Manhattanville that the university maintains it needs to stay competitive, but some community groups insist will drive out longtime, lower-income residents and businesses. Although the university has acquired most of the properties in the project's footprint, it hasn't ruled out using eminent domain to acquire the rest.

"[The plan] represents a vision for the future of Manhattanville that meets the shared objectives of addressing the needs of an institution of major importance to the city while building on the strengths of the neighborhood and providing for new investment, jobs and public open space," said Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden.
Ten of the 12 commissioners voted to approve Columbia's plan, with one abstention.
The protesters represented a cross-section of preservationists, affordable housing advocates and neighborhood activists, who accused Columbia and the commissioners of, among other things, trying to drive the working class out of the city, abusing eminent domain and building science labs to experiment on human as guinea pigs. "The record of this commission is that their allegiance is only to other wealthy people," said architectural historian Michael Henry Adams, who harangued the commissioners with chants of "rich, rich, rich" throughout much of the meeting. "I guess the rest of us can just go to hell and die."
The meeting was delayed several minutes when protesters refused to move from the aisles of the meeting room despite warnings from the police. The protesters chanted "Harlem not for sale," and sang 1960s-style protest songs.
Plan supporters blamed a few agenda-driven malcontents for stirring up the neighborhood."Change is always difficult," said the Rev. Reginald Williams of the Manhattanville Coalition, a group that supports Columbia's plan. "They are trying to play on people's fears. It's the record versus the rhetoric."
The plan now goes to the City Council, which will hold hearings early next month, and is expected to approve the plans with some modifications.
Opponents of the plan vowed to press ahead."We will not be moved because we do not have any place to go," said Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. "A mosaic of this city is represented in west Harlem. We cannot lose that."

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