Monday, November 26, 2007


Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Chairman


Unequal Review

From the outset, CB9 was led to believe that their 197a Plan and Columbia University’s Plan would move in tandem and that the Department of City Planning would help resolve the differences. Despite some diligent work on behalf of the Community and consultants to Columbia University discussions to resolve land use and zoning differences between the two entities were never scheduled. This despite Commissioner Burden’s stated reason for looking at the two plans simultaneously and despite repeated requests from the Community Board to hold such meetings.

Instead the City went beyond what was required to facilitate discussions concerning the development of a Community Benefits Agreement. The CBA is recommended in the plan but ONLY to focus on the mitigation of the adverse impacts generated by a mutually agreed upon plan, NOT to negotiate land use and zoning issues. However, DCP did not facilitate any land use discussions between CB9 and CU, and EDC, who has facilitated the CBA process, has stepped in as the City agency with which Columbia is negotiating its land use recommendations.

Scenarios based on the 197a Alternative and other development scenarios proposed by the Commissioners themselves were developed with the DCP staff. However despite repeated requests, CB9 and/or its technical representatives never participated in the discussions concerning how these alternatives were interpreted, designed and evaluated by Columbia University and DCP. As a result these alternatives were rejected by the applicant and their arguments presented as “fact’ to the Commission.

The assessments by the “applicant” were often distorted and misleading and developed to solely promote their original proposals.

o CU under-estimated the amounts of academic and research space that could be built upon.

o CU downplayed the beneficial environmental implications of the alternatives proposed by the 197a plan [e.g., less trucking, less excavation, dispersal of traffic, fewer street closing, etc].

o CU vastly exaggerated and/or concocted negatives about the proposed alternatives. [e.g., increased number of curb cuts, moving unsightly service functions from below grade to above grade].

o CB9 was not provided a forum or a mechanism to correct these distortions except to comment on them after the fact and after their presentation to the commission.
Columbia University specified what their need was over a 30 year period and that set of assumptions was never questioned and the 197a alternative was always measured against those unchallenged set of assumptions. However, when the Commission based on their set of aesthetic values chose to reduce the amount of academic and research space they did so, and Columbia acceded to their request.

197-a Plan Alternative to accommodate Columbia University’s proposal

· The Commission believes that the 197-a Plan “does not set forth a comprehensive plan that would integrate Columbia’s long-term growth into the urban fabric in a manner consistent with City objectives”. We believe that Columbia University’s action is an “urban renewal”, thus it does not intend to integrate into the urban fabric but remove the neighborhood to “create” a new urban fabric. Keeping only the street layout does not constitute keeping with the urban fabric.

· The Commission didn’t support the 197-a Plan Alternative on the basis that the plan would result in an “irregular pattern of development with less open space and an inferior public and pedestrian environment that that achievable under the integrated campus proposed by Columbia and that it would accommodate only a portion of Columbia’s proposed program”. We believe that what the Commission calls “irregular” is more in accordance with existing character of the neighborhood. The 197-a Plan never intended to accommodate Columbia University’s entire program, only what it could be developed within its properties.

· According to the FEIS, the 197-a plan alternative would allow Columbia to develop 50% to 53% of its proposed expansion. However, assumptions were never articulated with CB9 to determine the most efficient outcome. Again, the 197-a plan was not intended to accommodate CU’s entire program, only what it could be developed within its property.

· The Commission favors the construction of the Central Below Grade Services Area as support space for Columbia’s program, including truck loading and downloading, parking, central mechanical systems and other support activities. We believe that CB9's proposed alternative to build interconnected, below-grade facilities, as was done at Rockefeller Center, is a viable and safer alternative to the construction of the "bathtub”.

· The academic and research space that could be developed under CB9's 197-a Plan revised scenarios was far greater than described in Columbia’s analysis, the number of curb cuts deemed necessary were inflated and the environmental benefits of our approach were never adequately evaluated.

· CB9 made substantial revisions to the 197-a plan to facilitate greater amount of community facilities and accommodate Columbia’s needs:
o Adjusted the boundary line between Subdistricts 1 and 2 to enlarge the area (Subdistrict 2)
o Eliminated the requirement for manufacturing use on the lower stories
o Allowed for greater flexibility with respect to certain proposed height and setback requirements, principally along the side streets

However, despite these accommodations Columbia University continued to reject any alternative to its original plan. The difference being that the CB9 wanted to establish a “Mixed-use, Mixed Ownership Predominantly Academic Area” while Columbia wanted to create a Mixed-use Academic Community under its sole ownership.

Use of Eminent Domain

· CB9 supports Commissioner Cantor’s on the Commission’s comments on eminent domain, which dismisses the existence of other long-established businesses, whose property value would be determined by Columbia’s, as it would be granted in stages, according to Columbia’s expansion needs alone. This is an unfair treatment of valuable community actors and businesses.

Housing/Inclusionary Zoning

· The Commission did not endorse the 197-a plan’s recommendation for Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning since it is not consistent with city policy. However, it doesn’t recommend the use of the existing voluntary IZ program within the Manhattanville Special District, although it does for other locations in West Harlem.

· Seeking to provide more affordable housing units, the existing voluntary IZ program should be used on Subdistrict C, proposed to be rezoned to C6-2, and not owned by Columbia, and Other Area Broadway, proposed to be rezoned to R8A with a C1-4 overlay, in which one of the two lots is owned by Columbia.

· According to the Commission report, “Columbia will establish a $20 million [in two installments one in about 10 years] to develop or preserve affordable housing within CD 9”. This fund is insufficient because discounted to its present value this will accommodate at best 80 families based on subsidies necessary to house CB9 residents, unless money is diverted from other districts of the city. To get to the number used in their FEIS of 1000 units generated we assume that they are relying on leveraging these kinds of resources from other city and state funding sources and using 160% of AMI for the region, in essence making any of those units unaffordable to CB9 residents.

The Underground Structure / Bathtub

· To date, Columbia has not outlined or disclosed what the environmental, economic and social costs of the construction of the “bath tub” would be on the community.

o Without this information we cannot assess the potential environmental damage and cost to the public nor can we assess what mitigation measures we need to implement.
o Under the present scenario, none of the impacts will be considered until after the land use and zoning action become policy and law, and the use of eminent domain and the shadow it will cast on development in the area will have been approved and allowed to move forward. This violates the spirit and intent of the ULURP and environmental review processes.

· The technical capacity of the consultants working with Columbia University to carry out the geotechnical /foundation work was never an issue. The concern is that the work has not yet been undertaken and that the information necessary to evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of the yet to be developed “bath tub” proposals is not available to be used in making an informed decision about the proposed rezoning action. In essence, the applicant is asking for an environmental blank check, which we believe constitutes a violation of their public responsibilities.

· Despite the Commission comments on Flooding and Earthquake Risk, we continue to be concerned that the EIS for the Columbia University expansion was not referred to either the NYC or NYS Office of emergency Management since both entities have designated the area in which the bath tub is to be built as environmentally sensitive.

Manufacturing Uses and Creative and Sustainable Industries

· The Department continues to be behind the times and does not yet envision the implications of PlaNYC2030 and its potential to launch the “next ‘urban’ industrial revolution.” Need for green products and achieving goals of PlaNYC2030 will help fuel the need for space to produce those products and a green collar work force for both construction and production jobs.

Community Benefits

· The City Planning Commission notes that “a CBA is a valuable tool for non-land Use issues.” However, the Commission neglects to say that the community strongly states that a CBA should not be used to facilitate the concept of “land-use or zoning for sale.”

Urban Design and Open Space

· The Commission does not support the 197-a Plan recommendation to facilitate the closure of Marginal Street; however it does support the construction of new ramps to the Henry Hudson Parkway. The plan specifically recommends studying the potential for relocating and realigning the parkway on- and off-ramps at 133rd Street to facilitate the closure of Marginal Street. This was omitted from the comments.

· The Commission does not support the creation of a park on the triangular property bounded by West 125th and West 129th streets and Broadway because it is a private property and pursuing this acquisition would represent a significant commitment of City resources. However, one half of that site (one lot) is owned by Columbia, thus changes to the program location should not be a problem.

Historic Preservation

· The Commission accepts the demolition of the Sheffield Farms Stable as an unavoidable significant adverse impact. This historic building does not belong to Columbia but to a long-established business incubator that provides local jobs. The Commission lacks of action would lead to a taking of this property under eminent domain and we reject for two reasons: one this historic building is part of Manhattanville’s industrial past and should be preserved, and second, the use of eminent domain is unfair (see above) and should not be allowed.

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