Monday, November 26, 2007

Planning Commission To Vote on Columbia Plan

Planning Commission To Vote on Columbia Plan
Staff Reporter of the Sun

November 26, 2007

When the city's planning commission votes today on Columbia University's plan to build on 17 acres in West Harlem, it is expected to sidestep the question of what role eminent domain could play in the project.

The $6 billion plan's footprint currently includes some land occupied by gas stations and storage facilities that Columbia has been unable to purchase. In all, four companies or individuals have not sold their property to the university.

How, or whether, Columbia will obtain the title to those properties remains unclear. It has pledged not to ask the state to invoke eminent domain to evict tenants living in residential apartments nearby, but it has not made such a promise to the commercial property owners.

But eminent domain is not proving a sticking point with the city's planning commission, which is made up of appointees of Mayor Bloomberg and will likely approve Columbia's plan at today's hearing. In remarks earlier this month, the chairwoman of the planning commission, Amanda Burden, said the role of eminent domain should be left up to the Empire State Development Corporation, which is controlled by Governor Spitzer.

One lawyer opposing the plan is criticizing the planning commission's seeming unwillingness to stake out a position on whether eminent domain should be used to benefit Columbia University, a private institution.

"They should find out whether eminent domain will be an aspect of this," the lawyer, Norman Siegel, said. "But they're reluctant to enter into the fray about the merits of eminent domain both on the Columbia plan and in general. So they're punting to the state."

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