To: "Jordi Reyes-Montblanc"
Subject: for distribution
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 21:21:03 -0500
November 26, 2007, 3:03 pm
Planning Panel Approves Columbia Expansion
By Charles V. Bagli
A map showing Columbia University’s expansion plan. Click to enlarge.
After a tumultuous and bitter meeting replete with persistent heckling, the New York City Planning Commission voted this afternoon to approve Columbia University’s much-debated plan for a 17-acre campus expansion in Harlem. The plan now goes to the City Council, which is expected to modify it before giving final approval.
The commission’s decision marks an important step — though not the final one — in the often difficult process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp.
Of the 12 commission members (there is one vacancy) at a special public meeting [pdf] today, 10 voted in favor of the university’s expansion. One other, Irwin Cantor, who represents the Queens borough president, abstained, saying he did so because the plan contained provisions that would allow the university to press the government to use eminent domain to acquire land for the expansion. Another member, Karen A. Phillips, who represents the city’s public advocate and has been influential in Harlem as a former president of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, voted no. www.cb9m.org/197a_plan.php" community-initiated rezoning proposal known as a Section 197a document — that had been put forward by Community Board 9.
The differences between the Section 197a document and the Columbia University plan will have to be resolved, but Amanda M. Burden, the chairwoman of the planning commission, said in a statement [pdf] that she did not think those differences were great.
A majority of people who crammed into the commission’s meeting room in Lower Manhattan did not appear to agree. Many booed or hissed throughout the meeting. Critics have asserted that the scale, density and design of the project would overwhelm the neighborhood in Harlem, an area that has already been subject to rapid gentrification and rising real estate values.
Columbia completed a draft environmental impact statement for the project in June, but the criticism had begun much earlier. The university intends to build new academic and residential buildings, including space for its arts and business schools and advanced scientific research labs.
Columbia has defended the plan as necessary and promised not to seek the use of eminent domain to make people leave their homes. (The university has left open the possibility of having the state use eminent domain to acquire nonresidential property.)
But Columbia’s assurances have not had their intended effect. The expansion plan was sharply criticized at a public hearing last month and was one focus of a student hunger strike earlier this month. As part of the real estate boom, colleges and universities have been erecting new buildings around the city, straining town-gown relations.
Sewell Chan contributed reporting.
19 comments so far...
1. November 26th,20073:42 pm
Very sad. The end of Harlem as we know. 125th a residential area?? Heartbreaking.
— Posted by Grace
2. November 26th,20074:00 pm
People will always find a way to whine about something. Enlarging one of the most prestigious universities in the world will only help NYC.
— Posted by Dave
3. November 26th,20074:05 pm
This sounds crazy. I mean really, is there really any more room for anything to be expanded in NYC? I think the only way to expand from now is UP. I don’t even want to imagine how this is going to affect the residents nearby…
— Posted by Megatron
4. November 26th,20074:10 pm
The Ivy Weed of Manhattan
Why does Columbia need to covet Manhattan why not branch out move your arts school to queens, the bronx or brooklyn there are plenty of derelict areas that need rehab in those boroughs. Many universities in Urban environments have branch campuses much like your med school is seperate from your main campus. There are some prime areas off the Harlem river in the Bronx that could be used for your research labs. Manhattan is squeezed as it and just because you want to expand close to home doesn’t mean you should force everyone else out. Go somewhere where there is nothing and make something of it. Wasn’t that Columbia’s goal when it was founded? Do not take from your neighbors find a new community to enrich.
— Posted by Col. Klink
5. November 26th,20074:23 pm
This is very good news for Harlem and New York City. The 17 acres Columbia wants to develop have been underutilized for decades. The new Manhattanville will be an asset to Harlem, and Harlem will benefit from the jobs and spending that will be created at almost no cost in residential displacement–there are less than 150 plus apts/residential units in the Columbia zone, and Columbia will relocate their occupants. In addition Columbia has made and will be making more development concessions that will benefit the community.
Congratulations to the planning commission on taking the long view and not bowing to the hecklers.
— Posted by Observer
6. November 26th,20074:32 pm
Grace, stop misleading people, the area isn’t Central Harlem. Opponents like yourself paint it as Central Harlem to mislead the public. It’s a largely empty area of warehouses and parking lots. Nobody will be displaced because rents are already very high in the surrounding community, and the poor folks are all in rent controlled or public housing.
Poor people living in Manhattan in 2007 do not pay market rate, and therefore cannot be displaced by an upsurge in property values. If you value decay and decline, please move to Detroit.
— Posted by Alex
7. November 26th,20074:34 pm
This area is run down and in dire need of development. Columbia’s plan will provide a much needed change to the area. Those detractors who boo and hiss do not have a better plan for the area. The 197a is status quo of what’s currently there. Let’s move on from this and stop this frivolous argument, this is a warehousing, dilapitated area.
— Posted by cole
8. November 26th,20074:37 pm
I fully invite any of the knee-jerk anti-expansion folks to stroll around the area between 125th and 135th on Broadway. I used to work up there several years ago (when I was a Columbia undergrad) and it’s pretty derelict. Columbia already owns most of the buildings and the land, and frankly, there isn’t much up there worth saving. The last few hold-outs have been preventing positive improvement for years now.
Does Columbia need to provide for any small businesses that will be impacted? Yes. Should Columbia ensure some provisions for lower-income housing in their plans? Absolutely.
Was this area so great that anyone else was trying to improve — nay, even save it as it is? Not so much.
— Posted by Katherine
9. November 26th,20074:38 pm
People are always so afraid of change. A great Ivy League institution, giving New York so much prestige needs room to grow. Visit the area we are talking about. The area is not occupied by apartments or many businesses but by abandoned, gargabe ridden, ignored lots which no body cared about for years. They have the chance to convert it to a terrific area which will not only serve the needs of the university, but the neighborhood as well and be a proud addition to the city of New York.
— Posted by Doron
10. November 26th,20074:57 pm
I live in Manhattanville, directly on the boarder of the proposed new Columbia development, and I’ve lived there almost my entire life, beginning in 1958. I’d like to make several (admittedly contradictory) observations:
1) Descriptions of the development area as vibrant, supplying neighborhood people with jobs, are ridiculous. For many years that area has been an economic disaster zone.
2) On the other hand, perhaps Columbia has been in significant part responsible for the lack of development. Has Columbia been using its position as the predominant landlord in the area to prevent meaningful development? If so, should it now be able to take advantage of a situation it created? I haven’t seen much written on this.
3) Regarding eminent domain, Columbia has pledged not to use it to displace residents (of which there are few anyway, despite claims to the contrary).
I believe the commercial landowners are using fear of eminent domain to hold Columbia hostage for the purpose of boosting their eventual sale price. I can’t understand why the “community” is backing this.
4) As a neighborhood resident, I’m honestly torn about whether to support the Columbia plan. I do believe in the Jane Jacobs ideal of mixed use and diversity, and that clearly is not what Columbia has in mind. Leasing some ground floor space to stores is an improvement on how their current campus is constructed, but that doesn’t create neighborhood diversity of the variety that Jane Jacobs was talking about. On the other hand, if Columbia is prevented from following through on its current plan, the fight will be protracted.
Waiting another 20 or 30 years for this and for alternate development to occur is not an attractive alternative. Perhaps Columbia’s plan, while not ideal, is the best we can do. In any case, it would be nice to have some balanced discussion on the topic rather than the Columbia hatred v. total disregard for the concerns of the community that seems to dominate posts on this topic.
— Posted by Kerwin
11. November 26th,20075:00 pm
I live in the neighborhood of Columbia University’s proposed expansion. I invite anyone to walk, jog or bicycle through the area; drivers can slow down a bit as they head to the northbound entrance to the West Side Highway (or to Fairway) and take in what they see. Much of the proposed development area is parking lot, vacant, or abandoned buildings.
There are some small businesses dotted through the area, that is true, but there will be compensation for them — there must be — under the plan. What the Columbia development promises is a coordinated development that will create a thriving community where there is none now. Far from a deterrent or repellent, this will, I think attract a range of people — students, teachers, support staff — to an under-used part of Manhattan. This will benefit and grow the community, not attack or undermine it.
Preserving the past and present, and respect for existing business and homes, must always be factored into development decisions like these. Here, I think the balance tips decisively in Columbia University’s favor.
— Posted by William
12. November 26th,20075:24 pm
It’s the eminent domain abuse. Period.
Unless of course you don’t think the Constituion and fundamental rights matter.
— Posted by Nancy
13. November 26th,20075:26 pm
#11 (William): For the record, it’s not the West Side Highway, it’s the Henry Hudson Parkway. Which makes most of those billboards in violation of the city law prohibiting billboards within 900 feet of any park or parkway.
— Posted by Hilary
14. November 26th,20075:26 pm
Col. Klink - No, it was not Columbia’s plan when it was founded to develop neighborhoods (please read up on Columbia’s history, if you’re interested). That cant be the primary goal of any University, in fact. In reality, there is nothing good to be said about Columbia developing some derelict areas in, say, Brooklyn or whereever else you suggested. That would impose an unreasonable strain on students and faculty having to commute between the old and new campuses.
— Posted by Oliver
15. November 26th,20075:38 pm
I think it is great that Columbia’s expansion plan went through the committee. I have been following this for a while and Columbia is taking into consideration the needs of the people who live in that area.
But my concern is: are the buildings being planned going to be ‘green’?
Everybody, not just Columbia, should be ashamed of themselves if this is not a consideration in the design and building of the new structures.Ruth Beazer
— Posted by Ruth Beazer
16. November 26th,20076:42 pm
Congrats to Columbia. I actually walked the length of 125 Street from St. Nicholas Ave to Riverside Drive on Friday night, and the Manhattanville part of 125th is still quite depressed in comparison to Central Harlem. It’s a good thing that many people’s vision of the future is not mini-storage and tire repair shops. The neighborhood will additionally benefit from cleanup of decades of oil spills and who-knows-what other toxic substances in the area.
— Posted by Steven M.
17. November 26th,20077:52 pm
If Columbia wants to expand, expand up. One of the comments said that “it will only help NYC”– who in NYC? the small percentage New Yorkers who are students at the college? Its unfair to residents who have are in that community, and next thing you know, with the transformation will come pricier stores and chains, along with even less of a neighborhood feel. It is one thing to clean up and restore an area, but to have Columbia expand on an island that is only so big. When priorities are set it is the university’s that will come first, and the people second.
— Posted by Shaboudaquay
18. November 26th,20078:16 pm
There is some great commentary on this at http://www.thenydirt.com/
— Posted by TheNYDirt
19. November 26th,20079:17 pm
Hoooray! What a great deal for Harlem. We have been waiting years for this. This is the best thing to happen to our area in years. It will benefit not only Harlem, but NYC, and not the World. Why? Because of research finding a cure for cancer over the cancer causing carcinogens found in the exhaust of the auto repair plants which now exist in the area. columbia is a world renowned university that will bring lots of jobs to the area and are offering scholarships to our children. Who would these complainers rather have develop the area? Trump?
I hope the City Council takes the plan as is since it benefits everyone in the end.
Lets do this thing!
— Posted by HarlemResident