Wednesday, December 19, 2007

City Council Approves Columbia's M'Ville Rezoning

City Council Approves Columbia's M'Ville Rezoning
By Daniel Amzallag

The New York City Council voted in favor of Columbia’s proposed 197-c rezoning plan and Community Board 9’s 197-a plan in a stated meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The Council vote—on modifications of both plans done by the City Planning Commission—is the penultimate step in the rezoning process which Columbia must undergo before beginning construction in Manhattanville. If the Council approves the proposal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will have a chance to veto it, though he has expressed support for the expansion.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn expressed support for the Columbia plan, which was approved by a vote of 35-5-6. “It’s a rezoning that in addition to solidifying New York as one of the higher educational capitals of the world, it is also a rezoning that will facilitate the creation of 6,000 additional and permanent jobs in our city,” she said.

During much of the Council meeting, members of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a local anti-expansion group, waved images of money in the air from the balconies in protest. After the vote had been announced, the balcony was cleared due to shouts and disruptions, such as, "You're clearing us out but you're clearing out West Harlem!" and "You will never represent this city!"

At meetings earlier in the day, three Council committees approved the plans before approval by the entire Council. Members of the Zoning & Franchises, Land Use, and Planning, Dispositions, & Concessions Committees raised concerns of eminent domain, the vote’s timing, and the transparency of the process. There had been confusion among anti-expansion activists as well as some Council members as to whether the vote would take place today, as many expected it to take place in mid-January, closer to the legal deadline for the Council vote.

“Nobody’s private property in this city is safe,” Councilman Tony Avella, D-Queens, said, receiving applause. “Anytime a developer or a private institution with political influence comes along, nobody is safe.” Avella, who is chair of the Zoning & Franchises Committee, voted against Columbia’s proposed rezoning.

“I think they’re rushing through the vote so they can give Columbia a Christmas present,” said Councilman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, who also voted against the 197-c plan.

Barron made a motion, which was ultimately was not approved, for the vote to be delayed until the Jan. 15 deadline in order to “have more time for the community to engage in the process,” he said. Councilman Robert Jackson, D-Manhattanville, spoke out against Barron's motion, citing last week’s public hearing as evidence of the community’s participation in the process.
But Jackson and Councilwoman Inez Dickens, D-Morningside Heights, pointed to years of consultations with local community boards to refute charges that the process has been rushed.
“Whether we agree or disagree with whatever came out of those presentations, it can never be said that the process was unfair and did not allow for the public to have a say so,” Dickens said.
The hearing was delayed almost three hours, which Cynthia Doty, a member of the CPC, attributed to the ongoing negotiations of a community benefits agreement. A tentative CBA valued at $150 million was announced last night.

As the committee hearing began, the CPC held a brief rally outside City Hall. “What we’re seeing is the worst kind of undemocratic unparticipatory process that you can imagine,” Tom DeMott, CC '80 and leader of the CPC, said.

“This vote today is one of political expediency for the purpose of her mayoral bid,” Nellie Bailey, president of the Harlem Tenants Council, said of Quinn.

Quinn addressed accusations of scheduling the vote for political gains in a press conference following the committee vote, calling them “absurd statement[s],” and stating that it is the Land Use Committee’s duty to vote in favor of the interests of the neighborhoods at hand.

Please continue to check for news updates during the winter break.

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