Thursday, August 23, 2007

Harlem Says No

New York

Harlem Says No
Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 8/23/2007

s expected, on Monday evening, Community Board 9 overwhelmingly rejected
Columbia University’s plan by a vote of 32 to one, including a “no” vote from Jordi
Reyes-Montblanc, the board’s chair, who planned to abstain. The vote supports the
board’s land use committee that opposed the plan 17 to one early last week.

If the sound of the protestors and their passionate testimonials last Thursday at a
public hearing are a barometer, then Columbia University’s plan to develop 17 acres
of land in West Harlem is in serious trouble.

But officials at Columbia, including its president, Lee Bollinger, and former Mayor
David Dinkins, both of whom were loudly booed by a capacity crowd at the
Manhattanville Community Center, didn’t need to host a meeting with the community
residents to gauge their feelings. That rejection has been a constant one ever since
the university made its purposes known.

At the crux of the university’s proposal is the acquisition of a large chunk of
Manhattanville from 125th Street to 133rd Street, mainly west of Broadway, to be the
site of biotech research labs, classrooms, residences and other university-related

The signs from the noisy protestors said it all: “West Harlem is not for sale!” “Down
with Eminent Domain!”

Eminent domain gives the government legal power to take private property for public

And it was this rejection that was voiced by speaker after speaker who marched to
the microphone to praise Bollinger’s stance supporting affirmative action when he
was the president of the University of Michigan, but denouncing his plan that several
characterized as “land grabs.”

“This is nothing but an invasion, a stealing of the land from the people,” said the Rev.
James Manning.

Of course, Bollinger sees the situation from another vantage point. The plan, he said,
“would strengthen links with our neighbors in Upper Manhattan. World-class
academic research and teaching in Manhattanville would add to the intellectual
capital that helps make New York City an international center of business, finance,
and ideas and innovation.”

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, who lives in Hamilton Heights and is the chair of Community
Board 9, refused to speak until his supporters quieted, and then rather than wasting
time discussing the university’s plan, offered one that had been agreed on by
hundreds of community residents. “The threat of eminent domain must be removed,”
he said. His plan, 197-a, was a reflection of the community, he continued. And the
crowd cheered when he announced that the plan had been discussed and developed
by residents of the community.

Reyes-Montblanc appeared somewhat conciliatory, suggesting a need for neither
side to be inflexible, that there might yet be some bargaining room. Both the board
and the university are in agreement, it seems, on the designated geographic area
and the retail plans, but beyond these points, there are many differences.

Whenever a speaker favored the plan, such as Professor Lionel McIntyre, a highly
respected urban planner at Columbia University, the protestors’ screams made his
words inaudible. Their cry of rejection even made it difficult for Dinkins to offer his
rationale for supporting the plan.

“I am here because I believe in this project,” Dinkins said during a quiet lull. “The
reason you are able to protest so loudly now is because I fought for you way back
then.” That further hushed them.

Dinkins believes the plan will be beneficial to the area, providing up to 6,000 new
university jobs with reliable health, educational and retirement benefits. The plan
(which in effect is 197-c) promises, on average, 1,200 construction-related jobs per
year for the next 25 years. Proposed is enhanced public arts and culture venues;

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