Thursday, December 20, 2007

City Council OKs Columbia's move into West Harlem

From: "Ruth Eisenberg"
To: "Jordi Reyes-Montblanc"
Subject: AP coverage
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2007 09:34:22 -0500
City Council clears way for Columbia University expansion
8:42 PM EST, December 19, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) _ The City Council voted Wednesday to allow Columbia University's much-debated expansion into West Harlem, where it plans to establish new laboratories, housing and other facilities.

In a 35-5 vote, with six members abstaining, the council lifted the last significant hurdle in the rezoning of an area that currently holds a mix of apartments, warehouses, auto repair shops and small factories, many of which would be razed under the university's plan.

Opponents have claimed that the university is being insensitive to the history of the community and that the project will displace poor, minority families that have long struggled to earn a living there.

But university officials maintain the project is essential if the cramped school is to remain competitive with other top institutions. It currently has half the space of Harvard University and a third that of Princeton and Yale.

"We have arrived at a significant turning point on the matter of space for the university to grow together with our communities," university president Lee Bollinger said in a statement. "The long-term opportunities for Columbia and the people who live and work in our community and our city are barely imaginable to us at this early moment."

Critics promised continued opposition to the plan.

"We're going to stop it in the streets," said Ruth Eisenberg, a member of opposition group Coalition to Preserve Community. "As the outrage of the community becomes more obvious, it's going to be very hard to go forward."

The university's $7 billion plan calls for new buildings for the arts, business and science and a public high school on 17 acres north of the existing upper Manhattan campus. Forceful objections to the program drove the school to temper some of its more ambitious projects, reducing the height of 26- and 24-story buildings by as much as half.

The school has said it would bolster affordable housing in the community as part of its plan. In September, it agreed to donate $20 million to an affordable-housing fund and spend at least $12 million on public parks and playgrounds.

It remains unclear whether Columbia will attempt to use eminent domain to secure commercial properties owned by people who have refused to sell. The school already owns about three-quarters of the property in the area.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.,0,4809526.story

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