Columbia University’s and CB9’s plans approved

Last minute effort to delay vote until disclosure of community benefit package was defeated. On December 19, 2007, the City Council voted to approve Columbia University’s and Manhattan Community Board 9’s development plans for West Harlem after the Planning Commission modified both plans the month before. The approval clears the way for Columbia to move forward with its campus expansion into the traditionally industrial neighborhood of Manhattanville.

Columbia’s plan called for a Special Manhattanville Mixed-Use District, stretching from West 125th to West 135th Streets, between Broadway and the Hudson River. Within the district, Columbia proposed to construct a 17-acre campus with a contiguous below-grade facility, or “bathtub,” to house facility support functions. If Columbia is unable to purchase all necessary property for the bathtub, then the Empire State Development Corporation would acquire it by eminent domain on Columbia’s behalf. 4 CityLand 154 (Nov. 15, 2007). The Commission modified and approved Columbia’s plan, limiting the height of certain campus facilities, and requiring more university housing and certain open space specifications. 4 CityLand 171 (Dec. 2007).

Board 9’s plan proposed to encourage new light industrial uses and mandate affordable housing in the area. The Commission modified Board 9’s plan, allowing for more mixed-use in the area and requiring incentives, rather than mandates, for affordable housing. 4 CityLand 171 (Dec. 2007).

At the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises public hearing, Council Members focused their attention on the Columbia plan. Council Members Robert Jackson and Inez Dickens, both of whom represent affected constituents, supported Columbia’s plan. Jackson argued that it would generate “hundreds of millions of dollars” for the community, while Dickens saw it as a way to help the area’s small businesses. Chair Tony Avella, however, expressed his discomfort with the eminent domain portion of the plan. Avella also voiced his concern over the vote’s timing, feeling that the Council was moving too fast on such an important issue. Despite Avella’s sole vote in opposition, the subcommittee approved both plans, sending them on to the Land Use Committee.

At the Land Use Committee, Council Member Charles Barron made a motion to delay the committee’s vote, arguing that Council Members were not informed of the vote until the night before. Barron then, along with Council Members Vincent Ignizio, Letitia James, Lewis Fidler and Tony Avella, raised concerns over the use of eminent domain. Barron’s motion was voted down, however, and the committee approved both plans. The full Council followed suit later that day, approving Columbia’s plan with only five votes in opposition. The Council voted for Board 9’s plan, meanwhile, unanimously and without controversy.

Council: Columbia University/Special Manhattanville District (Dec. 19, 2007); Community Board 9 Manhattan 197-a Plan (Dec. 19, 2007).


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