Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Columbia Deal

We'll be posting on this more as the parameters of the deal that the City Council has struck become clearer. What has amused us, however, is the extent to which every council member that we spoke to this morning had simply no idea about what was in this deal. Not only that, given the unseemly haste with which the council moved this deal-the fastest we've ever seen a huge project like this go forward, it appears that the West Harlem LDC was left breathless.

As the Spectator reports this morning, "Although community advisory groups will form to direct the LDC as part of the agreement, local resident and LDC member Maritta Dunn said a more detailed agreement could have been reached were it not for the possibility of a Wednesday Council vote. “We’re not all pleased,” Dunn said. “We consider it a starting point to move forward. …We really feel that a lot more could have been done and handled differently.” Indeed, and the fate of the property owners could have been brought into the negotiations if council leadership had even a soupcon of concern for the rights of property ownership.

We're awaiting the details of the deal, and the amount of money that the university will be pledging for affordable housing. As the Observer has reported the LDC, " trying to finalize beforehand a set of pledges for the school to make on issues such as affordable housing, education and job training."

This is crucial because it will impact the negotiations between property owner Sprayregen our client in the battle, and the university. As we said at the hearing last week, it does no one any good if Columbia's housing pledge cannot be implemented because there's no identified space to build. We remind everyone that the EIS has stated that the expansion will put between 3,000 and 5,000 residents at risk of displacement. We're wondering how the city council deal will address this issue, or if it will even bother.


As Liz is reporting, City Hall has announced a deal on the Columbia expansion that is the epitome of vacuity. Reporters we have talked to are shaking their heads trying to figure out what has actually been negotiated-although Crain's is reporting that, "Despite community opposition, the university has completed the land-use approval process with most of its plan intact, making only a few concessions. If that's the case, and we're by no means certain that it is, than what to make of the Speaker's comments in the release?-"After working with Columbia University, Community Board 9, community advocates and local elected officials, we've come up with a plan that will both preserve and improve areas of West Harlem," said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn."

What community activists is she referring to? The drug addicts who were bused in to the hearings because there was no real grass roots support for the plan? And what about the displacement issue? Nothing in the vacuous release gives us even a hint. But, as Crain's goes on to report, the political process now shifts to the state where the issue of eminent domain will come front and center: "Next, the university must submit a general project plan to the Empire State Development Corp., which has the final say over whether properties can be taken by eminent domain, against an owner's will. However, that may not be necessary. The three business owners who were refusing to sell to Columbia resumed talks with the university last Friday."

Perhaps their right; but the ED issue should have been front and center in the council's truncated negotiation, since property rights are as much a community benefit as anything else. It now appears as if no one's property is safe as long as the City Council is in session.