Sunday, January 21, 2007

Columbia's Tarnished Gem

In today's NY Daily News the paper's Errol Louis takes Columbia University to task for its, "my way or the highway" approach to the development of West Harlem. Louis, a big supporter of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, makes it clear that the attempt to steamroll property owners, like storage company owner Nick Sprayregen, is simply unnecessary.

As Louis points out, "In fact, it's not necessary for Columbia to strong-arm anybody. As developer Bruce Ratner proved with Atlantic Yards, an early round of talks with legitimate long-standing community leaders can calm fears and serve as an important gesture of good faith towards local residents." What this means is that, "Columbia should be engaged in active dialogue with Sprayregen..."

Instead, the university, along with the city planning department, is moving ahead to certify the Columbia expansion plan-initiating the hot-house Ulurp process atmosphere- before any real dialogue with the locals has taken place. "That means that neighborhood people will only have about nine months to arrive at whatever deal they can..."

On top of this, of course, is the fact that the Columbia plan does not include any affordable housing component, and instead will evict hundreds of current low-income tenants. The negotiations over a community benefits agreement need to be done prior to certification so that the full scope of the plan's benefits are understood and fully digested before the clock is started on ULURP.

If not, than the whole process becomes a bum's rush and ultimately, just as with the BTM deal in the Bronx, a charade. It's time for some of the local elected officials to step up top the plate and create the proper climate for negotiation.