Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bogart Starring at Columbia Pictures

It now appears that the City Planning Commission, unless there is some last minute intervention, will certify Columbia University's land use application at its June 4th meeting. This precipitous move, coming as it does before there has been any meaningful negotiations between Columbia and the community, has already begun to spark controversy.

In strongly worded letters, both CB#9 and the West Harlem LDC (formed to negotiate with the university), asked Planning Chair Burden to put off certification because, in the words of Board Chair J. Reyes-Montblanc, "It will be a great disservice to the Community, the Administration and Columbia University to issue such certification and referral during the month of June. The consequences of such an inadvisable action by DCP are dangerously enormous and may even involve public disturbance, this is how serious the situation could be." (emphasis added)

The LDC gets it just right when it tells CPC's Burden that certification this Monday, "will offend the essence of the ULURP process which is designed to seek community comment and involvement." The action also exposes the sham nature of these negotiations, proceeding along the lines of first getting the approval and then tossing the community as meager bone when it's under no pressure to really accomodate the local needs.

Apparently Columbia doesn't care, and is looking to use its political muscle (Bill Lynch?) to bogart the concerns of the community. This steamrolling prospect is in sharp contrast to the comparable expansion efforts launched by Harvard and UPenn. Quite simply, there is very little in the current Columbia plan that addresses the local need for housing, or its worries over the process of gentrification.

As this post is being written, it appears that the CB and Coalition for Community Preservation (the other CPC) is planning to do a press conference down at City Hall tomorrow, an event that could certainly get raucous. This just might be the kind of galvanizing issue that will mobilize the already considerable community opposition to the CU expansion. Columbia's hubris, and the city's need to accommodate the university, might yet lead to unexpected negative consequences for the landlord of Morningside Heights.