Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Columbia Ubber Alles

The final EIS for Columbia's expansion plan has been released and as expected, the university has no plans to do anything positive for the surrounding neighborhoods that they are encroaching upon. So a project that contains 6.8 million gross square feet, give or take a few million, will have no affordable housing component or any retail development that is consistent with the needs of the existing community.

But the university will, if necessary, move to seize property from the existing owners, "in stages based on Columbia's reasonably anticipated needs for such property as the Mixed-Use Area is developed." Under the proposed plan, Columbia seeks to "revitalize" an area that its consultants characterize as underutilized, not of course taking into consideration the fact that an aggressive re-zoning of the area could easily prompt a vibrant development of the 18 acres without any noblesse oblige help from the university.

What this all means is that the certification of this project will soon be forthcoming, and we still haven't heard nary a peep from some of the area's most influential public officials. The only one really weighing in on the plan is BP Stringer, who has proposed an new zoning response to mitigate the inevitable gentrification tsunami that Columbia's expansion will generate. The plan itself, however, appears to be sacrosanct.

We have been working with Nick Sprayregen, the area's largest property owner, to devise a modification of the university's proposal-a revision that hopefully will be unveiled shortly. What the modification will highlight, is the extent to which the Columbia plan is a danger to anyone of modest means who lives within shouting distance of the plan's footprint (and many who live further away than the immediate surrounding neighborhoods).

In addition, the modification will underscore the fact that the local owners do not see themselves as obstructionists, but rather welcome the expansion of the university in a manner that includes their participation in the revitalization of the community that they have invested so much blood, sweat and tears in. It will, in fact, be a co-development plan, one that seeks to preserve what's good in the current footprint, and include some important community requisites that Columbia's hubris has explicitly excluded.

The gauntlet that will then be thrown down to the area's elected officials. It will devolve from the issue of representation: "Who are you representing, Columbia or the community?" In the mind of the university this is a false dichotomy. The university's neighbors have a different mindset.