Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Honest Brokering the Columbia Expansion

The final scoping document that was released yesterday was conducted by the folks at AKRF. This firm is what amounts to eminence when it comes to environmental review in this town. As far as we're concerned, however, they are no more than the usual suspects. They can be depended on to short shrift a meaningful analysis of the negative consequences of any development project.

We clearly remember the role the firm played in the fated attempt by Mayor Giuliani to open a mega store flood gate in the city. Their analysis was so pro forma that it led you to wonder whether the firm had actually done any of the requisite work at all. All of their so-called evaluation of big box proliferation seemed cribbed from a compilation of the work that the firm had done on previous mega-store projects all over the city. And it was fatally flawed and deficient.

In the current Columbia scope there is one key variable that needs to be thoroughly and honestly evaluated-the issue of "indirect displacement" of local residents. This is the issue that prompted BP Stringer to issue his re-zoning proposal last month. On page 38 of the scope AKRF outlines the issue: "The objective of the indirect residential displacement analysis is to determine if the Proposed Action would increase property values and thus rents throughout the study area, making it difficult for existing residents to afford their housing."

The issue is crucial because Columbia not only refrains from proposing any new housing for one of the largest underdeveloped Manhattan parcels, but the university also proposes evicting scores of low income tenants. In addition, the zoning that the university is advancing would make any residential building all but impossible. Given these variables, the fact that the expansion might also lead to the displacement of untold numbers of local tenants would seem to make this entire proposal antithetical to any conceived local interest.

One last key point. If indirect displacement is a distinct possibility then how can any conscientious elected official be satisfied with AKRF as the evaluator? This issue is too important to be left to the firm that has shilled on behalf of developers for the past two decades. It is imperative that an honest broker be brought in to analyze the residential displacement issue. Maybe Jesse Masyr is available?