Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Columbia Changes Its Tune

Tonight CB#9 will meet to discuss the Columbia University expansion plan. All indications point to a fairly unanimous objection to the full scope of the university's proposal. What is emerging, however, is a changed perspective on the part of Columbia, a change that has been spurred by criticism (from this quarter in particular) that that its plan not only doesn't include any affordable housing, but that the plan's impact would displace thousands of low-income tenants.

As the NY Sun reports this morning; "Columbia is working with elected officials and community groups to forge an agreement that is likely to include a commitment by the university to fund the creation of affordable housing..." As the paper goes on to observe, this "represents a change from late last year," and, as Columbia spokesman Robert Kasdin told the Sun, "'There's a clear commitment by Columbia to address affordable housing'..."

The devil, as they say, is in the details here, since the CB is still upset by a number of other of the plan's features-particularly the university's use of eminent domain. Which does lead the door open, however, to a compromise with the area's largest property owner, Nick Sprayregen. Sprayregen has been developing (with our assistance) a plan to swap property with Columbia in order to create affordable housing while at the same time preserving Nick's own ownership rights.

So far, Columbia has not been very amenable to the discussion here, seemingly preferring to engage in a scurrilous campaign to demonize Sprayregen. We're confident that once the housing plan and swap become public, the negotiating dynamic will shift. There's still room for compromise, but that depends on the exercise of good faith. Let's see if the supply hasn't been squandered.