Tuesday, November 27, 2007

CPC Plans, and God Laughs

As expected, the City Planning Commission voted yesterday to approve the expansion of Columbia University into West Harlem. The Commission, whose majority is controlled by the mayor, faithfully did what it was told to do-and did so without any recognition of the potential negative impact that expansion would have on existing businesses or residents.

Keep in mind that the EIS determined that up to 5,000 local residents were in danger of either direct or indirect displacement; yet nothing in the Commission's "modification" addresses this salient issue, or indicates how and where these folks are going to find affordable housing. Some planning!

Yet, it must be said, that CPC did as much as could be expected from an agency without any scope of independent action; and don't forget all of the wonderful landscaping that Commissioner Burden has included-not really comprehending the irony of providing landscaping for an area that will witness the displacement of people from their homes and businesses from their locations. You know, you may be forced out, but think of all the pretty trees that will take your place. There's a reason we call Amanda "New York's Burden."

At the same time, we were surprised by the fortitude of our old friend Karen Phillips, the one dissenting Commission voice. As the NY Daily News reports: "Only Commissioner Karen Phillips voted against the expansion, citing concerns that it could cause "economic, cultural and social damage" to the surrounding area." What Phillips went on to say was that the real contribution that CU's expansion will bring should not been done at the expense of the local community.

The local did come out and forcefully express their displeasure at the whole exercise in faux democracy. As the NY Post reports: "Dozens of Harlem residents shouted their opposition to the development during the meeting. One opponent, Tom DeMott, threw fistfuls of green paper he called "Bollinger Dollars," in reference to university President Lee Bollinger. Another, Nellie Bailey, called Columbia's expansion "a plan to dismantle and restructure Harlem. You are driving blacks, Latinos and working-class whites out of Harlem."

The Commission did, however, do one substantive change to the Columbia scheme. It knocked out the large academic buildings that CU had planned for the East Side of Broadway. Here's the Post's take: "Columbia's plan won the key approval only after the commission made several changes, including replacing two research buildings on Broadway with university housing and lowering the height of both buildings. "The commission has been particularly concerned that the proposed concentration of six academic research buildings fronting along Broadway would potentially diminish the ability to create a vibrant and active corridor," said Amanda Burden, director of city planning."

How interesting! That's exactly the area that has been proposed for the land swap between CU and property owner Nick Sprayregen-and CPC designates it for "university housing." A better idea is, of course, housing for locals and not just student transients-something that is central to the Sprayregen swap. We simply can't get over the Commission's callous disregard of the housing issue. Well, we guess that's what happens when you turn a planning agency over to New York's version of Lady Bird Johnson.

But, as the Spectator reports this morning, housing is in the picture-just not for local residents: "Columbia also announced on Monday that it would build nearly 1,000 housing units for employees, in an effort to offset the increased demand for housing that the expansion will generate. In addition, the University agreed to contribute $4 million to legal-aid services for Manhattanville tenants, including protection from unlawful harassment or eviction."

So, once again, Columbia looks to take care of its own, and the heck with any one else. All of which means that it will be up to the City Council to craft a better compromise, a road that has been paved by the Commission's passage of both the CU plan as well as the community board's 197-a plan. As the City Room blog pointed out yesterday: "The plan now goes to the City Council, which is expected to modify it before giving final approval."