Friday, December 21, 2007

Sprayregen's No Custer

In this morning's NY Times, the paper focuses on the last remaining property owners who are holding out against the university's expansion. Nick Sprayregen, Anne Whitman and company are portrayed as the Last of the Mohicans, with a little bit of General Custer as well.

What the paper's missing, is that these holdouts pose a real threat, and if good faith bargaining isn't going to take place, Columbia's plans are gonna be put into a delaying pattern that will frustrate all of the folks who're looking to get to work on the expansion. As Whitman says; “No way Columbia is going to steal this property right out from underneath me,” Ms. Whitman said in August 2006. “Remember that man who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square? That’s me.”

Sprayregen feels the same: "He has vowed that he will spend as much money as it takes to keep the university from getting his property via eminent domain. On one of his buildings hangs a giant banner, reading “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse!” that is visible to riders on the No. 1 subway line through Harlem. “This isn’t about money, I’m fighting them over principle — I strongly believe the use of eminent domain here is wrong,” said Mr. Sprayregen, who said he has finished 20 marathons but has stopped running in order to devote more time to battling the university. “I have the strong desire — and the financial ability — to take this all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said."

It really behooves everyone involved to get real negotiations going-and our conversations with all of the key local officials indicates that this will happen soon; with even ESDC apparently interested in avoiding a widely publicized and messy legal battle. As Sprayregen told the Times: "In recent weeks, Mr. Sprayregen said, he has talked with the university about trading his buildings inside the expansion zone for university property outside the zone. Columbia would not comment on Thursday about those discussions."

While it's unfortunate that property rights aren't of much concern to the City Council leadership, the impediment that these intrepid folks pose to the city's vision of progress is the incentive that will generate the kind of dialogue that can only lead to a win for all involved. In the end, we believe the city and Columbia will deal, and the folks of West Harlem just might get a measure of equity as a result.

That being said, the Columbia ED fight will be seen as a tempest in a tea pot when compared to the battle over Willets Point; where over 200 businesses and thousands of immigrant workers are at risk. As the NY Daily News points out this morning: "The battle over Columbia University's expansion plan has ended in the City Council. But the bigger war over eminent domain may be just getting started."

Which is going to put Christine Quinn directly in the spotlight, as she continues her metamorphosis from community activist to, well we're not really sure. As she told the News: "Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) offered that eminent domain "should be used carefully and cautiously, and it should only by used when there is an overriding greater good in the interest of the city." What we do know, is that there's a certain townhouse on 79th Street that will never face the ED bulldozer.