Thursday, March 27, 2008

Columbia ULURP Challenged

As the NY Sun is reporting this morning, Harlem landowner (and our client) Nick Sprayregen is challenging the city's faulty environmental review process that allowed the city council to approve the expansion of Columbia University into West Harlem. In particular, Sprayregen, who is holding a news conference this morning, is attacking the failure of the city to realistically evaluate the dangers surrounding the Columbia "bathtub," the contiguous development west of Broadway.

Here's Sprayregen's take from an editorial he's written on the subject: "Last December, the New York City Council voted to approve Columbia’s plan for a new 17 acre campus in the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. I believe that in regard to the bathtub, the city did not take the required “hard look” when it approved the overall expansion. As such, the city is in violation of laws, rules, regulations and executive orders. Not to mention common sense. I am deeply concerned that if construction is allowed to proceed without proper independent review, a disaster may someday occur."

The lawsuit would force the city and the university back to the drawing board, an eventuality that CU spokeswoman La-Verna Fontaine appears to be nonplussed about: “We are confident that the extended public land use and environmental review processes were rigorous and comprehensive.”

Perhaps so, but given what we've seen about the collusion between developers and environmental consultants (and Columbia's own use of some double dipping flim flam artists known as AKRF), its not beyond a reasonable doubt that improper shortcuts were taken in this rush to get the expansion approved. The legal action only underscores the extent to which the university faces a determined opponent-and makes it more incumbent for Columbia to work hard at negotiating with Sprayregen once the swap plan is presented.

Given the difficult economic times for developers, further obstacles are certainly not needed. The current climate, when combined with Sprayregen's determined pique, should be a great incentive for the demonstration of flexibility and good faith up at the Morningside campus. We'll see.