‘Only the Sleaziest of Projects’—Harlem Protests Columbia’s Expansion Timetable

Finally! It seems that Columbia University, after talking about its Manhattanville expansion for almost five years now, has got its act together and is taking the plunge. The land-use review process is expected to begin as soon as Monday, which means that in seven months the City Council will vote it up or down--no ifs, ands or buts. The community board is none too happy about the timetable though, since it means that the first part of the review, when it gets to weigh in with its two cents, will take place during the summer, when people are likely to be on vacation.   

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the community board chairman, put it this way in an e-mail to the board’s members last night:

It is completely unseemly and it should be illegal, and probably is, to force a [land-use review] during a period of time well known to create an almost impossible situation for proper community review. It is only the sleaziest of projects that are actually pushed during such periods in order to by-pass and neutralize the community boards.

He called for a protest tomorrow morning at City Hall.  
Even the more mild-mannered West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a body that includes on its boards representatives from elected officials, sent a letter to Planning Director Amanda Burden stating that the timetable “will offend the essence” of the land-use review process.    

A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, which will oversee the process and which has been going back and forth with the university for a long time now over the draft environmental impact statement, confirmed that the application could be certified as soon as Monday. At the same time, the department will also review a rezoning plan submitted by the community board that would prohibit eminent domain—which would most likely be required for Columbia’s plan—and preserve manufacturing and warehousing uses.

“Final review of application-related materials is underway, and once it is determined they are complete, we anticipate beginning the public review of these applications,” the spokeswoman, Rachaele Raynoff, said in an e-mail. The land-use review process, she added, “extends for seven months and will allow many opportunities along the way for public comment.”