Columbia Expansion Foe Faces Ouster

A fellow member of the community organization that is negotiating with Columbia University has proposed ousting Nick Sprayregen, a vehement opponent of the Manhattanville expansion, from its board.

Susan Russell, the chief of staff for City Council Member Robert Jackson of Harlem, made a motion last week to discuss removing Mr. Sprayregen from the West Harlem Local Development Corporation because she said that he has a conflict of interest.

Mr. Sprayregen is the largest property owner in the footprint of Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville expansion, which is now undergoing city review. In addition, he has applied to rezone his properties to allow for residential and community facility use.

“He has a financial interest that is very different from the community’s,” Ms. Russell said. “Now he has a 197c [rezoning] plan. How is he going to negotiate with himself? I don’t see this as being terribly complicated. Quite frankly, I think he should take the high road here and resign.”

The motion will be taken up at a special meeting Aug. 7.

The New York Sun speculated recently that if Mr. Sprayregen succeeds in blocking Columbia from using eminent domain to take over his properties, the value of his properties will skyrocket. But Mr. Sprayregen, who owns five storage buildings and employs, according to his count, 50 people, has maintained that he wants to hold onto his land.

“They are messing with the wrong person here,” Mr. Sprayregen said in an e-mail. “I have done nothing wrong; there are no conflicts of interest in what I am doing and what is in the true best interests of the West Harlem community. I merely want to retain ownership of my properties and continue to operate my businesses. Should I succeed in this, not only does my family benefit, but the community does as well.”

What’s interesting here is that Mr. Sprayregen had the same alleged conflicts of interest—minus the bit about the competing rezoning plan—when he was appointed to the board more than a year ago.