A family that has run moving companies in Upper Manhattan for 41 years has been ripped apart by Columbia University’s proposed expansion plan, with two brothers deciding to sell their building to the school while their sister is defiantly holding on to hers.
The two companies, Hudson North American and Despatch Moving & Storage, once belonged to the West Harlem Business Group, an organization composed of six businesses that opposed the use of eminent domain to take over their properties. One by one, three of the businesses agreed to sell to the university, which is trying to create a third campus in the area.
Then, in August, Joe “Nick” Zuhusky and his younger brother Peter, co-owners of Despatch, made a deal. That left just Hudson, which is owned by their sister Anne Whitman, and another storage company, Tuck-It-Away.
“I told my sister that we did what was best for my family, and I said ‘you have to do what is best for your family,’ but she strongly disagreed with me for making the sale,” said Joe Zuhusky. “It is a shame it has come down to such bitterness between the two of us.”
His sister, in a separate telephone interview with The Observer, said, “My brothers have unfortunately caved in to Columbia’s pressure tactics.”
Mr. Zuhusky said that Despatch’s membership in the West Harlem Business Group, which had opposed the use of eminent domain to acquire properties, was driven by Peter’s wife, Judy Zuhusky, who does not personally own a stake in the company. As the brothers talked to Columbia, he said that they determined that their resistance would be futile, and that the state, on behalf of Columbia, would end up taking the property by eminent domain anyway. (In such cases, the government is required to pay for the property at a price set by a judge.)
”We were frightened more and more by eminent domain,” Mr. Zuhusky said. “My brother and I felt strongly that if we did not negotiate with them that they could take the property by eminent domain. We felt instead of going through a long legal battle, if we could get something close to what we wanted to, we would make the sale. It caused a lot of problems within the family. My mother and my sister are still upset that we sold out. They feel hurt.”
He said that the company was looking to relocate from their current site at 131st Street and Broadway but had rejected alternative sites proposed by the university. While he could not divulge the price because of a non-disclosure agreement, he said that Columbia “acted in good faith.”
“I cannot say that they threatened us,” Mr. Zuhusky said.
THE FAMILY'S SPLIT IS JUST the latest, and most poignant, example of the strife that has met Columbia’s proposal, which the university says is needed in order to provide the space for its growth. And it is not only brother and sister who see the situation differently; it is husband and wife also. Judy Zuhusky, the wife of younger brother Peter and the bookkeeper and office manager for Despatch, is setting up her own business in Ms. Whitman’s building and renting it out as incubator space for small health and education organizations, according to Ms. Whitman.