Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Divisions Over Expansion Intensify Among Manhattanville Groups

Divisions Over Expansion Intensify Among Manhattanville Groups
By Daniel Amzallag

As Columbia’s vision for expansion moves from the realm of possibility to seeming inevitability, community members opposed to the plan remain divided—some poised to continue the resistance, while others have come to the table for dialogue.

In recent months, the gap between the views of community board members and those of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a local group that continues to express unrelenting opposition to Columbia’s plans, only seems to widen. Community Board 9, which includes a vocal handful of CPC members, has been caught in a tug-of-war as it tries to balance members’ concerns with a pragmatic approach of coping, while the face of the neighborhood begins to change.

When the New York City Council gave the green light to Columbia’s expansion proposal in December, the vote also approved CB9’s plan, a comprehensive design for development within the entire Manhattanville district from West 110th to West 155th Streets. But CB9’s plan—which laid out height restrictions and affordable housing policies, among others—had been drastically modified by the City Planning Commission to leave out the entirety of the expansion area.

Although many of CB9’s 50 community representatives remain dissatisfied with the City Council vote, priorities have shifted to obtaining community benefits from Columbia rather than attempting to thwart the future expansion.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a local group formed to negotiate community benefits between Columbia and the neighborhood in the wake of the Manhattanville project, has served a crucial but contentious role, particularly over the past several months. Members of the LDC, which includes several from CB9, agreed to a $150-million memorandum of understanding preceding the City Council vote, but they have yet to draft a more detailed and legally enforceable contract.

As the LDC has grown rife with controversy, CPC leaders have distanced themselves from the organization, and several—most notably, DeMott and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp—resigned in protest.

For CPC members, the fundamental goal to halt Columbia’s progress remains the same. The group is now seeking to prevent the University from raising the $7 billion it needs to build. Members are busy at work spreading its message to alumni and potential donors.
CPC leader Tom DeMott, CC ’80, said at a recent Coalition meeting attended by around 100 people that many alumni “are not interested in their institution ... using eminent domain [and] displacing people.”

The University has maintained that it will not use eminent domain on residents, but has said it may ask the state to invoke eminent domain if it cannot successfully negotiate with all businesses in the footprint. Only three private properties remain, and University officials have said they expect agreements to be reached in the near future.

DeMott acknowledged the differences between his goals and those of CB9. “A local advocacy group, a coalition like the CPC, obviously has a different way of operating than a government agency of a community board,” he said. “We have seen a great unity about the concerns about the Columbia expansion, and I expect that to continue.”

CB9 criticism of the LDC has splintered local views further, becoming a common topic of debate at monthly meetings.

Upon assuming her role as chair of CB9 in January, Pat Jones stepped down as president of the LDC. Yet she remains an LDC member, and her response to concerns thus far has attracted criticism.

“The issues of the lack of transparency, the lack of democracy, the lack of accountability I think right or wrong will carry over with Pat with this new position because of her rather intimate involvement with some of the worst aspects of the LDC,” Harlem Tenants Council President Nellie Bailey explained, although she cautioned against judging Jones’ actions too soon.
Jones maintained that CB9 and LDC are and will remain entirely separate organizations. “It’s inappropriate to confuse the LDC with the community board, which many people have,” Jones said.

For CB9 member Vicky Gholson, the clashes have had a profound effect. “At the end of the day we’ve lost focus,” she said, pointing to petty criticism as destructive rather than productive. “Our focus has got to be what is going to increase the quality of life for all the residents that are within the community board area.”

NB - The cruel reality is that the CPC is beating on a dead horse.

Not only are they beating on a dead horse they are focusing on the wrong goal.

There was never any intent to "STOP COLUMBIA" the efforts by CB9M were to try to influence a mroe rational and healthy transition for the expansion, one that would be of benefit to the CB9M residents and to Columbia.

The creation of the LDC may yet result in a very positive benefit to the community. Let them do their thing.

Contrary to some people's opinion Columbia is not the enemy - the enemy are those itnerests from other areas of the City that interject themselves in what are our community's businesses alone.

Unfortunately, the CPC members that resigned from the LDC Board were, in my opinion, absolutetly wrong. Things are never influenced from the outside but by participation and contributing constructive ideas to the nproject at hand.

If the CBA is not as good as it could be it is because their non-particpation in the process, that is very much clear to me, even if does not seem to be clear to them.

Under the circumstances at the LDC Pat Jones did a great job and as CB9M Chair I expect some great results from her leadership. Pat has been on the Chair for a little over a month, she has lots of administrative issues to contend, from an incomplete moving of the CB9M offices to the appointment of Committee Chairs to reorganzing the Committees to deal with the current and developing reality of WestSide Harlem's three historic neighborhoods, Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights to the pending rezoning by the Manahattan Borough president 197-c Plan to finalising the negotiations with Columbia. It is quite easy to criticize and insult, how about less sound and fury and more productive ideans and support? That would be too novel an idea, I guess.

The loud rethoric and agenda-driven criticism needs to be tone down and allow Pat to get confortable in her new duties and do her best. And her best is really good.

Board members, as Board members must refrain from speaking about Board business and issues or be prepared to be properly reprimanded or to be duly ostracized. Far too many times I see names of Board members identified as Board Members rather than by their private organizations or as private citizens - this leads to confusion by the unsophisticated that cannot see the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest whichever.

Board member may express their opinions either as a personal view or as the view of the other organization they represent and make that clear but NEVER speak for or insinuate speaing the Board or as a Board Member.
A vocal group opinion's no matter how loud and one Board member's opinion does not constitute "intensifying division"

Reporters should know the difference just as they should know where they are and what our neighborhoods are and stop confusing us with other parts of the City. - JRM

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