Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CB9 Moves on From Manhattanville Vote

CB9 Moves on From Manhattanville Vote
By Daniel Amzallag

Community Board 9 has shifted its focus from Columbia’s now-approved Manhattanville expansion toward more common, community-based issues over the past nine months.

The first half of the academic year was marked by a series of milestones that were part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a citywide mandatory review process required for land rezoning, for Columbia’s rezoning of land in Manhattanville.

CB9, which oversees the area from West 110th to West 155th streets, rejected Columbia’s 197-c rezoning plan in August 2007, with certain conditions that could lead to the board’s approval.

In September, tensions erupted when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer—whose nonbinding vote on the plan is required by ULURP—initially expressed disapproval with the University’s plan, only to later vote in favor of the plan when Columbia agreed to provide $20 million in affordable housing. The deal immediately elicited criticisms of “selling out” the community.

The City Planning Commission held a public hearing in October on the rezoning—as well as CB9’s own 197-a “framework for future development”—eventually approving both plans with modifications in late November. Community Board members concentrated on advocacy of their plan and testimony to City Planning.

“I don’t hear an emphasis on West Harlem,” then-CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said at an Oct. 3 City Planning hearing. “This 964 acres, this is our community. This is the community that is going to be affected by the 17 acres that Columbia is going to develop. ... It astonishes me, and I hate to say that, that we are being sacrificed for the benefit of the city.”

As the plans moved closer to their City Council approval—the penultimate step of the ULURP process, preceding only mayoral approval—CB9 members showed great concern with developing a community-benefits agreement with Columbia to compensate for and mitigate adverse effects of the expansion. The West Harlem Local Development Corporation, formed by CB9 as an independent organization explicitly for this purpose, drew increasing fire and attention as several of its members resigned in protest days following City Planning approval.

“I feel that I cannot be part of a group that is negotiating with Columbia in a way that does not truly represent the wishes of those whom we represent,” said Nick Sprayregen, a former LDC member and the largest private-property owner in Manhattanville excluding Columbia. LDC members had previously attempted to oust Sprayregen from the board, citing a conflict of interest with the property he owns.

Both the 197-c and the 197-a plans were approved in City Council on Dec. 19, weeks earlier than expected, as the LDC rushed to pull together a community-benefits package with Columbia. The University and the LDC signed a memorandum ofunderstanding for $150 million on the morning of the council’s vote.

Moving into the new year, CB9 has shifted focus away from the Columbia expansion and toward issues more familiar to other community boards. Pat Jones, formerly CB9 first vice chair, assumed the position of chair after a unanimous vote in January. Reyes-Montblanc had reached the board’s term limit.

The board has continued to consider the issues brought up by a plan—approved April 30 by City Council—to rezone 125th Street between Broadway and 2nd Avenue, though CB9 has been less adamantly opposed to the plan than Community Boards 10 and 11 of Central and East Harlem, respectively.

Some board members seem glad to be concentrating on community issues aside from Columbia’s expansion. “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,” board member Vicky Gholson said.


TAGS: CB9, Manhattanville

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