Thursday, July 24, 2008

ESDC Deems M'Ville Blighted, Adopts Expansion Plan

From: RoMartell
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2008 18:24:16 EDT
Subject: ESDC Deems M'Ville Blighted, Adopts Expansion Plan

JRM/RM Hey Spike,didn't see this article in your blog, the comment at the top is mine don't know why it came as anonymous as did sign it.


ESDC Deems M'Ville Blighted, Adopts Expansion Plan

By Daniel Amzallag

The Empire State Development Corporation announced Thursday its finding that the Manhattanville area where Columbia plans to build a new campus is “blighted,” signaling authority for the state to invoke eminent domain there.

The board of directors of the ESDC voted in favor of adopting the University’s General Project Plan, which details the expansion proposal, requests of eminent domain, and committed community benefits. Public hearings were authorized for September to allow for further commentary on the plan, after which the board will vote either to affirm the original plan or to include new modifications.

“This exciting project will keep one of the world’s premier universities at the forefront of higher education and academic research for decades to come. In addition, Columbia’s expansion will bring thousands of new jobs to the city and revitalize an area that has been plagued by under investment,” ESDC Downstate President Avi Schick said in a statement.

The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, pastor of St. Mary’s Church on W. 126th Street, called eminent domain for a private institution “theft” and a “violation of the eighth commandment.” “The General Project Plan is a plan that really enables Columbia to do 100 percent what it wants to do, and I’m afraid that that’s really going to keep the neighborhood marginalized,” he said in testimony to board members Thursday.

ESDC directors announced at the meeting that a second firm, Earth Tech, had been employed in the blight finding, following controversy with Allee King Rosen & Fleming, the firm the state originally employed. On Tuesday, a state appellate court ruled in a Freedom of Information case—brought by Manhattanville property owner Nick Sprayregen against ESDC—that AKRF held an “inseparable conflict” due to its simultaneous employment by both Columbia and ESDC.

The announcement that Earth Tech had been hired by ESDC “to replicate the study of neighborhood conditions” sparked a heated exchange between New York State Senator Bill Perkins, D-West and Central Harlem, and the ESDC board. “It’s outrageous to me that you would have done such a study that I and my colleagues have never seen…and that concerns my neighborhood,” Perkins said.

“It’s always good to have more eyes looking at it than fewer eyes looking at it,” Schick told reporters after the meeting. “As the timeline lengthened…we said why not go back and look again and see if we get the same results with somebody else, and we did.”

Columbia has repeatedly promised it would not seek eminent domain for residential properties within the expansion site, but the General Project Plan states ESDC would “use its eminent domain power to acquire possession of any legal residential unit” after 2018.

The Plan relies on Columbia’s relocating the 298 tenants to alternative housing “before the property housing those residents is needed for Project development.” The University reaffirmed its commitment in a statement following the meeting, saying it will not ask for eminent domain over residential buildings, though narrowing its promise to residences “while they are occupied,” as is also stated in the General Project Plan.

The adoption of the General Project Plan also allows for the transfer of underground space below the expansion site—from W. 125th Street to W. 133rd Street, bordered by Broadway and 12th Avenue—from the city to the University through eminent domain. The eight-story underground area would include a bus depot, energy center, and parking and loading facilities.
With Thursday’s vote, Columbia committed to community benefits additional to the $150 million in benefits signed in December. The University will provide several improvements to civic facilities and allow community access to new Manhattanville facilities. The General Project Plan also commits to a scholarship fund for local students, funded courses for community residents, and job training programs.
Sprayregen, owner of four commercial properties in the expansion site, protested the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville. “I’m angry that I have to wake up each day to fight to keep what is lawfully ours. I’m angry that I have to fight the attempt of Columbia taking what does not belong to them,” he said.
Sprayregen is one of two owners of private property in the expansion footprint who have not sold to the University, though he and Columbia officials have engaged in negotiations.
Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer who represents Sprayregen, objected to the classification of Manhattanville as a blighted area, saying blight is defined as “a threat to public health and safety” that has “a detrimental blighting effect on surrounding areas.”

Siegel and Sprayregen vowed to continue fighting Columbia in court, specifically to challenge the blight finding on grounds of its methodology. “If the second consultant [Earth Tech] used same methodology as AKRF, then that study is tainted as well,” Siegel said. “You can’t change the cover of the book and think that the book has been done differently.”

The General Project Plan states, “The high percentage of lots with deteriorating, insanitary and/or underutilized property conditions indicates that the Project Site has been suffering from long-term poor maintenance and disinvestment,” which prevents “the integration of the Project Site into the surrounding community.”

TAGS: blight study, Eminent Domain, ESDC, Manhattanville

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There was never any doubt as to the outcome of this charade and minstrel show that Columbia has been orchestrating for so many years.
But hope, as the saying goes springs eternal.

An industrial area is not pretty by anyone aesthetics, the buildings were erected for function and not for architectural beauty.

The heavy industrial age left the area behind as it either moved out of town and eventually out of the country or was phase out by new technologies not suitable for the old industrial buildings.

Columbia started to buy buildings many years ago but only since the arrival of the current administration has gone all out to purchase whatever was available and in the meantime vacated the buildings, thus creating a semblance of under utilization. However many small industries thrived in the area with over 2500 good paying industrial jobs which began to disappear as businesses leases either expired and not renewed or if renewal offered it was prices that the small companies could not afford.

And so it went until only about 1500 jobs remained 3 years ago and now will completely gone when Columbia finishes their GPP.

The building owners that refuse to sell will now be under bigger stress than before and the residential units now know they have only 10 to 16 years before the eminent domain catches up to them although Columbia announced a few months ago that they would not invoke eminent domain on the residential buildings, another example of their practice in Orwellian double-speak.
Incredible even those businesses that Columbia told repeatedly to the community that would be protected as they have long term leases are now also in danger Columbia having backed down from providing suitable relocation space such is the case of the expanded El Floridita and Floridita Tapas.

The credibility index keep going down for Columbia. Columbia's integrity and ethics are questionable at best and non-existing at worst.

The Central Harlem political establishment has once again shown their disdain for the Westside and accepted a cheap and discounted community benefits agreement instead of the $700 millions sought by the community the politicos settled for a pittance settlement more smoke and mirrors than substance and the City's vaunted $150 Million for affordable housing was already in the pipe line under Mayor Bloomberg's housing initiative, not new and additional funds and if the City's budget fails to cover those funds it will never materialize.

This process has been a sham and a shame. A sham by Columbia and the politicos. A shame for the honest community leaders that worked so hard for 4 years believing in the integrity of the process and other the institutions, political and academic, to their eternal chagrin.

Posted by: RoMartell not Anonymous July 25th, 2008 @ 6:37pm
Further Comments:

"The General Project Plan states, “The high percentage of lots with deteriorating, insanitary and/or underutilized property conditions indicates that the Project Site has been suffering from long-term poor maintenance and disinvestment,” which prevents “the integration of the Project Site into the surrounding community.”

The GPP is absolutely correct; what it fails to indicate is that All of such properties are Columbia University properties and any poor maintenance and disinvestment is strictly on Columbia's part.

Now Columbia will be using eminent domain to obtain not only properties owned by others but also to eliimate any restrictions or covenants or easements attached to the buildings that have been accumulating duirng the last 25 or 30 years by including them also in the eminent domained assault.

It is totally incredible to me and most community residents that such travesty could be committed with the complicity of the Harlem elected officials at all levels of government from the Governor down to the dog-catcher.

How can such a prestigious 250 years old instituion, have sunk so low and demonstrated such lack of integrity, honor and moral terpitude?
Posted by: RoMartell (not verified) July 28th, 2008 @ 10:55pm

The study looked at conditions prior to Columbia ownership. Try getting the facts before you make ignorant allegations.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) July 24th, 2008 @ 8:42pm

This should be instructive to all those who think that government is in the business of providing equal protection to all. Columbia has been a major property owner in this neighborhood for many years. Indeed, much of the "blight" is actually Columbia property. It seems that the way to riches is to buy property, let it get run-down by not maintaining it according to any standards, and run screaming to the "government" that it needs to be torn down!

With government completely co-opted by money and power, I find it funny when people claim that we live in a democracy. Yes, but one that is private property.

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) July 24th, 2008 @ 9:13am

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