Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ESDC to Decide Eminent Domain in M'Ville Expansion

ESDC to Decide Eminent Domain in M'Ville Expansion
By Daniel Amzallag

The Empire State Development Corporation is scheduled to present the blight study and vote on the General Project Plan for Columbia’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville Thursday, marking the potential for an official answer to the question of eminent domain.

The board of directors of the ESDC will vote on the “adoption” of the University’s General Project Plan and the authorization of a public hearing for commentary on it. Following that hearing, the board will vote again either to affirm the original plan or to include modifications based on the public commentary.

The ESDC, an agency empowered by New York State to invoke eminent domain, will also announce Thursday whether Manhattanville is found "blighted," the declaration of which is legally necessary for the state to use eminent domain to compulsorily buy property from owners who have refused to sell.

Columbia currently owns all private property within the 17-acre expansion footprint except for four facilities owned by Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-It-Away Storage and a gas station on W. 125th Street. Thursday’s meeting follows a years-long Neighborhood Conditions Study considering the condemnation of parts of the area.

“I think Columbia’s expansion in Manhattanville serves an important civic purpose and is a legitimate use of eminent domain,” Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin said in a January interview. “I think that’s been widely recognized in terms of contributions to intellectual capital, the creation of jobs, and the benefits Columbia University as a great university brings to New York City.”

University officials have repeatedly declined to comment on ongoing negotiations, save to say that they hope to reach agreements with all property owners. While eminent domain is a possibility for local businesses, the General Project Plan details the relocation of residents who currently reside in the expansion footprint.

The possibility of eminent domain has been met with stern opposition from business owners and local community members. "It’s been no secret that the community in total has been against eminent domain," said Maritta Dunn, former Community Board 9 chair and West Harlem Local Development Corporation officer. "It is inherently wrong regardless of the businesses—it is wrong to take someone’s business for your own personal use. This is not a hospital, it’s not a road, it’s not a public good."

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, also a former chair of CB9, denied that Manhattanville should be declared blighted. “It’s never been blighted. It’s an industrial area … Any semblance of blight is strictly on the properties owned by Columbia University,” he said.

The General Project Plan, dated Sept. 22, 2006, anticipates that the area will be found to be “characterized by blighted conditions that will be unlikely to be removed without public action.”
“Parcels which Columbia is unable to purchase would be acquired by ESDC through the exercise of the power of eminent domain,” states the proposal, acquired by Spectator under the Freedom of Information Law.

The plan separately requests eminent domain for the creation of an eight-story underground space below the expansion site that would contain the bus depot, energy center, and parking and loading facilities. This would only go forward if the city agreed to sell the underground land, Kasdin said.

Spokesperson La-Verna Fountain declined to comment on the ESDC’s dealings.
Please continue to check http://www.columbiaspectator.com/ for updates on this story.

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