Tuesday, September 2, 2008

REMARKS OF PATRICIA A. JONES, CHAIRPERSON CB9M Before Empire State Development Corporation Public Hearing on Eminent Domain


Good evening. My name is Patricia Jones and I am the Chair of Manhattan Community Board 9.

On August 20, 2007, Community Board 9 voted to oppose Columbia University’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville unless certain changes to proposal were made. Among other important items, changes required were the withdrawal of the proposed use of Eminent Domain along with a binding commitment that Columbia build only on property owned by the University and obtained through negotiations with owners without coercion and without the threat of Eminent Domain AND the withdrawal of the proposed below grade structure.

Today, September 2, 2008 – almost one year later – on behalf of Manhattan Community Board 9, I have no choice but to continue to oppose Columbia University’s project plan.

The use of Eminent Domain or even it threat cannot be tolerated. We support any owner of properties that refuses to sell and stand with them against Eminent Domain for the benefit of any private entity.

Ratification of the General Project Plan in its current form eliminates any credible expectation of fair and balanced negotiations between property owners and the University.

Further, we object to the language in the General Project Plan regarding the use of ESDC’s Eminent Domain power as it relates to the seven residential properties described in Section H2 – specifically, “ESDC would not use its Eminent Domain power to acquire possession of any legal residential unit prior to 2018.” The commitment that ESDC will not use its Eminent Domain power to acquire such resident units at any time must be unequivocal and subject to no deadline.

It is stated that ESDC’s Directors would not take final action on the GPP unless and until ESDC has made findings in accordance with SEQRA and other applicable laws. CB9 continues to take the position that a key flaw in the CU plan is the proposal to create what is called the Below Grade Service Area – or the Bathtub – a key driver of the need to invoke the State’s use of Eminent Domain. The resolution of engineering issues associated with flooding and earthquake risks must not be “theoretical” in nature where our Community may be at risk. Requests that questions of how the Bathtub would be engineered, the cost of the Bathtub, even whether it is even economically feasible, whether the Bathtub would be engineered in a manner that would adequately protect it and the surrounding neighborhood from earthquakes and storm surges have yet to be answered. Narrow legal interpretations provide no protection to our Community.

Clearly the time allotted does not provide us with the opportunity to explore the host of concerns we continue to express.

Therefore, the Community Board will be submitting more detailed written comments on these and other elements of the General Project Plan, as well as the Neighborhood Conditions Studies.

We expect that these elements will include, but not be limited to: 1) environmental issues; 2) displacement of long-time residents; AND the preferred benefits of implementation of a CU expansion consistent with CB9’s 197-a Plan.

Additionally, we will provide comments on the various benefit initiatives outlined in the GPP. It will likely never be possible to quantify a satisfactory value of benefits that will justify the claim of “public good.” Further, the expiration of the majority of these benefits is 2033 – the expected completion of Phase II. It is a clear indication that the University is not looking to forge a true partnership with the Community for the duration of its existence in Manhattanville. We will accept that Columbia’s faculty, students and employees are “extraordinary people” as earlier stated,

PROVIDED the University cedes that the existing residents and property owners in Manhattanville, as well as West Harlem as a whole, are as well “extraordinary” and their value, contributions and desires must similarly be respected.

The Community Board will be conducting a Public Hearing on Tuesday, September 16th at 6:30 PM at the Fortune Society located at 140th Street and Riverside Drive to ensure that the Board’s comments are as comprehensive and inclusive of our Board members’ and Community District 9 residents’ views and concerns.


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