Stated Meeting: Columbia Gets Approval
by Courtney Gross
Dec 26, 2007
In what some called a rush to approval, the City Council lifted the final obstacle for Columbia University to expand its campus into Manhattanville in West Harlem at its stated meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
The vote was divisive by City Council standards - 35 to 5 with 6 abstentions.
Also at its meeting, the council approved legislation to tighten standards on building blasting, increase fines for lewdness, give the city authority to issue tax liens for those in default of their water bills and revised its recently passed campaign finance law.
After years of negotiations and planning, Columbia University leapt over the last hurdle in the way of it moving forward with a 17-acre expansion into West Harlem. The plan, which could threaten some commercial properties in the area with eminent domain, is estimated to cost the institution $7 billion.
The expansion plan will guide the university's development for the next 25 years, and it will focus on expanding its science and research facilities. The new campus, which is not contiguous to the university's current facilities, will also include a 1.5-acre park, new student residences and new sites for its business and arts schools as well as the School of International and Public Affairs.
In response to the vote, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said the following in a prepared statement: "We are thankful and appreciative that with its favorable vote today the City Council has recognized the important role that flourishing universities can play in reinforcing and expanding the essential elements of New York's historic greatness."
Council Speaker Christine Quinn hailed the move, saying it would help lead the Ivy League institution into the 21st century. But, other members of the council raised questions on the timeliness of the vote, which many expected to take place in January not one week before the Christmas holiday.
Some members said they were not even aware that the vote would take place on Wednesday until the day before.
Also, in what some city officials said is an unprecedented move, the City Council approved two separate redevelopment plans: One designed by Community Board 9, which represents the redeveloped area and is against the expansion, and another plan from Columbia University. The plans, officials said, are contradictory.
Columbia and the community will reportedly work out those contradictions. Already, the night before the council's vote the university agreed to invest $150 million in the community's development, which includes affordable housing and schools.
Councilmember Tony Avella said the community board's plan does not hold the weight of law and is much broader in scope than the university's plan. Avella voted against the application because of the possibility the university would use eminent domain. Other members expressed concern that as Columbia moves into Manhattanville, they will displace longtime residents not only by eminent domain, but also by bumping up the cost of living in the area.
In addition to Avella, council members Vincent Ignizio, Letitia James, Charles Barron and Lewis Fidler voted against the application.
"Be very concerned about what you do, because the bullets you put in the gun of government today when pointed at somebody else may one day be pointed at you,"said Ignizio before voting against the application.
Council members Helen Foster, Eric Gioia, Rosie Mendez, Hiram Monserrate, Peter Vallone and Thomas White abstained.
To address a budget deficit by the New York Water Board estimated at $200 million, the City Council voted to (Intro 656) allow the city to issue water and sewer liens to those in default of their water bills. The bill was approved by a vote of 45 to 1, with Councilmember Al Vann dissenting.
The bill's approval staves off an 18 percent water rate increase by the board.
Because of a defunct billing system, the water board, which is within the city's Department of Environmental Protection, was unable to collect outstanding bills, some as old as a decade, from the city's residents and businesses. They also never turned delinquent payers' water off, because it was thought of as unfair to shut off a necessity, like water, if it was not the tenants fault.
Recently, the board cracked down on those in default of their payments.
The legislation is intended to increase the department's collection rate from 85 percent to the national standard of 95 percent.
Council members David Weprin and James Gennaro said the council would also increase its oversight of the water board to ensure its billing system stays on track.
When a retaining wall collapsed on the Upper West Side this summer, city officials pointed to blasting that was occurring at a nearby construction site as the cause.
Following the incident, Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito proposed legislation that would tighten the city'sblasting regulations. The legislation (Intro 613-A) was approved Wednesday by a vote of 45 to 0 with one abstention by Oliver Koppell.
The legislation will mandate the following: professional surveying and monitoring during and before blasting; communication between the fire department and the building's owners; improved community notification, including noticing residents five days following the issuance of a permit; and limiting the duration of a blasting permit from three years to nine months.
The council unanimously approved legislation (Intro 562-A) that drastically increases the criminal penalties for lewdness. Vallone introduced the legislation following several incidents between flashers and children.
Under the legislation, penalties will be increased for repeat offenders to possibly three years probation, a year in prison and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
In the past, gay rights activists said the legislation targeted gay or bisexual men because it would apply to men having sex in public. Quinn said the legislation was revised to ensure it would not target any specific group.
The legislation restricts contributions from those that do business with the city, and requires they register in a public database. Besides small drafting changes, the legislation also allows for the city to draft rules that would allow certain businesses to apply for a waiver from the business database.
Discuss this Article
Other Related Articles: