Timing Of Review Of Harlem's Expansion Plan Irks Board

 

More than three years in the making, the city is moving forward on Columbia University's proposed 17-acre campus expansion into West Harlem. The contentious plan is expected to enter the city's land-use review process as early as Monday.

In a telling harbinger of the debate to come, elected officials and community leaders were quick to lash out at the city for starting the seven-month review process in a season when the community board is closed and many in the community leave the city for vacation.

"I'm totally frustrated with their attitude, and all I want them to do is provide the proper timing so that the community board can do the job," the chairman of Community Board 9, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, said. "We are going to have to go through reams and reams and reams of technical write-ups," Mr. Reyes-Montblanc added, while many on the board shuttle in and out for week-long getaways.

Officials including state Senator William Perkins and Assemblyman Keith Wright said they supported Mr. Reyes-Montblanc's contention, as did the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, which has been formed to craft a community benefits agreement with Columbia.

The president of the development corporation, Patricia Jones, wrote in a letter to the city that the timing would "offend the essence" of the community input-based review process.

Columbia has said it needs the expansion to build science-related and other facilities that are demanded of top universities. Development of the complex would require a rezoning, which requires the approval of the City Council and the city's planning commission, and nonbinding recommendations from the community board and the borough president's office. The state is currently administering a blight study of the area, a step needed for the use of eminent domain.

A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, Rachaele Raynoff, said the city starts the land-use process once applications are complete and certified.

"There will be adequate opportunity for public review throughout the seven-month process," Ms. Raynoff said.

A spokeswoman for Columbia, La-Verna Fountain, said the timing of the land-use process is up to the city.



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