Timing Of Review Of Harlem's Expansion Plan Irks Board

Bill Perkins

June 05, 2007

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.