Showing posts with label columbia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label columbia. Show all posts

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sustainability and the Columbia University expansion project

A new law review article critiques the Columbia University expansion project through a rubric of sustainability. This is sustainability in the broad sense--not just environmental sustainability, but economic and social sustainability too. The article puts the Columbia CBA into context, discussing how educational institutions interact with local communities and how "university creep" can impact neighborhoods. Regarding Columbia and West Harlem, the article looks at public participation and community engagement issues, including eminent domain, gentrification, and the CBA.

Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist?: A Case Study in Progress on Columbia University was written by my Albany Law School colleagues Keith Hirokawa and Patricia Salkin.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trouble with the Columbia CBA

The New York Post reported yesterday that the West Harlem Local Development Corporation--the quasi-private nonprofit set up to negotiate and implement the Columbia expansion CBA--hasn't exactly been keeping up with its responsibilities. Apparently, it has yet to come up with a mission statement, secure tax exempt status, or even set up a phone line. Nor has it created funding guidelines for the $76 million Columbia is supposed to invest into the community over the next 15 years, which means that it hasn't yet been able to disburse any of the $500,000 it's already gotten from the university. The Post makes it sound like the entire CBA is in jeopardy, but that's probably not the case, at least as long as Columbia keeps making its payments. What might jeopardize the CBA, however, is an upcoming court challenge to the state's use of eminent domain on Columbia's behalf.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Columbia Spectator on the Manhattanville CBA... but what about the 197-a plan?

The Columbia Spectator published an article last week about the Columbia University CBA, going over the criticisms of the CBA process outlined in the New York City Bar Association's recent report on CBAs. The article does a decent job of recapping the CBA's negotiation, but it leaves out any mention of the preexisting community-based 197-a plan that Columbia basically got the city to throw out (with a whole lot of lobbying). And that's an important consideration in the Columbia case, since it's a lot easier to portray the CBA as community-supported when you leave out the fact that the community's own plan was rejected in favor of different plans put forward by the elite and well-connected university.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on the Columbia expansion

On Wednesday, Columbia received final approval for its general project plan from the New York State Public Authorities Control Board.

On Thursday, however, oral arguments were heard in a case challenging Columbia's use of eminent domain for the project. Two of the judges seemed skeptical about whether the taking would be a valid one, bringing up issues relating to the propriety of the blight study, the constitutionality of New York's eminent domain laws, and whether a private university should be considered a public purpose. A decision is expected this summer, but appeals could hold up the project for some time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Columbia expansion CBA: signed and now available

The Columbia Spectator got a hold of a copy of the Columbia expansion CBA. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Columbia University expansion heads to court

Tuck-It-Away Self Storage, owned by Nick Sprayregen, filed suit on January 21, 2009, challenging Empire State Development Corporation's right to take its property for the expansion of Columbia University's campus.

Still no word from Columbia or the West Harlem LDC about that CBA they promised to negotiate, however...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Columbia project receives approval from ESDC

Last week the New York Empire State Development Corporation approved Columbia's project plan. The approval clears the path for Columbia to invoke the state's power of eminent domain to acquire property from the two remaining business owners in the 17 acre area, although approval is still needed from the Public Authorities Control Board. One of the holdouts, Nick Sprayregen, who owns Tuck-It-Away storage, has pledged to challenge the use of eminent domain in court. He believes that Columbia unfairly created blight in the project area by buying up properties and failing to maintain them, and that it would work a further unfairness to award Columbia with the use of eminent domain for this behavior. Moreover, Sprayregen has suggested that conflicts of interest exist between Columbia and Empire State Development Corporation that cast doubt on the propriety of ESDC's project approvals. A state court ruling from this summer supports Sprayregen's claims somewhat; although that case involved a freedom of information law request, the judge made clear that there was a conflict of interest present when a private consultant, AKRF, was working on ESDC's blight study at the same time that it was helping to prepare the general project plan for Columbia.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More on the Columbia expansion.

The Observer ran an article yesterday, Zero Hour in West Harlem, that looks at the coming eminent domain battle in West Harlem.

Also see Will Columbia Take Manhattanville?, which was published a few months ago, for background on the opposition. (Although I don't agree with the statement in this article that "relying on negotiating a community-benefits agreement before decisions about land use and zoning are finished amounts to 'purchasing' planning decisions." In the Columbia expansion case, where the CBA was negotiated primarily by local elected officials, this might be somewhat true. But that's not the way that CBAs are supposed to work--land use decisions and CBAs should inform each other, but neither should eclipse the other.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Columbia expansion moves ahead: eminent domain and more concessions

On Tuesday, Nick Sprayregen, the owner of Tuck-it-Away Storage and one of the last property owners in the Columbia expansion footprint not to reach a deal with the university, got a win in state court. The case, Tuck-it-Away Associates, LP v. Empire State Development Corporation, involved a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, and the appellate division ruled that Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) could not withhold documents prepared in connection with its blight study because the consultant that prepared the study has also been working with Columbia. ESDC had claimed that the documents fell within the FOIL exception for intra- or inter-agency documents, but the court held that "such communications lose their exemption if there is reason to believe that the consultant is communicating with the agency in its own interest or on behalf of another client whose interests might be affected by the agency action addressed by the consultant." In that regard, the court found that the consultant, AKRF, was acting as an advocate for Columbia and that the documents, therefore, were not exempt from disclosure.

Nevertheless, the decision only means that ESDC will have to disclose additional documents to the property owners. And even though the court was rather critical of AKRF's working for both Columbia and ESDC, ESDC announced yesterday that it had commissioned a second blight study prepared by a different firm (although still paid for by Columbia). ESDC also adopted the General Project Plan (GPP) (pdf) for the expansion yesterday. The GPP relies on ESDC's approval of the blight studies, both of which found that "the area surrounding the project’s 17 buildings was mainly characterized by aging, poorly maintained and functionally obsolete industrial buildings, with little indication of recent reinvestment to revive their generally deteriorated conditions." With this finding, ESDC and Columbia are set to kick off any eminent domain proceedings needed to acquire the last few holdout properties in the footprint.

Additionally, ESDC also revealed yesterday that Columbia has agreed to more concessions:
  • "$20 million in funds for the Harlem Community Development Corporation to focus on community development and planning.
  • $1 million for expanded CUNY Health Science and Medical Technician training.
  • Annual undergraduate and Lifelong Learner scholarships for area residents, including local NYCHA tenants.
  • A goal of 40% MWL workforce participation for construction jobs related to project.
  • Provision of a mobile dental center for preschool children, space for senior service programming and a center on disease education for children K-12.
  • Columbia University will also partner with local middle and high schools to develop and implement math and science course support."
More benefits are a good thing for the community, but I'd still like to see the CBA that's supposed to be negotiated.

For the New York Times' coverage, see here. The Observer has some commentary on this flurry of events too. See here and here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Columbia expansion update

The Times reported yesterday that Columbia has reached an agreement to buy out one of the few remaining property owners in its plan footprint. As part of the agreement, Columbia will pay for relocating Anne Z. Whitman's business, a moving and storage company, from West Harlem to Washington Heights.

Ms. Whitman had previously stated that she would not agree to a buy out. The agreement leaves only two holdouts: a family that operates a service station and Nick Sprayregen, who owns 5 buildings with about 300,000 square feet of space, most of which is devoted to his Tuck-It-Away self storage business. Eminent domain seems likely to enter into the mix soon.

There's still no word on the CBA, however.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Into the cookie jar... another criticism of CBAs

Last week's Crain's New York Business ran an opinion piece on CBAs written by Alair Townsend, who called them "zoning for sale" and "government sanctioned extortion." Ms. Townsend cited the Yankees Stadium and Columbia deals as illustrating that CBAs have "little to do with adverse impacts but are instead designed to grease the approval process. Groups use rezoning proposals as leverage to extract whatever they can--jobs at specified wages, cash, housing, and neighborhood facilities." She also stated that it's "blatantly untrue" that CBAs are private deals.

There is some truth to Ms. Townsend's criticism that the Yankees Stadium and Columbia CBAs were not "private matters," as local officials were extensively involved in each case (especially the Yankees deal, where the local officials signed a CBA without any community groups, although that's another story). However, just because public officials take cognizance of a developer's commitment to work with the communities that a project will impact or facilitate that type of cooperation does not prove that a CBA amounts to extortion. This is especially true where developments are supported by significant public subsidies, as in the case of Yankees Stadium. Ms. Townsend also failed to comment on the Atlantic Yards CBA, which was a mostly private deal not involving public officials and which can hardly be called extortion (although it can certainly be faulted for other reasons, especially its reliance on "astroturf" community groups)--not to mention the dozens of other CBAs from outside of New York State that have been well received by the public, the government and developers alike.

Ms. Townsend's article is available here, but a subscription is required.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Columbia expansion update

I haven't heard much about the Columbia CBA recently, but a new website has been put up to detail the university's expansion and some litigation involving the planned construction of a subterranean chemical storage area.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Columbia expansion CBA


With Atlantic Yards and Yankee Stadium, New York City established a pretty bleak track record in coming up with CBAs that came anywhere near their Californian counterparts’ successes (like the Staples Center and LAX CBAs). Because of this, CBA supporters were hoping that an agreement concerning Columbia University’s expansion into West Harlem would provide a better model for future New York CBAs.

The project, in which Columbia will put up 16-18 new buildings, is estimated at about $6 billion and is likely to span about 20 years. The project is also expected to create about 6,000 jobs, and "transform a shabby enclave of auto-repair shops, warehouses and small manufacturing plants into a pedestrian-friendly environment with more open space, restaurants and shops." Columbia also argues that the expansion is necessary to its educational mission, as its now-cramped and spread out facilities do not allow it to be as competitive as universities such as Harvard and Princeton.

The city and Mayor Bloomberg have been especially supportive of Columbia's interest in creating a CBA, providing funds and technical assistance for the negotiating process. The process, in this case, has also been markedly different than the other New York CBAs from the start. Rather than being driven primarily by the developers or elected officials, County Board 9 authorized the creation of a local development corporation (LDC) to be composed of appointed community leaders representing a broad range of constituents. Public meetings began September, 2006 and continued on a weekly basis with working groups devoted to housing, business and economic development, employment, education, historic preservation, community facilities and social services, arts and culture, environmental stewardship, transportation, research and laboratory activities and green spaces.

Although the Community Board originally intended that the LDC would not include any elected officials, after the LDC’s first meeting it revised this choice. The decision to include city officials would prove to be detrimental to the process, however, as perceptions arose that they were not representing the true interests of the community and that they were inappropriately controlling negotiations. Moreover, Columbia did not have any representatives on the LDC and was not very involved with the negotiations.

The situation took a distinct turn for the worse in November 2007 when three members of the LDC resigned. They cited conflicts of interest among the elected officials on the board and complained that there was a lack of transparency in the negotiations. Tom DeMott, one of the resigning members and a representative of tenants groups, stated that negotiating sessions were held without his being informed of them, and Nick Sprayregen, the largest property owner in the project's footprint (who was almost kicked off the LDC in the summer), complained that the CBA was a “sell-out of the community…that represents something that is not what the community wants.” Two other members resigned shortly thereafter, claiming that there had been misrepresentations and secrecy. As a result of these resignations, the LDC was left with fifteen members, seven being elected officials.

Despite these troubles, a memorandum of understanding was completed in December 2007 just in time for the City Council to approve of the expansion plan and Columbia's request for rezoning. The agreement commits Columbia to providing $150 million in benefits, including $30 million for a university-run public school, $20 million of in-kind services, $20 million for affordable housing, and $4 million for legal aid. But the bulk of the money, $76 million, was set aside for as-yet undetermined community programs to be implemented over the next 12 years. The agreement has been described as “one-and-a-half non-legally binding pages,” and criticism has been directed at the LDC for rushing the CBA process and punting the specifics of the agreement to a later date.

It seems that the Columbia CBA negotiations were begun in good faith, with intentions to be as inclusive of divergent community interests as possible. Regardless of the LDC’s continuing pledges of support for community interests, though, by a number of accounts it has not succeeded in instilling much faith in its efforts among the community. The resignations and hastily drawn up agreement have not helped. Nor has the fact that the Columbia situation is mired in controversy about the use of eminent domain and the possibility of gentrification in the area. Columbia did agree last fall that it would not seek to evict any residents through the use of eminent domain, but some residents have expressed displeasure with the relocation provisions and it's still up in the air what will happen to local businesses. The prospect that eminent domain will be used at all has been viewed negatively by many in the neighborhood, including some who support the expansion, and a number of commentators have suggested that had the CBA talks been conducted more openly, eminent domain would have played a more important role.

Hopefully, Columbia will resolve the eminent domain issue with the few remaining business owners in the expansion area and the finalized CBA will deal with the as yet uncommitted $76 million in a manner that's satisfactory to most of the community.

The Columbia CBA memorandum can be viewed here.

The Columbia Spectator has produced a website with audio interviews, photos and an interactive map of the expansion footprint.

Update July 22, 2008: Whether or not the remaining holdouts will sell to Columbia is still up in the air, but ESDC has made a formal blight finding--laying the foundation for its use of eminent domain--so it seems fairly certain that the land acquisitions will proceed, voluntary or not. See here.