The Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification submitted a petition to University officials Tuesday evening, criticizing recent conduct regarding the Manhattanville expansion and calling on officials to issue a guarantee that eminent domain will not be invoked on the property of Ramon Diaz, who operates Floridita Restaurant & Tapas Bar.
Approximately 90 people signed the petition by the time it was submitted, and SCEG member Andrew Lyubarsky, CC ’09, said the group will continue to solicit signatures.
Last December, following its approval of eminent domain in the campus expansion zone, the Empire State Development Corporation released a “statement of determinations and findings” in which it listed Manhattanville properties that may be subject to eminent domain in order to transfer control of the land to Columbia. Diaz’s property is among those named in the memo.
Columbia owns the building in which Floridita is located, and, even though Diaz’s lease is good until 2015, eminent domain could effectively terminate it early so Columbia can develop the land there. But University officials maintain that negotiations with Diaz are ongoing, and that as long as he remains a tenant in good standing, Columbia will work to relocate Floridita without state invocation of eminent domain.
“It is our opinion that if Columbia wishes to resolve this conflict ... there is a relatively simple solution,” a letter accompanying the petition reads. “If the university is willing to send him [Diaz] an official letter or make an official statement to the effect that ... the University guarantees that it will not seek to terminate the business’s lease early except in the context of a mutually agreeable relocation deal within a reasonable distance from the expansion area, we are confident that this issue has been resolved.”
“There have been a number of claims made over the years about various details of the long-term campus plan in Manhattanville,” University spokesperson Victoria Benitez wrote in an e-mail. “All we can do is provide factual information about the University’s efforts and trust that the facts will speak for themselves.”
The University has obtained all necessary approvals for the expansion, and while commercial holdouts Nick Sprayregen and Gurnam and Parminder Singh have filed lawsuits against the ESDC, challenging its approval of eminent domain, no procedural obstacles remain to construction.
SCEG members acknowledged this reality, but said they will continue to protest aspects of the expansion they consider unjust.
“None of us are utopians here. We know that in one way or another, the expansion is likely to go forward,” Lyubarsky said, “but there are a lot of serious issues that pop up.”
Margo Kulkarni, SEAS ’10, said at the Feb. 14 protest at Flordita, “At this stage in the expansion, the issues we’re fighting are different.” Kulkarni noted that SCEG is not opposed to the expansion itself, but rather it is “fighting for a more just expansion.”
The group is currently planning a town hall meeting at which students and locals can “come out and talk openly about what they’re feeling about the expansion,” Kulkarni said.
“I don’t think that anybody thinks that we right now have the power to stop the expansion,” Lyubarsky said. “But that’s not necessarily the point. The point is that we need to make sure we’re still active and we’re still watching what they [Columbia] are doing.”