The community board by Baker Athletics Complex, where Columbia plans to develop a new athletic center, will go without a voice in the city’s review of the project.
Community Board 12—which represents Inwood and Washington Heights—voted Tuesday night on a resolution drafted by its Land Use Committee, which was intended as the board’s record of opinion on the Baker redevelopment. With 13 votes in favor, 11 against, and two abstentions, the vote came to a tie, which was not sufficient for passage.
But because the deadline for the board’s non-binding recommendation is Nov. 5 and there is not another CB12 meeting before then, the city’s process for evaluating Columbia’s project will proceed without the board’s input.
“I find it personally frustrating that, despite the fact that this community board has a broad range of opinions on this matter, we voted in a way that stifled that opinion,” CB12 member Elizabeth Lorris Ritter said.
Had it passed, the statement would have been brought before the City Planning Commission for consideration in its review of Columbia’s project.
Columbia is seeking to revamp Baker Athletics Complex on Broadway and 218th Street, where the existing Chrystie Field House facility has stood for 60 years.
To provide more space for athletics, the University has proposed replacing a maintenance building and part of a parking lot with the Campbell Sports Center, a five-story, 48,000-square-foot building.
Baker sits on a waterfront lot of about 30 acres, owned in part by Columbia and in part by New York Presbyterian Hospital. One aspect of the proposed project involves a “Boathouse Marsh,” which would open up public recreation areas and waterfront access around the complex.
Although the city’s laws require Columbia to devote 15 percent of its land for public use, the landscape of the area doesn’t allow the University to provide that amount of space. Columbia has asked the city for a waiver on this requirement in exchange for cultivating marsh area.
When the evening began, CB12 members received copies of a resolution that provided conditional approval for Columbia’s plans. Members of the Land Use Committee, along with a few other board members, voted in favor of the resolution on Oct. 6.
But members said they needed more time to assess Columbia’s plans and to ensure that the University will follow through with its promises.
Aside from two abstaining votes, seven CB12 members were not allowed to vote—six because they were on Columbia’s payroll, and one on the city Parks Department’s payroll. These votes were not taken into account to determine the outcome of the resolution. CB12 chair Pamela Palanque-North, who teaches at the School of International and Public Affairs, was among these voters.
“I’m not quite sure what really happened,” said Joe Ienuso, executive vice president of facilities at Columbia. He and a few of his colleagues left the meeting after the votes were called but before the result was announced.
“I’m curious,” he said. “I’m still processing. There seemed to be sufficient confusion in the room.”
Ienuso had spoken earlier in the meeting, outlining a letter he submitted to the board about Columbia’s intentions for the complex, along with attached documents enumerating its amenities for the public. He said that Columbia had already begun to respond to criticisms voiced during a public hearing earlier this month by adjusting the lighting on the field and “actively working to improve our transportation and parking conditions.”
But, Palanque-North said, “There’s still a lot of concerns being expressed by the community about the plans.” Those who spoke out against Columbia’s plan weighed in on environmental concerns, traffic congestion, public use of the athletic facilities, and access to the waterfront.
Inwood resident Roger Meyer, founder of the New York Outrigger Canoe Club, said that, although the overhaul of the Baker complex is “actually quite historic” for public access to the waterfront, the proposal is “woefully inadequate.” He called on the University to provide public access to boats and storage for vessels on site.
Still, Katie Wheeler of Harlem River Community Rowing, a community organization that offers lessons and group rowing programs, said, “We see this as a wonderful step forward for waterfront access.” She added, “We would be very keen to partner with Columbia.”
One local resident, David Thom, who lives near Baker, addressed the board and offered his support.
“I moved to the area in 2003 knowing full well I was going to be living next to a football stadium,” he said. “And you know what? I make use of it.”