Columbia University's expansion plans and community members' concerns were the subject of a town hall meeting at Community Board 9 Monday night.
The meeting was attended by scores of board members and residents of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and other nearby neighborhoods. Emily Lloyd, Columbia's executive vice president for Government and Community Affairs, addressed attendees and described the University's planning process for future expansion. She also fielded numerous questions and comments from concerned residents, many of whom expressed serious reservations about Columbia's plans.
The development plans under discussion will determine the fate of property owned or controlled by Columbia or University affiliates in Manhattanville as well as in Washington Heights. The Washington Heights plans were discussed at a similar town hall meeting last week at Community Board 12. A meeting was held last week at Community Board 10 as well.
Columbia has been openly discussing Manhattanville plans for months, and the University already owns or leases a significant amount of property in the area in question, which extends approximately from 125th to 135th Streets west of Broadway. The University's planning process is unfolding in parallel with the city's own plans for redevelopment of the same area, which are taking shape under the auspices of the city's Economic Development Corporation.
The EDC has made rezoning and redevelopment a major component of the West Harlem Master Plan, completed in October 2002, which also calls for waterfront and transportation changes.
Redevelopment of Manhattanville will likely require sweeping zoning changes in coordination with the community and the city's department of city planning. Much of the area is currently covered by a manufacturing zoning code, and the EDC master plan called for changes to allow higher density development and "a greater mix of uses." Zoning changes would be subject to the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which includes community board review.
Columbia has come under fire from some neighborhood residents, including a group called the Coalition to Preserve Community. The CPC held a meeting last week at which members approved an open letter to Columbia and its Community Advisory Board for Campus planning, as well as members of Community Boards 7, 9, 10, and 12. In their letter, the organization's members expressed concerns about past Columbia development projects, including instances in which they say Columbia did not develop responsibly or did not honor commitments it had made to the community. They also called for a more open planning process and more meaningful consideration of community concerns. These sentiments were echoed by many speakers at Monday's meeting.
Many attendees indicated that although the meeting was an important gesture, Lloyd had frustratingly few details available, and true collaboration would have to continue as an ongoing process.
Lloyd said that many of the evening's suggestions would be taken into consideration, and that she hoped to continue to hold meetings with the board and with the community.
"We hope to propose a mechanism for more give and take," Lloyd said.