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Public Hearings on Columbia’s Use of Eminent Domain, Next Week

manhattanville new york eminent domain urban planning

Now that the state has officially declared Manhattanville “blighted,” on September 2 and 4, the Empire State Development Corporation will hold public hearings, the next stage of the process that will ultimately determine whether the state will support the use of eminent domain in Columbia University’s planned expansion. While many believe this is a done deal, there is still the opportunity to make your voice heard on this issue. Talking points on eminent domain from Task Force Supporters the Coalition to Preserve Community, a group that has long been fighting Columbia’s plan, are after the jump.

The hearings will be held from 1-4pm and 5:30-9:30pm both days, at Aaron Davis Hall of the City University of New York, located at West 135″‘ Street at Convent Avenue. Speaker sign-up begins 15 minutes before each session.

Talking points on eminent domain:

EMINENT DOMAIN SHOULD NOT BE INVOKED ON BEHALF OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY’S PROPOSED EXPANSION FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS;

(1) THE COMMUNITY UNEQUIVOCALLY OPPOSES IT – At every forum of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation and at every public hearing in the ULURP process, the community has been united in opposing the use of Eminent Domain as a first principle and most community members have demanded that the University take it off the table as a precondition for any negotiations with Columbia. The community seeks an integrated community, where private owners who have provided good-paying jobs to community workers can stay in their historic locations. Condemnation would create a “company town” solely for Columbia University’s use and enjoyment. Columbia’s “all of nothing” demand is unnecessary to their expansion, but not to their “fire-sale” land grab, and destructive of the neighborhood.

(2) THIS PROJECT IS NOT “CIVIC” NOR “FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD” – This proposed project would transfer private property to another private entity, which will use the property in public/private biotech business projects akin to Stanford University’s research park (a development Columbia has sought to emulate since the 1960s). This is not an “educational” or “-”civic” use, despite the title of this hearing, but an income-producing use by a not-for profit entity which will not even pay real–estate taxes.

(3) ANY “BLIGHT” IN THE EXPANSION AREA HAS BEEN CREATED BY THE PROPOSE BENEFICIARY OF EMINENT DOMAIN – If it is true, as Columbia has repeatedly claimed, that the University owns 70-80% of the property in Manhattanville (a claim put into question by the list of properties which it seeks to have the ESDC condemn), any ill-maintained and unoccupied property has been the result of the University’s own deliberate actions. I should not benefit from those actions. Available industrial real estate is at a severe shortage in the City. Any vacant properties could have been rented immediately if maintained and truly offered for occupancy. The University has used the threat of condemnation, based on its own creation of blight, to threaten and intimidate landowners into selling their properties, saying “sell to use now or deal with the State later.” Columbia has also emptied the area of commercial tenants like Reality House and the mechanics at 3150 Broadway and is in the process of removing long-time residential tenants and potential owners.

(4) THE CONDEMNATION PROCESS HAS BEEN CORRUPT AND FULL OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST – The University has paid at least $300,000 to the ESDC to move the condemnation process forward (a payment unacknowledged by the University until an FOIL request uncovered it) while denying its role in the Eminent Domain process. There is an irresolvable conflict of interest in the condem nation process because the consultant AKRF was hired by the University to perform its Environmental Impact Statement for the ULURP process and at the same time created the “blight study” being relied upon by the ESDC as a basis for Eminent Domain. That conflict has not been resolved by the newly minted “blight study” by another consultant which uniformly mimics the AKRF study. Moreover, AKRF also drafted responses for the City Planning Commission in response to points brought up by Community Board 9 critiquing the “Draft Scope of Work” during the ULURP process. Thus it is seeks to serve three masters: the University, the City, and the State. That is not possible.

(5)THE USE OF EMINENT DOMAIN AT THIS STAGE IS PREMATURE – Columbia has never demonstrated its need for the entire proposed expansion area. We don’t have even one set of completed plans for a building. The safety and economic-feasibility of its proposed “bathtub” basement has never been demonstrated and has served primarily as a rationale for the attempted acquisition of the entire footprint. Columbia has made no commitment to building the bathtub or developing the proposed expansion area within any designated time period. The footprint may sit fallow for years as the University struggles to raise funds in a depressed economy. Present businesses are already operating, paying wages to workers and taxes to the City.

(6)EMINENT DOMAIN IS UNDEMOCRATIC AND UN-AMERICAN – Property to be acquired by private developers like Columbia University should be bought through the market at market prices. Owners uninterested in selling should not be compelled to sell by the State.