City Planning Commission Acts on Proposed Expansion Plan
November 26, 2007
Dear fellow member of the Columbia community:
I want to report that New York's City Planning Commission
today voted to approve with modifications Columbia's proposal to rezone 17
acres of the old Manhattanville manufacturing zone of West Harlem for academic
mixed-use. This is an important step forward in the extensive public review of
the University's long-term plan for a flourishing center of teaching, research,
and scholarship in upper Manhattan.
We are grateful that the City Planning Commission, under
the leadership of chair Amanda Burden, has given such careful consideration to
how our proposal can be improved and move forward in the best interests of both
the University and the local community.
This is not only because the Commission's decision is an
essential element of the public land use review process, but also because the
independent judgments of the Commissioners about how to balance preservation of
our City's unique urban fabric with the need for wisely planned growth are so
widely respected. The Commission's modifications to our proposal include:
- Modifying the use and reducing the scale of the
proposed building at the northeast corner of the project area from academic
research to university housing, to make it more consistent with the residential
blocks to the north and east;
- Modifying the use and reducing the proposed scale of a
building on the eastern end of the block that is now primarily the MTA's
Manhattanville Bus Depot, to ensure a smoother transition of physical scale
from campus to surrounding communities; and
- Widening the walkway leading to the large square of
publicly accessible open space between 130th and 131st Streets, thereby making
that large square even more welcoming to all members of the local community.
These modifications are intended to promote the vitality
of the Broadway corridor and to help make the plan's open space network an
asset for University affiliates and the broader community.
The Commission also voted today to approve the Community
Board's 197(a) plan for some 964 acres of Community District 9,
not including those provisions that relate to Columbia's proposed 17-acre zone.
The Commission noted that it is possible to support both of these proposals, as
modified, and that they are largely consistent in their goals.
You may also recall that as part of his official
endorsement of Columbia's plan in September, Manhattan Borough President Scott
Stringer proposed his own thoughtful zoning proposal for maintaining the
character of upper Manhattan neighborhoods. Through his efforts, the University
committed to develop and maintain new public parkland at 125th Street and
Twelfth Avenue and to provide $20 million in seed capital for a revolving loan
fund to create and preserve approximately 1,100 units of affordable housing
within Community District 9.
We have also committed to take a series of further steps
to address local concerns about affordable housing, an issue that affects our
entire City and region. Columbia has now made a commitment to meet better the
projected housing needs of University employees that may result in the adjacent
area from the new jobs we create. By providing nearly 1,000 units of housing in
the area for University affiliates, Columbia can help ensure that our own
long-term academic and job growth minimizes the pressures on the local area's
stock of rental apartments and responds directly to concerns about secondary
displacement by the year 2030.
In addition, we have agreed to commit $4 million to
expand Columbia's existing support for legal aid services to tenants in
Manhattanville, including protection from unlawful eviction or harassment.
Taken together with the affordable housing fund and our public guarantee that
the relatively small number of residents occupying approximately 130 apartments
within the expansion site will have high-quality, affordable replacement
housing in the community, the University is making a significant contribution
to address the challenge of affordable housing locally.
We have also made a commitment to green building design
and construction. Specifically, we have committed to meet the Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard in new University
buildings. Our urban design plan for Manhattanville was selected earlier this
year for a new "smart growth" pilot program sponsored by the U.S.
Green Building Council (USGBC). In addition, Columbia, along with eight other
New York City universities, joined as Challenge Partners in Mayor Bloomberg's
PlaNYC 2030 in a commitment to reduce our entire carbon footprint by 30 percent
Much work remains to be done. Now that the City Planning
Commission has approved Columbia's proposal with these modifications, our
rezoning application proceeds to the New York City Council for consideration
over the coming two months. We look forward to responding to the Council's
questions and to working with its members.
As I have stated before, in any major public decision,
especially one that concerns the future of Manhattan's scarcest resource --
land -- there will always be a diversity of thoughtful and sometimes
passionately felt positions. How we respond to these discussions and challenges
will be as important as anything else we do in the process of creating a new
campus for Columbia. Wherever possible we have tried to listen carefully to the
needs and aspirations of our neighbors and to integrate these thoughts and
ideas into the planning process. At the same time, we have tried to make the
case as strongly as possible for the reasonable needs of Columbia, an
institution with a singular history of service to the public good and with an
equally bright future. To date this has been a highly beneficial process, and
we have every reason now to expect it to continue in that way.
We continue to negotiate with the West Harlem Local
Development Corporation on a Community Benefits Agreement that will help
determine how the University will expand its partnerships with and investments
in the people who live and work in West Harlem. We look forward to reaching
common ground on a variety of new commitments bringing together campus and
community in mutually beneficial ways.
As ever, it remains my firm belief that New York City
needs thriving universities in its midst, including a thriving Columbia, as a
critical source of intellectual, cultural, scientific, and medical creativity.
But the City also needs flourishing universities because they provide the range
of good, moderate-income jobs that are the backbone of the City we have had and
the City we want. We are, therefore, glad and proud that the City Planning
Commission has endorsed the value of Columbia's carefully planned long-term
growth to all New Yorkers.
I will report back to you on the next steps in this
important public review process before the City Council.
Lee C. Bollinger