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[IMGCAP(1)]NEW YORK CITY-The Empire State Development Corp. board held public hearings this week on whether to allow eminent domain for the $6.28-billion expansion of Columbia University into Manhattanville. As GlobeSt.com recently reported, the ESDC board of directors adopted the Columbia University General Project Plan and authorized the public hearing to formally approve the University’s proposed expansion this fall.

The expansion project, which is expected to add up to 6.8 million sf of new facilities in up to 16 new buildings, has continued to gain some opposition from local Harlem residents, who worry about displacement. Many of the speakers at the two-day hearing opposed the plan. If eminent domain is used, all but two buildings in the area between Broadway and 12th Avenue and 125th and 133rd streets, will reportedly be bulldozed.

[IMGCAP(2)]The two hearings Thursday at Aaron Davis Hall of City College consisted of testimony by community activists, residents, and Columbia students. Some community activists spoke out against the possibility of eminent domain in the area. An anonymous local real estate attorney, not involved in the proposed project, previously told GlobeSt.com that the ESDC will invoke its eminent domain power to assist the University in acquiring the remaining properties that it does not already own if need be. In that case, “those who are holding out for whatever reason,” the source said, “will be forced to sell to the ESDC.” The source noted that obviously there will be an outcry as there has already been for years.

Former Community Board 9 Chair Maritta Dunn pointed to construction inconveniences. “These people, many of whom have raised their children and contributed to the stability of this neighborhood, have to live with the errors, oversights, and purposeful misjudgments of those who purport to have their interest in mind,” she said. However, there were attendees who offered testimony in favor of Columbia’s plan and instead focused on the positives it will bring for the neighborhood and well as the jobs it will create.

According to published reports, if the board approves Columbia’s request for eminent domain rights in 17 acres adjacent to the Hudson River, “the area would be transformed from a low-rise, light-industrial neighborhood with century-old buildings to a sleek, glass-walled extension of the university’s campus that will house its business and arts schools and a science building.”

An ESDC source tells GlobeSt.com that the public heading, which was held in four sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, “is but one segment of the testimony period which ends Friday Oct. 10th. The source explains that although the ESDC board was not present at the hearing, transcripts and copies of all the testimony will be provided to the board for review. He notes that present at both hearings were senior ESDC officials. The ESDC board reportedly plans to review written testimony before voting at the end of this year.

When the ESDC adopted the Manhattanville plan in July, the ESDC board accepted the findings of a neighborhood conditions study conducted by the consulting firm AKRF Inc. and an audit of that study by Earth Tech Inc. “Both reports found that the area surrounding the project’s 17 buildings was mainly characterized by aging, poorly maintained and functionally obsolete industrial buildings, with little indication of recent reinvestment to revive their generally deteriorated conditions,” according to a prepared statement. The ESDC’s mission is to “provide the assistance and service to businesses in order to encourage economic investment and prosperity in New York State.” As part of that mission, according to an anonymous urban affairs professional in New York City, among other things, “the agency can override zoning, exercise eminent domain and condemn property.

An urban affairs professional previously told GlobeSt.com that sometimes, people lose site of a critically important aspect about a city’s survival. “Columbia University is an extremely important part of the 21st century. Cities are about intellectual power, and if you don’t have the institutions in that city growing and thriving, they will have more of a difficulty of advancing.” The source continued that “every now and then, the Government has to look beyond the immediate neighborhoods and look at the big picture.”

According to Columbia’s statement, “the University has worked successfully over the past few years to negotiate fair deals with all of the other private landowners in Manhattanville area—many of whom speak enthusiastically of Columbia’s good faith and fair dealing in meeting their economic and business needs, and helping them find convenient new locations that will keep jobs in New York City. The University remains committed to reaching mutually beneficial agreements with the two remaining commercial property owners on these blocks if they will agree to do so.”

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