Manhattanville FEIS (how’s that for jargon?) is Complete: Local Preservation Group Protests Conclusions

From Manhattanville Preservation Alliance (Former Sheffield Farms Stable )
3229 Broadway in Old West Harlem
New York, New York 10027
CONTACT: Mary Habstritt, 917-709-5291

Final Impact Hits Manhattanville, Environmental Review Complete

NEW YORK, NY—“How does an ordinary person cope with this?” demanded Anne Whitman, owner of the historic Sheffield Farms Stable. She was reacting to the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 197-c Manhattanville Re-zoning proposed by Columbia University. The report was posted on the website of the Department of City Planning on Friday, November 16, but members of the affected community were not informed of its appearance until late on Monday, November 19. The City Planning Commission will vote on the plan on November 26.

The FEIS provided the first opportunity to see the alternatives to demolition which had been examined for the historic former stable. Because it is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the State Historic Preservation Office had requested the analysis. Conducted by Columbia itself, no outside opinions were considered. Unsurprisingly, Columbia said it was not feasible to work around the relatively small stable or to find a way to re-use it.

If the plan is approved by City Planning and the City Council, the fate of the building will be sealed by the Empire State Development Corporation which is already under contract to assist in condemnation of any property not under Columbia’s control. Ms. Whitman has refused so far to sell to the university.

The competing 197-a plan developed slowly over many years by the community will also be voted on next Monday. The neighborhood and Community Board 9 are united behind it and support it resolutely. While it makes room for Columbia to expand, it also preserves affordable housing, historic buildings, and light manufacturing.

Michael Henry Adams, author of Harlem: Lost and Found, commented, “We always expected that some version of Columbia’s expansion project would be approved but what we never expected from the Planning Commission was that it would be approved utterly unaltered to address any of the most meaningful concerns promoted in the community’s 197-a plan.”

He compared the expansion area to the Gansevoort Market Historic District, “Think of another venerable, riverfront enclave, with an industrial past, the Meat Packing District at 14th Street. Newly landmarked, it’s a red hot destination. The sparkling dialogue between old and new, the people and old building-friendly planning found here- this is the same sort of Jane Jacobs-inspired environment that uptown residents envision for Manhattanville.”

Unfortunately, Amanda Burden in a formal statement [following] has already condemned the 197-a plan as fundamentally flawed, which seems to guarantee that the Columbia plan will be approved and there will be no “sparkling dialogue between old and new” for West Harlem.

The Sheffield Farms Stable was built in 1909 to house the horses and wagons of New York City’s largest dairy company at a time when most milk was delivered to customers’ homes. It is a uniquely beautiful stable linked to the history of providing a pure milk supply to New York City in the days before refrigeration when farms were increasingly further away from the growing urban center. The stable is half of a pair that includes today’s Prentis Hall, built as a Sheffield Farms pasteurization and bottling plant in 1909 and owned by Columbia University since 1949.

It now houses Hudson Moving and Storage, a specialty firm providing services to architects, designers, artists, and manufacturers in the design trades. It provides worldwide transport for art and other high-value products and proximity to New York City clients is vital. It is a certified Woman Business Enterprise—100% woman owned. The company’s workforce is 100% women and minority and union-affiliated.

The Manhattanville Preservation Alliance is a neighborhood-based organization that seeks to identify, document, and designate historic structures in west Harlem. Manhattanville is undergoing major changes that will dramatically change the face of the neighborhood for those of us who live, work, and own businesses here. Our aim is to ensure that vital connections to the past are retained, through the preservation, re-use, and rehabilitation of the historic buildings that define the character of our neighborhood.

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CPC Review Session 11/13/07 – Department Recommendations
Opening Statement—CB 9 197-a Plan and Columbia University Proposal
Amanda M. Burden, Chair

We are approaching the end of a long and intensive review process for two competing land use plans – the Community Board 9 197-a Plan, and the Columbia University application for Manhattanville. The Commission has been guided by the principle that both should be reviewed simultaneously and that each should be afforded equal treatment in the process.

I believe that we have lived up to that promise through the entire Land Use Review process. The record is full and the proceedings have been robust. Both parties have been given ample opportunity to present their case, and the Commission’s understanding of the plans and the issues has been greatly enhanced.

I must begin by acknowledging the incredible work of Community Board 9 in preparing the 197-a plan, presenting it to the Commission, and modifying it in response to the discussions that have taken place during this process. The leadership, commitment, and thoughtfulness of all who contributed to the Board 197-a Plan is to be commended, and the Department looks forward to working with the Board as we help implement aspects of their plan in the future.

It is important to note that at the end of its ULURP review period, Community Board 9 significantly revised its plan by increasing the community facility FAR to the same FAR as proposed by Columbia, and by eliminating the ground floor requirement for manufacturing uses. As discussed at our October 29 Review Session that development under the revised 197-a plan would therefore result in an area predominantly devoted to Columbia University. As a result, we no longer have before us two radically different visions of land use in Manhattanville, but instead two different visions of how Columbia can, and should grow in Manhattanville.

While the community board has prepared a highly thoughtful set of recommendations for the area covered by the heart of the Columbia proposal, the Department believes it has a fundamental failing:

It limits the extent and manner in which Columbia can grow. The 197-a Plan promotes an irregular pattern of development which works against a coordinated growth strategy in comparison to the integrated development possible under the Columbia plan.

As articulated by Columbia, one of the goals of their plan is “to move away from past ad-hoc growth of University buildings and instead create a widely thought-out, predictable plan for the next quarter century that is woven into the fabric of the surrounding community.” The Columbia plan for Manhattanville will allow Columbia to address its space shortages and to provide the kinds of research, academic, and teaching facilities that are needed to respond to a changing and dynamic world.
The Columbia plan is necessary to accommodate the University’s long term growth over several generations. Why is this important? Columbia is an institution of major importance to the City as a center of intellectual inquiry, scientific discovery and economic growth, and there is no question that it makes New York City more competitive on the world stage. Columbia is part of a concentration of university, higher education and related facilities in New York City that attracts intellectual, technical and scientific capital from around the world, and helps distinguish New York from other cities. Columbia, itself, is one of the largest private employers in the City and one of the most respected research universities in the world. This plan represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address for decades to come Columbia’s needs, while at the same time enhancing New York City’s economy and renown, and providing an infusion of investment, jobs, and people into the Manhattanville area.

Columbia’s phasing is compelling because it proposes to cluster during the first phase the schools of business, international and public affairs and arts together with the planned Mind, Brain, and Behavior Center. Through this concentration of uses on 125th Street, Phase I benefits the area by energizing both sides of 125th Street, as well as promoting the street as the primary connector leading to the new waterfront park on the Hudson River. This phase of development also includes a network of new public open spaces.

The 197a plan, on the other hand, would not permit this concentration of uses, missing an important opportunity to transform and activate 125th Street as a connector between the upland neighborhoods and the waterfront and precluding the range and scale of open spaces made possible by the Columbia plan.

The Columbia plan envisions the construction of a Central Below Grade space, whereby most support functions would be provided below grade, thereby allowing more active street life with a minimum of disruptions from above-grade parking, loading, and curb cuts. The Central Below Grade space is one of the most forward thinking and significant elements of both Phase I and the entire plan, and it facilitates weaving the new Columbia facilities and open space into the fabric of the community. It allows Columbia to create an integrated campus plan that would attract faculty and students and promote interaction among students, faculty and researchers of all disciplines. The City would likewise benefit as well from a well-planned, vibrant and open campus which links adjoining neighborhoods through the campus.

Under the 197a plan, the Central Below Grade space would not be possible and Columbia’s ability to achieve program floor area goals would be constrained. The 197a plan would force much of the mechanical space, loading and parking entrances above grade along with a proliferation of curb cuts. As a result, the pedestrian environment would be significantly degraded in comparison to the Columbia plan. Columbia’s program also would be unable to achieve the efficiencies made possible by a shared below-grade support space, underground truck loading level, and shared energy plant, for example. Columbia would be unable to meet its future space needs and it would lose considerable efficiencies and the benefits made possible by a cohesive campus plan.

At the heart of the difference between the 197a plan and Columbia’s plan is the ability to assemble private sites. The Below Grade Space, the open space and all the other features of the Columbia Plan that we support and are not achievable under the 197a plan and can only be realized with assemblage. This brings to the fore the issue of eminent domain.

The Commission is not being asked whether to approve eminent domain. That determination will be made at a later date by the ESDC. Approval of the Columbia University plan would not be a vote in favor of eminent domain and it is altogether possible that Columbia’s plan will be fully realized without eminent domain.

While we hope that eminent domain will not be necessary, it needs to be recognized that it has been a feature of plans approved by the Commission in the past including Hudson Yards, Downtown Brooklyn and most recently, Jamaica.

It is also important to note, as was made clear in the Review Session presentation by HPD, that there will be no condemnation of residential units and any relocation of residents will be voluntary in nature.

On balance, the two plans before us are very strong but as I said earlier, differ fundamentally in their visions of how Columbia can and should grow in Manhattanville.

While the Department is recommending approval of the 197-a plan, it is with modifications that recognize the importance of accommodating the long term growth of Columbia University. In a few moments, Betty will describe those modifications as well as the many aspects of the plan about which the Department is enthusiastic. As you will hear, there are some aspects of the 197-a plan that we think should be reflected in modifications to Columbia’s Special District proposal particularly with respect to the waterfront.

While the Department does support Columbia’s need to grow and the plan which will facilitate that expansion, Columbia must implement significant measures to address the impacts of its project in such areas as affordable housing. It must also make a number of modifications to improve upon the plan to make it a better fit in the community. These changes range from modifying the mix of uses along Broadway, to substantially improving the quality of the central open space and the connections to it.

After Betty Mackintosh discusses the Department’s proposed modifications to the 197-a Plan, David Karnovsky will describe Columbia’s mitigation commitments in key areas. And then Ray Gastil will discuss the Department’s recommendations for modifications to the Columbia plan.

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