Columbia University’s plan to expand its Harlem campus north into a 17-acre parcel currently occupied by warehouses and auto repair shops was put to a halt by the New York State Supreme Court’s appellate division, citing a misuse of the eminent domain law by the state on the university’s behalf. Specifically, the court ruled that there was no civic purpose behind the school’s expansion plan. The school’s developer contends that the proposed project would offer civic value, citing education, community vitality, and increased job opportunities.
But the expansion has caused a good deal of strife among local businesses and residents, as well as the prospects outlined in a 30-year plan to enhance the urban campus that Shelterforce examined in 2008 (Will Columbia Take Manhattanville? Shelterforce #153), and the university is seen among many residents as having a history of neighborhood encroachment.
Columbia’s expansion efforts represent all the classic elements of a major institution in built-out environs, seeking to expand to remain state-of-the-art and competitive, all the while remaining in its original setting. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, considering that the New York State Court of Appeals recently allowed for the use of eminent domain in Brooklyn for the future home of the New Jersey Nets (another controversial project). Columbia has all but called the area intended for development “blighted,” so stay tuned for the school’s next move — a move residents are already anticipating.