Sunday, November 15, 2009

`COLUMBIAGATE': Is Columbia University's West Harlem-Manhattanville Campus Expansion Project Illegal?--Part 5

In a January 21, 2009 petition to the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, a New York City civil liberties lawyer named Norman Siegel presented the legal case against New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] decision to allow the Columbia University Administration to move forward on its 17-acre campus expansion project in the West Harlem-Manhattanville neighborhood, just north of West 125th Street. (See below for parts 1 to 4)

According Siegel’s January 21, 2009 petition:

“Columbia did undertake cosmetic interior renovations in certain properties, but left underlying waterproofing conditions unaddressed, allowing structural elements to deteriorate…

“Columbia also posted on buildings it owned `For Rent’ signs, creating the appearance of available commercial rental property and flagging demand, even as Columbia had no intention of renting its vacant properties. Calls to the phone numbers listed on such signs, by both Manhattanville owners, and other prospective renters, yielded only answering machines and unreturned calls. In May, 2007, an attorney representing a number of businesses being forced out of a Columbia owned building upon inquiring as to the possibility of relocation into one of the vacant Columbia owned buildings in the area was informed by Columbia’s attorney that `There is no space available in Manhattanville.’

“In late March, 2006, Empire State Development Corporation [ESDC] turned to Columbia’s Consultant, Allee King Rosen and Flemming, Inc. [AKRF,] to perform a new blight study of Manhattanville.

“In sworn affidavits, AKRF and ESDC stated that in retaining AKRF, ESDC had required the erection of a `Chinese Wall’ separating employees working on the Blight Study for ESDC from those working on the environmental review for Columbia, and that such separation had been strictly maintained…On May 19, 2008, ESDC admitted that such a wall had not in fact been maintained. Billing records indicate that as many as six AKRF employees worked on both sides of the alleged barrier…

“Far from keeping the study confidential from Columbia, ESDC permitted Columbia to control access to the properties, accompany surveyors, review and comment on reports, and to be present at meetings and reviews…”

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