Court limits Columbia University’s expansion into West Harlem
An ambitious development plan that would allow Columbia University to expand its campus and its influence in the West Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattanville was thwarted today when a state court ruled that the procedure by which the University was to acquire land to build the project was unconstitutional.
In December 2008, the elite Manhattan-based college, which has maxed out its ability to expand on its Morningside Heights campus, unveiled a $6.3 billion plan development plan by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and SOM, for a satellite campus in nearby West Harlem. But to build the project, the University needed to acquire private property from owners who did not want to sell, forcing it to use the power of eminent domain to acquire the land. What the court ruled today is that the condemnation procedure by which Columbia was to acquire the land, which requires proof of public benefit, was in the interest of the University only. The ruling will stall the project if not also deal it a fatal blow.
Columbia, which controls 91% of the 17-acre parcel slated for development, could simply build around the privately held land that stands in the way of its development plans. But to do that would be difficult if not impossible. As currently designed, the area impacted by today’s decision calls for a below grade service core that would eliminate truck traffic at grade to better pedestrianize the site. To build this feature Columbia said it needs to control the entire 17-acre site.
The University plans to appeal today’s decision.