City Planning Commission Approves Rezoning With Modifications

November 26, 2007

As the City Planning Commission voted to approve with modifications the proposed rezoning of the old Manhattanville manufacturing zone in West Harlem for academic mixed-use, Columbia University today affirmed a series of commitments to ease the pressure on affordable housing in the area. The commission’s modifications included the reprogramming of two building sites along Broadway from academic research to other uses, reductions in building scale and improvements to the open space network.

Columbia’s commitments include building nearly 1,000 University units to accommodate the projected housing demand from Columbia employees in the area surrounding the project site generated by the job growth from the proposed long-term academic expansion. These investments in protecting affordable housing come on top of the University’s public guarantee that the residents who live in approximately 130 apartments in the proposed 17-acre expansion zone will have high-quality, alternative affordable housing in the community, as well as its recent agreement with Borough President Scott Stringer to provide $20 million in seed capital to an affordable housing revolving loan fund to create and preserve an estimated 1,100 affordable housing units within Community Board 9.

“We are grateful that the City Planning Commission, under the leadership of chair Amanda Burden, has given such careful consideration to how our proposal can be improved and move forward in the best interests of both the University and the local community,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. “This is not only because the commission’s decision is an essential element of the public land use review process, but also because the commissioners’ independent judgments about how to balance preservation of our city’s unique urban fabric with the need for wisely planned growth are so widely respected. As a result of the commission’s careful consideration, the University’s design plan has continued to evolve and improve during this process in a number of ways.”

The commission’s modifications to Columbia’s proposed site plan for the 17-acre former industrial area include modifying the use of a proposed building at the northeast corner of the project area from academic research to University housing and reducing its scale to be more consistent with nearby residential blocks; modifying the use and reducing the scale of a building on the block that is now primarily the MTA’s Manhattanville Bus Depot; and widening the public walkway leading to the publicly accessible open space between 130th and 131st streets to make that large open square even more welcoming to all members of the local community.

“From the beginning we have been committed to working with our West Harlem neighbors and their representatives in finding ways to ensure that the University and community can grow together in mutually beneficial ways,” Bollinger said. “We have heard and responded to many concerns, none more important than affordable housing, which is a challenge affecting our entire city and region.”

In response to concerns raised regarding the increased local demand for housing that may, in the worst case, result from the new local jobs created by its proposed expansion between now and 2030, Columbia will develop approximately 820 new units of University housing in the proposed project area and provide an additional 159 units of graduate student housing outside of the project area on land already owned by the University.

In addition, the University will commit $4 million to expand Columbia’s existing support for legal aid services to tenants in Manhattanville, including protection from unlawful eviction or harassment.

Taken together with the $20 million affordable housing fund announced in the September agreement with Manhattan Borough President Stringer, along with the University’s unequivocal pledge to relocate those tenants occupying approximately 130 existing apartments to other sites within the community, Columbia is providing a significant new commitment to affordable housing.

Columbia has also made a number of important commitments to environmental standards for future construction and the sustainability of new buildings in Manhattanville, whose past industrial and commercial uses were not environmentally friendly. First, Columbia has committed to meeting the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard in new University office, classroom and university residential buildings.  Second, the University’s urban design plan for Manhattanville was selected earlier this year for a new “smart growth” pilot program sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).  Third, Columbia, along with eight other New York City universities, joined as Challenge Partners in Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 in a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2017.

“We believe that thriving universities are essential to preserving New York City’s historic role as a place that provides good, moderate-income jobs and a global leader that continues to attract great minds to consider the central intellectual, scientific, artistic and cultural challenges of our time,” Bollinger said.  “We look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors, City Council members and other local elected representatives to ensure that the people who live and work in West Harlem and all of New York continue to benefit as the home of a world center of academic excellence.” 

Those wishing to learn more about Columbia's proposal should visit the Manhattanville planning Web site at This site is in both English and Spanish and will be updated regularly as we move through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

This article originally appeared on the Columbia Manhattanville website.