Bwog’s James Rathmell reports from CB9’s meeting.

Earlier this evening, Community Board 9 unanimously voted against the passing of the $150 million Community Benefits Agreement for the Manhattanville expansion.  Created to address several of the problems Columbia has run into with local residents, the CBA would have allowed for $150 million to be allotted in several categories, including housing, ‘in-kind’ benefits, and a demonstration public school to be completed in the near future. 

Two members of the CB9 board (who declined to be named) debated the issue fiercely, focusing on the eminent domain problem and the “vagueness of the wording in the Agreement.”  Much of the language, one of the members argued, was “watered down, diluted, and not the point we were trying to make.”  One of the main concerns, it seemed, is that Columbia is still relying on the use of eminent domain to further the expansion.

A man in a green sweater continually shouted from the back of the room for most of the proceedings; “This is the most important damned thing to come by CB9 in forever,” he said, “and this whole Eminent Domain thing has always been about one thing: taking property from people.”  Due to this, many of the members voiced that voting yes on the CBA “would be inconsistent with what CB9 has always stood for.”

Julio Batista, the president of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation (a local group specifically created to negotiate benefits with Columbia), countered many of these arguments.  The simple fact, he said, was the Columbia already owns 80% of the land, and that failure to sign the CBA would result in the community getting nothing as opposed to the $150 million (plus an additional $150 million provided by the state).  He stated that if the Public Authorities Control Board approves the Columbia expansion (which is expected to happen in the coming weeks), Columbia would not be mandated to provide any money to the community. 

The general consensus, was that the motion passed by CB9 would not have so great an impact on the CBA. The LDC (with two members of CB9 present) will vote on the agreement tomorrow night.  “No matter what we say, it’s not going to make a damned difference,” one member explained, “Our only question is ‘Can they give up wminent domain, period?’”  Members rallied behind this sentiment: “I don’t think we should vote on it just because it’s shameful.  It’s outrageous, egregious, and shameful.”  But a representative from the LDC settled on the fact that, “We think we’ve secured the best agreement we can.”   

Though the outlook is not good for CB9, their unanimous vote expressed as sense of solidarity for the board.  As one member put it, “[CB9] has become one of the best community boards in all of Manhattan.”