Wrench in the Plans for Inwood Construction

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The "Boathouse Marsh," a paradise in contention

A storm is brewing over Columbia’s upgrades to Baker Field. The project has been controversial since the beginning, but tensions escalated this past week. Residents of Inwood, the neighborhood around the 218th St. complex, are frustrated with the way, they argue, Columbia has circumvented zoning laws. Of course people get peeved whenever Columbia expands, but Columbia did, in fact, cleverly get around a city law that mandates a certain amount of waterfront property be set aside for public use. The University’s solution to avoid giving up land is to build an uber fancy “Boathouse Marsh,” designed by the architects of the High Line. The proposed project sets aside 1.5% of the land for public access, instead of the required 15%.

By an 11-1 vote, NYC’s Planning Department allowed Columbia to bend the rules in February, leaving the City Council’s permission as the last obstacle to construction. The Council was supposed to decide on Tuesday, but, at the last minute, delayed the vote. Some community members remained unconvinced that locals had enough input, and agreed to a community meeting instead. On postponing the vote, State Senator Adriano Espaillat told the Manhattan Times:

We feel that we still don’t have the information that we need to have regarding the commitment of the university to the community. While I believe this project can mean great things for our community, we must also make sure that local residents and community leaders have a voice in the project’s development.

Espillat claims that he didn’t know a vote was scheduled for Tuesday until last week (Bwog contacted the City Council over a month ago and still hasn’t heard back). He’s siding with Ydanis Rodriguez, the City Councilman whose district borders that of the proposed expansion. Robert Jackson, responsible for the Inwood district and more supportive of the project (Espillat and Rodriguez are overall in favor of Columbia’s expansion but want more community concessions) thinks that the two are teaming up against him for personal and political reasons. They exchanged harsh words at the meeting, and are sparring through the press:

“I’m f-ing pissed off at them,” Jackson told the Daily News after the hearing. “I’m tired of their bulls-t and if they have something to say, they need to come and say it my face.”

There will be another community meeting this Friday, but the City Council will have to vote within 50 days of the Planning Department’s approval for an April 6th final decision deadline. According to the Columbia website, the University plans to begin construction in the “first half of 2011.” Still, at this point, the time frame is questionable. Dan Held, Director of Communications for Columbia Facilities declined to comment, but Robert Hornsby, university spokesman, offered the following statement:

The Boathouse Marsh project would create new public access and new amenities on the Harlem River waterfront, provide passive recreation areas, restore and extend the area’s native marshland, and extend the educational offerings of Inwood Hill Park by creating an environment for learning about wetlands and plant species that once flourished in the area.  We remain committed to continuing to work with elected officials and the Inwood community to provide long-term enjoyment of the Boathouse Marsh and Columbia’s athletic facilities by both local residents and the University community.

Community…it’s complicated!

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  1. Come on, Bwog!

    "The project has been controversial since it’s outset."

    Spot the problem. I dare you.

  2. Circumvent the law

    Way to go Columbia, giving Inwood the old reach around.

  3. Robert Jackson

    ...sounds like one classy dude

  4. Lord

    Can they cut this out already? Manhattanville, Washington Heights, now Inwood? As someone who lives between the latter two I have to say their presence in the community doesn't add anything of value, and of course because more people are moving here to be near the medical center and other university amenities, housing prices are being driven up. Thank god I'm leaving New York soon, this place is going to hell in a handbasket.

    • ...  

      "As someone who lives between the latter two I have to say their presence in the community doesn’t add anything of value"

      You really think that? Of course, the sheer fact that housing prices are going up invalidates your argument, but even outside of dollars and cents—do you really think the presence of a world-renowned research university that employs thousands of people and sponsors a great deal of community service organizations and academic programs that work in the community adds nothing of value? You can disagree with the specifics of how Columbia has been acquired land, but the idea they add nothing of value to this community is patently absurd.

    • actually...

      if more people like you leave, the City will be infinitely better.

  5. Anonymous

    Was there anything of value in Manhattanville and Washington Heights in the first place?

  6. huh

    There is no "expansion" planned of Baker Field. The University just wants to build a building on the land it owns. That should be of no consequence to the public.

    And oh, they want to build a nice park for the community (on their own dime) by the people who did the High Line.

    If Bwog actually looked at the University website instead of attacking the hand that feeds them, they would know this.

    • Claire  (Bwog Staff)

      The Baker Field Athletic Complex is expanding, which is how we phrased it. We realized the ambiguity of this statement and have now changed it to something more appropriate.

      If you actually read our post though, you would know that we weren't attacking anyone! The Councilmen are attacking each other.

      • huh

        But the complex is not expanding. It is being developed. Expanding implies increase in square footage. This is certainly not happening. If anything, with the development of the public park, it is contracting.

        Using the language of the project opponents has the overall effect of undermining the University. Which is something that it appears that Bwog and Spectator both like to do.

  7. Anonymous

    The benefits of the Columbia University Baker Field marsh project are greatly exaggerated. This is the only capital improvement proposed at the site having a long term day in day out community benefit. Joe Ienuso, an executive VP at the university estimated at a public forum on Sunday that this capital improvement will cost $3 million. This is such a modest amount of money that it can hardly be defined as a "zoning variance" normally substantially benefiting a neighborhood.

  8. Anonymous what is actually happening is as follows:....this is simply a planned expansion to the rowing boathouse complex on already Columbia owned land. In order to be allowed the zoning to build, however, the city is requiring us to do a whole bunch of altruistic park building in the area as well. It's reasonable, but annoying as hell.

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