Since the commencement of acquisitions in Manhattanville by Columbia, the school has made a solid effort to create the appearance of "blight." Once active buildings became vacant as Columbia either refused to renew leases, pressured small businesses to vacate, or made unreasonable demands that resulted in the businesses moving elsewhere. Columbia also let their holdings decay and left code violations unaddressed.
Columbia University Has No Right to My Land
Only a few years ago, this area was undergoing a resurgence. Virtually all property was occupied, many by long-standing family operations such as my own. Now most of those businesses are gone -- forced out by the university. Still, Columbia has not been able to freeze all positive change in the neighborhood. Just in the past few years, three upscale restaurants have opened here. They seem to be thriving.
There is also a conflict of interest in the condemnation process. The firm the state hired to perform the "impartial" blight study -- the planning, engineering and environmental consultant Allee King Rosen & Fleming, Inc. (AKRF) -- had been retained by Columbia two years earlier to advocate for governmental approval of the university's expansion, including the possible use of eminent domain.
And how about the hearing process?
...the group that will make the ultimate decision, the development corporation’s board, was not there.
Instead, a lone hearing officer, a lawyer named Edward C. Kramer, listened stoically to more than 13 hours of often emotional testimony.
The public hearing, which was held on Tuesday and Thursday, followed a pattern: Speakers who were employed by, seeking employment with or otherwise had business ties to the university came out in support of the plan. Most other speakers opposed it.