Columbia University is prepared to serve the first eviction notice to a business in its proposed expansion zone in West Harlem, lawyers for the tenant and a spokeswoman for the university confirmed last night.
The tenant, Juan Javier German, speaking through a translator, addressed the second public meeting of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a group formed to represent community interests in negotiations with Columbia over the proposed expansion. He said he had received a letter stating that he would receive an eviction notice if he did not pay $117,000 for rent on his three leased spaces at 3251 Broadway.
Columbia owns the building and has said it would like to relocate the businesses housed there. Members of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a group dedicated to fighting Columbia's expansion, said they were concerned that this was the first step in a series of evictions.
The attorney who represents 3251 Broadway auto center, Phillip Van Buren, said some of the rent backlog was caused by miscommunications and from lost profits because of repairs that Columbia should have made. He asked the LDC to call for "a moratorium on business displacement."
The Columbia spokeswoman, La-Verna Fountain, said she did not know when the official notice would be served, but that it was expected. "He owes $117,000. It's a perfectly reasonable step," she said.
At the LDC's public meeting, representatives gave presentations on goals being sought in negotiations, ranging from the formation of small business retention programs to allowing community access to Columbia's academic facilities.
But during public feedback, most speakers focused on the LDC's decision to continue negotiations even though Columbia is considering the use of eminent domain to acquire property it does not own in the proposed expansion zone.
A civil rights attorney who represents a group of West Harlem tenants, Norman Siegel, told the LDC that "the best interest of this community is to be principled" against eminent domain.
But a member of the LDC, Susan Russell, said refusing to negotiate if eminent domain is still a possibility is counterproductive. She said the people who spoke out at the meeting are not representative of the community as a whole. Ms. Russell, who is chief of staff to City Council Member Robert Jackson, asked: "Where would it leave the community if we didn't negotiate?"