The City Council has approved Columbia University's 17-acre expansion in Harlem, setting the stage for a legal battle over eminent domain.
The expansion would create a campus of research, academic, and graduate housing buildings north of 125th Street, an estimated $7 billion project that would be completed over the next 20-plus years.
Thirty-five council members voted in favor of the Columbia plan, while five voted against it and six abstained.
The vote completes the city's review of the rezoning and paves the way for a groundbreaking, but representatives of landowners within the expansion footprint said they would challenge the use of eminent domain in court. Columbia University representatives have said they aim to reach a negotiated settlement with the remaining landowners, but have made it clear they would invoke the state's power of eminent domain to condemn the property if no agreement is reached.
Council Member Tony Avella of Queens, who voted against the plan, said the use of eminent domain would jeopardize all New York property owners. Neighborhood opponents of the plan have long said it would harm Harlem's character and displace longtime residents.
Speaker Christine Quinn, who voted for the expansion, said before the vote yesterday: "Let me be clear — I think eminent domain should be used infrequently. It should be used carefully and cautiously and it should only be used when there is an overriding greater good in the interest of the city and I think certainly the possible creation of 6,000 jobs, economic development, job creation — those are relevant reasons and appropriate reasons to use eminent domain. I hope that Columbia can come to an agreement, but if they don't, I understand why that idea has to be considered."