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Columbia Needs More Waterfront Property for Inwood Sports Complex Project

By Carla Zanoni | September 3, 2010 7:11am

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — Columbia University is already under fire in the Harlem community for its vast campus-expansion plan. Now, the Ivy League school wants to acquire even more land along the Harlem River so that it can legally construct a new sports complex in Inwood.

A city law requires property owners on the Manhattan shoreline to set aside a predetermined percentage of the land for public use when building a new structure along the water. But Columbia officials said it does not have the amount of workable waterfront land it needs at Broadway and 218th Street, the site of the new complex, to meet the city's square footage requirement.

So, instead, it is asking the city to allow it to acquire and develop more of the city’s waterfront land to meet that requirement.

Community Board 12's land use chair Wayne Benjamin said the school would normally have to set aside 180,000 square feet of additional public waterfront space in order to build the planned five-story, 48,000-square-foot Steven Holl-designed Campbell Sports Center.

But Columbia representatives say that the topography of the land, existing buildings and fields would make it difficult to meet the requirements. The solution, they say, is a new agreement with the city to make additional Harlem River property available to Columbia.

The university’s new proposal would increase the amount of public waterfront access from the 26,000 square feet it proposed in May to 37,000 square feet. The land is near the existing Baker Athletics Complex and would extend the waterfront plan further into the northernmost area near the boathouse.

University officials have been working with the city and community board since last year and consulted residents at a community open house held in May in order to draft its current plan.

Community response to the plan has so far been mixed, with some residents voicing trepidation about increased traffic in the area but general excitement at the prospect of new waterfront access, according to the Manhattan Times, while others are unhappy with the new construction planned for the area, according to the New York Times.

In June, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the state could use eminent domain to seize land, if necessary, in West Harlem for Columbia to move ahead with its planned 17-acre satellite campus.

Columbia's plan for adding some of the waterfront property to Inwood Hill Park includes wider paths, lowered hedges for increased water views and the addition of new park benches.

The proposed public park expansion would be designed by James Corner Field Operations, the same firm that designed the High Line approximately 200 blocks to the south.

Officials stressed that the Columbia plan is far from adoption, with Community Board 12 yet to take a position.

The next step for the university is a formal presentation to the board once it receives a response from the Department of City Planning later this month.