NY Daily News Article

Opponents to Columbia expansion fight state’s push to take land

Thursday, January 22nd 2009, 12:57 AM

A holdout in Columbia University‘s $6 billion West Harlem expansion is challenging the state’s ability to seize property from businesses that refuse to budge.

Tuck-it-Away Self Storage filed suit in Manhattan Wednesday against the Empire State Development Corp. to contest the agency’s December approval of the project, which opened the door to the use of eminent domain to acquire land.

“The state and Columbia had a chance to resolve this, but they chose not to,” said Norman Siegel, a lawyer for Tuck-It-Away owner Nicholas Sprayregen. “So the battle lines have been drawn.”

Columbia, which plans to spread a new campus across 17 acres in Manhattanville, stands to take over four properties owned by Sprayregen as well as those owned by one other holdout.

“This is an abuse of power by the state and Columbia,” Siegel said. “We’re vigorously challenging it.”

Columbia says the project will create 6,000 university jobs, top research centers, 1,200 construction jobs over a 25-year period and new homes for several of its schools.

Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the state, declined to comment on the suit.

The state’s report described the largely industrial area designated for Columbia’s expansion as “blighted” and suffering from “lack of development and disinvestment.” The university already owns 76% of the properties in the area, the suit says, with the city owning or having control over another 15%.

Columbia is also facing resistance from a family that owns two area gas stations.

jmartinez@edit.nydailynews.com

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