Columbia University's expansion into West Harlem is entering its final stage. The state's economic development agency began holding hearings last night on whether it should invoke eminent domain to take possession of properties the university doesn't own.
It's not enough to argue that Columbia's expansion will bring jobs to upper Manhattan or glory to the institution. State law requires the Empire State Development Corporation to prove that property it wants to seize is blighted. But law never defines blight. In order to make the case this time, consultants measured several factors, including whether 25% of a property was vacant. A project opponent who lives nearby, Walter South, made his own tongue-in-cheek proposal: take over the homes of ESDC Board Members so Columbia faculty can live there.
SOUTH: I am sure these guys have kids at school, bedrooms they are not using, extra bathrooms and so on they are not using.
REPORTER: An ESDC spokesman says the the agency has used similar criteria to determine blight for other projects around the state.