The NY Observer has the details on the negotiations between Columbia and its West Harlem neighbors. The university claims to own 67.5 percent of the 17 acres it wants to develop from 125th to 133rd streets between Broadway and Twelve Avenue - leading to a scramble for the 20 percent owned by the MTA and other public agencies and the remaining 12 percent that is privately held.

University officials are turning to Community Benefits Agreement - a contract between developers and local stakeholders that promise perks like jobs in exchange for political support. Community entities get the promises in writing and developers get their projects built faster with less political fallout. As the Observer points out, the CBA could mean that community leaders will look the other way if Columbia turns to eminent domain to take the privately-held land.

What’s also interesting about the negotiations surrounding the West Harlem CBA is the competing land-use proposal put forth by the local community board, which worked with Pratt on a zoning plan that would compete with Columbia’s – and allow West Harlem residents and community leaders to have a say on how their neighborhood would be transformed. Even the Mayor’s office is intrigued. Here’s what Manhattan Community Board 9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc told the Observer about the CBA:

Whenever people come to the community to develop something, it is seldom, if ever, resulting in any benefit for the people who have made this place real. We want it in writing, we want it contractual—in a way that it can be fulfilled, that it can be verified.

And here’s Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s take:

The C.B.A., first of all, provides a context to build a relationship with the surrounding communities, and I don’t mean just engaging in a discussion about what Columbia can do and wants to do, but what the communities would like to see, and their aspirations and needs. Secondly, it provides clarity of those things that we can agree to do for the surrounding communities—so we get that sort of settled. Lastly, it builds a base of trust. Over time, that is equally important, maybe more important, because the limits of what Columbia will do for surrounding communities will not be set by the community-benefits agreements.
Those negotiating the CBA on behalf of West Harlem at first were representatives from nearby public housing projects, local business organizations and commercial property owners. Now seven pols, who had been overlooked to avoid any conflicts of interest, are on the board negotiating the CBA. Supposedly conflicts of interest related to their official roles were resolved, but, as one local stakeholder asks, isn’t Columbia one of their constituents? Two of those seven elected officials even have a vote on the land-use application.

Columbia isn’t the first developer to turn to CBAs. Forest City Ratner also signed a CBA with 8 local nonprofits including ACORN, which supported the project. At least four of the CBA signatories received money from Ratner, but it hasn’t been determined which ones and how much. Indeed, the Yards CBA has been criticized for being an example of democracy-for-hire.

Speaking of Brooklyn, Red Hook is closer to hosting a “harbor district” now that the Port Authority has granted approval to transferring piers 7 to 12 to the city, reports the NY Sun.

The transfer means that Brooklyn’s last working container port will close as the city gears up for a public land review process for the site – which could include a cruise ship terminal, a brewery and retail spaces. The city is looking into expanding a port in Sunset Park to preserve the lost container jobs.

A Red Hook harbor district doesn't change the fact that the area is inaccessible if you are car-less - unless you happen to be arriving via Carnival. That Water Taxi isn’t reliable, the B61 bus leaves much to be desired and a walk or bike ride from Smith and Ninth Street can be long and bad for the lungs.