State Lawmaker Opposes Columbia U. Plan To Demolish Brownstones

This story was written by Maggie Astor, Columbia Daily Spectator


State Assemblyman Danny ODonnell (D-Morningside Heights) has launched an effort against Columbias proposal to demolish three brownstones on 115th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. The effort follows O'Donnell's longtime commitment to the establishment of a historic district in the neighborhood.

ODonnells campaign against the destruction of the brownstones comes just a few months after he sent the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain documents related to his cause.

The possible demolition of the brownstones underscores the importance of a historic district, said ODonnell spokesman Shane Seger said. He explained that the status would equip neighborhood buildings with a more resilient shield against dismantlement.

ODonnell said the brownstones, along with numerous other buildings in Morningside Heights, have the historic value necessary to be designated landmarks and given legal protection.

In a July 8 letter to 116th Street Block Association representative Harry Schwartz, Maxine Griffith, executive vice president for government and community affairs at Columbia, wrote that university officials had begun the process of seeking permits and intend to demolish the row houses once these [the permits] are in place. The Spectator obtained a copy of the letter through ODonnells office.

The 116th Street Block Association informed ODonnell in September of Columbias demolition plans. On Sept. 19, ODonnell argued against the plan in a letter to University President Lee Bollinger.

These brownstones contribute to the historic and cohesive architectural heritage of Morningside Heights and are noteworthy examples of the architecture between your campus and Morningside Park, ODonnell wrote.

But Joseph Ienuso, Columbias executive vice president for facilities, said given the brownstones poor state, saving them would be unfeasible.

The condition these buildings are in it doesnt make any sense at this point to try to preserve the buildings, he said.

Ienuso noted that Columbia has renovated a number of buildings to avoid leveling them.

Its really exceptional that were actually in a position to take a building down, he said.

The initial FOIL request regarding a historic district was submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on April 15, and Seger said LPC provided the requested documents.

ODonnell held a meeting last week to discuss the next steps toward the creation of a historic district, but no major conclusions were announced.
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