Manhattan Borough Board approves Cornell-NYCEDC lease agreement
The Cornell engineering and technology campus to be built on Roosevelt Island is one step closer to final approval.
The Manhattan Borough Board voted last Thursday to approve a lease agreement between Cornell University and the NYC Economic Development Corporation to build a tech campus on Roosevelt Island. The borough board who voted on the agreement included the ten Manhattan council members, borough president Scott Stringer, and Community Board 8 chairman Nick Viest. Ten members of the borough board voted to support the lease agreement while two members – Viest and council speaker Christine Quinn – abstained from voting. Nobody on the borough board voted against the measure.
The approval for the lease agreement is the latest step in Cornell’s quest to build an engineering and technology campus on Roosevelt Island. The next step in the lease process is for the EDC to work towards closing the deal with Cornell by December 2013 so the school is able to take control of the site before the year is out, according to EDC officials.
Cornell’s plan is to build a state-of-the art campus on the southern end of Roosevelt Island made up of academic space, research and development facilities, a conference facility, student housing, and publicly accessible open space. The campus will comprise two million square feet of new space when completed.
Viest’s abstention last Thursday was a reflection of a Community Board 8 meeting the night before that ended in gridlock over whether the board would support the lease agreement. CB8’s own Roosevelt Island Committee recommended disapproving the lease on the grounds that there weren’t enough protections built into the agreement to insure that Cornell would mitigate the impact of their construction on the island.
In an effort to come to an agreement, CB8 voted on two motions at last Wednesday’s meeting – one endorsing the lease agreement and one opposing it.
Both failed with a close to even split, leaving the board with a “no position” as its official stance. The first motion would have adopted Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s stance supporting the lease agreement as the board’s stance. The second motion would have adopted the Roosevelt Island Committee’s recommendation of disapproving the agreement.
Viest said that CB8 as a whole supports the project, as evidenced by their approval of Cornell’s application to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, but had some concerns over the particulars of the lease agreement. Half of the CB8 members wanted stronger language that binded Cornell to be responsible for mitigating their construction’s impact on the island. The other half felt that enough eyes had seen – and endorsed – the agreement that it was time to move forward.
The lease agreement has the full support of Councilwoman Jessica Lappin and Borough President Scott Stringer. The Roosevelt Island Committee, which addressed CB8 members at the meeting last Wednesday, is concerned that truck traffic on the Roosevelt Island Bridge and roads on the island itself won’t be able to handle the truck-traffic that such a big construction project will ring. They want legally binding language in the lease agreement that will hold Cornell to upgrading or fixing infrastructure on the island that’s damaged due to construction. The committee says there’s no such binding language in the lease agreement that was approved last Thursday.
The EDC also addressed CB8 members at the meeting with assurances that their lawyers were confident the language in the lease agreement was sufficient to hold Cornell to their responsibilities on Roosevelt Island.
After both CB8 motions failed, discussions and arguments ensued on introducing another motion supporting the lease agreement with some caveats. However, it was finally decided that because of such an even split in opinion, the board would send Viest to the Manhattan Borough Board vote the next morning with a tale of a house divided to illustrate just how much how much haggling CB8 underwent on the issue.
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