Columbia Boathouse Marsh Hullabaloo

East, Newsletter
Monday, March 21, 2011

New renderings shown at the community meeting include a few details that won't make it into the final picture. Instead of galvanized steel and cables the rails will be executed in bent wood.

Columbia University looks as though it’s in the final stretch of the public review process for the proposed Boathouse Marsh designed by James Corner Field Operations and the Steven Holl-designed Campbell Sports Center. On Friday night and Sunday afternoon, Columbia University Executive VP Joseph Ienuso made presentations to neighborhood residents. A few media outlets dubbed the gatherings “dueling meetings,” due to some political infighting between council members Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez, which erupted during a subcommittee meeting before the city council last week. The background political drama only heightened already-tense negotiations between the neighbors and the university.

The material for the decking at the Boathouse Marsh has not been determined.

The City Planning Commission green-lighted the project on February 16. The proposed 47,700 square foot Campbell Sports Center building sits on a riverfront lot. The university is required by law to devote 15 percent of waterfront property to public access. But instead, the university asked that Field Operations spruce up adjacent wetlands on city-owned land in Inwood Hill Park and offered 10 percent of the university land for public use, arguing that the university can barely squeeze in fields for football, baseball, softball, soccer, and field hockey, as well as six indoor tennis courts and two boathouses.

The area of the proposed Boathouse Marsh.

For their part, Columbia has put an “action plan” in writing that promises to deed the boathouse dock to the city and develop children programs that teach rowing. The eight-point plan focuses primarily on access to the facilities, but also emphasizes getting on the water, a timely point that found its way into the recently released NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan released last week.  Several rowers who spoke at both meetings, apparently got Jackson’s ear. The councilman plans to meet with them early this week. The rowers are pushing for another item to be added to the action agenda: a place to store boats.

The deadline for council approval or disapproval is April 6.

6 Responses to “Columbia Boathouse Marsh Hullabaloo”

  1. David Brodherson says:

    The article mistakenly explains that Columbia is devoting 10% of the land to the marsh; in fact the amount is much smaller, only approximately 1% or one acre. The concentration of so much on such a small parcel will lead to poor design caused by incompatible uses. The city deserves better.

  2. Tom Stoelker says:

    Thank you David. The numbers I have heard and reported in two articles ranged from 1.5 percent to 10 percent. After looking a little closer, my own calculations put the Columbia lot at 926,700 square feet. Take away the required sight lines and rocky coastline and that figure also comes into question. Regardless, the resolution passed by City Planning to modify the rule says that 15 percent of the waterfront property is 181, 315 square feet. The modification offers 17,793 square feet of the university land for public use, plus 9, 318 square feet of marshland. Add in the 11,000 square feet of access to city owned land adjacent to the boathouse and we’re looking at just a little more than 38,000 square feet. Still, you are correct, it’s nowhere near 10 percent. However, one aspect that has been somewhat downplay throughout the debate is what the university has the right to build in terms of FAR. That figure, also in the City Planning Resolution, is “7.8 million square feet of floor area allowed for community facility uses.” The marsh offer may speak quietly, but the FAR is the big stick.

  3. Carla Zanoni says:

    As a reporter who has extensively covered the Columbia Baker Field project for, I can tell you that the official plan from Columbia –documented by the university, city and opponents– states that Columbia proposes it will dedicate 1.5 percent of its property to waterfront access, instead of the 15 percent normally required.

  4. Tom Stoelker says:

    If anyone would know, it’s Carla. I have heard the numbers 1.5 and 10. I’d love to know the document, conversation or math deduction used to arrive at the lower number.

  5. Alex Beam says:

    Can someone post a link so I ca nsee the proposed new boathouse? Tks

  6. Tom Stoelker says:

    There’s no new boathouse proposed–yet–but they’re planning a new sports center. Here’s the rendering:

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