Saturday, January 28, 2012

NYU's Mega-Expansion Plan Presses Forward With Park/Open Space Destruction

N.Y.U. is asking the city to lift development and open-space restrictions on its two superblocks south of Washington Square so that it can add 2.5 million square feet of space, with 1.5 million of that aboveground and 1 million underground.

"Villagers should feel absolutely no reticence in asserting their opposition to New York University’s monstrous, grandiose 2031 plan," writes former City Council Member Carol Greitzer in a very informative historical piece published in this week's Villager about NYU and the former Board of Estimate's past transgressions involving the original Washington Square Southeast Title I project.


In what opponents blasted as an “orchestrated” show of support for N.Y.U.’s 2031 large-scale development plan, union construction workers — along with university deans and even the women’s basketball team coach — testified on behalf of the ambitious development scheme at Community Board 2’s packed full board meeting last Thursday night, according to the Villager.

And, in a first, a lone local resident spoke in favor of the plan. But the crowd mockingly accused him of being paid off.

Meanwhile, local residents among the 300-person audience at P.S. 41 repeatedly told N.Y.U. and the construction workers to “Build it Downtown!” — meaning the university should develop its new space nearby in the Financial District where Community Board 1 has an open invitation for N.Y.U. to come grow.

Several N.Y.U. faculty members also spoke against the plan, saying it would disrupt both their classrooms and their families’ lives.

Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, said 1,000 people had turned out at the board’s previous five hearings on the N.Y.U. “Core Proposal” this month. He noted the board had “avoided a melee” after the first of these hearings, when the auditorium at the A.I.A. Center proved to be too small for the overcapacity crowd, and the meeting had to be quickly moved to Our Lady of Pompei Church’s basement.

Hoylman said, at this point, the board will send a formal letter to N.Y.U. regarding the plan, asking the university to respond to it in writing. Following that, there will be a second round of meetings on the 2031 plan by the C.B. 2 committees during February.

Then, on Mon., Feb. 20, the board’s N.Y.U. Working Group, co-chaired by David Gruber and Terri Cude, will take all the resolutions from the various committees and use them to draft a comprehensive “omnibus resolution” on the N.Y.U. plan.

On Thurs., Feb. 23, the full community board will vote on this resolution — which is sure to be a lengthy one — which will then be sent to the City Planning Commission as the board’s advisory recommendations as part of the ULURP (uniform land-use review procedure) for the proposed plan. It’s the same procedure that C.B. 2 followed in its ULURP review of Rudin Management’s residential redevelopment scheme for the former St. Vincent’s Hospital site — which was approved on Monday by the Planning Commission.

The board didn’t pass any resolutions on the N.Y.U. plan at last Thursday night’s meeting, since it’s only midway through its 60-day ULURP review for the university’s application.

N.Y.U. is asking the city to lift development and open-space restrictions on its two superblocks south of Washington Square so that it can add 2.5 million square feet of space, with 1.5 million of that aboveground and 1 million underground.

In total, four new buildings would be added on the superblocks, located between Houston and W. Third Sts., including a new dorm, a replacement gym and an N.Y.U hotel on the southern block, plus two academic “Boomerang Buildings” in the Washington Square Village courtyard on the northern block.

In addition, N.Y.U. will provide space for the city’s School Construction Authority to build a new public school at the southeast corner of Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Place. Initially, N.Y.U. had thought it would be constructing the “core and shell” for this public school, but now is only providing the land for free. In an e-mail, Alicia Hurley, the university’s vice president for government affairs and community engagement, explained that, at first, the university thought it might be putting the school in the planned, mixed-use “Zipper Building,” to be developed on the Coles Gym site on Mercer St., or possibly one of the new “Boomerang Buildings” in Washington Square Village, in either of which case it would have built the public school’s basic structure. But the situation changed, Hurley said, after N.Y.U. scrapped plans for adding a fourth slender tower (not well suited for a public school) within the landmarked Silver Towers complex and decided instead to build on the adjacent Morton Williams supermarket site, which is better configured for a public school; the revised proposal now calls for an S.C.A.-built public school in this planned building’s base, topped by an N.Y.U. dorm.

One of the building trades officials at last Thursday’s full board hearing noted that N.Y.U. is an “economic driver” for the city, generating $2.5 billion for the economy and providing 25,000 jobs. The 2031 plan, he added, would provide 2,400 construction jobs over the next 20 years. Hard hats in the audience, who were all wearing orange T-shirts, cheered and held up “Build It!” and “Build Now!” signs.

However, Steve Ashkinazy, a C.B. 2 member, said if N.Y.U. instead built in the Financial District it would still mean the same number of new construction jobs — only not in the Village. Local residents in the audience cheered their approval.

Dennis Lee, of Local 79 of the masons and carpenters union, said New York needs the educational power of N.Y.U. to keep pace with global competition.

“I think our thoughts really do have to go back to our kids,” said Lee, a hulking figure who looked like he could play for the football Giants. “This is a worldwide economy, and we’re getting left behind.”

Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership business improvement district, similarly said that the area’s large institutions, N.Y.U., The New School and Beth Israel Hospital, “are all major economic drivers. The economic impact that N.Y.U. has had… . They shop in our shops, they use our services. I strongly urge everyone in the room to work to make this plan happen for the benefit of the entire city of New York.”

As she spoke, an opponent called out, “Downtown!” and someone else chided her, “Shame on you!”

Scott Dwyer, the lone Village resident — not counting N.Y.U.-affiliated employees — to testify in favor of the scheme, said, “The current superblocks are monolithic failures, and the city and N.Y.U. are to blame.” He said the superblocks’ main feature is “private, walled-off gardens.”

“How much did they pay you?” audience members called out derisively. No residents had spoken in favor of the plan at C.B. 2’s five previous N.Y.U. meetings in January.

Mary Brabeck, dean of N.Y.U.’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, said the new construction would allow Steinhardt to centralize its faculty, now scattered over four different spaces, in one location.

Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts, said, “Greenwich Village is one of the world’s great artistic centers. For the past 50 years, the Tisch School has been a part of that.” She added that there would be a new performing arts center at Houston and Mercer Sts.

“That’s the hotel!” one anti called out incredulously. Indeed, N.Y.U. has not mentioned an arts center being part of the planned “Zipper Building” up to this point.

Calling the 2031 plan “elegant,” Janice Quinn, the N.Y.U. women’s basketball team coach, stated, “I say this as a neighbor, and not as an employee… . I think it’s time for us [N.Y.U.] to improve.”

Also testifying in support of N.Y.U. were representatives of social-service organizations, including the Bowery Residents’ Committee and University Settlement House.

“N.Y.U. has been a really excellent partner in helping those in need,” said the University Settlement representative. She said the Lower East Side settlement house supports N.Y.U.’s “ability to grow and remain a resource.”

The pro-N.Y.U. speakers were weighted toward the first half of the meeting. Hoylman said one person had signed them all up — which is allowable. About midway through the meeting, some N.Y.U. officials, including Hurley and Senior Vice President Lynne Brown, and the construction workers left. The plan’s opponents angrily said they felt “disrespected” by the N.Y.U. officials for not staying to hear all the criticisms of the plan. However, John Beckman, the university’s spokesperson, did stay for most of the full 2½ hours of public testimony. He later noted that Hurley had already attended five meetings on N.Y.U. that month — plus, no resolution on N.Y.U. was being voted on that night.

Former Councilmember Carol Greitzer recalled how 50 years ago the community had fought N.Y.U.’s effort to obtain the two superblocks, which were part of a federal Title I urban renewal area. The original developer wanted to get out of the deal, and so the property should have gone to a bidding process — but the city wanted the university to get the blocks, Greitzer said. To appease the community, the university agreed to give one of the new Silver Towers — 504 LaGuardia Place — as a residential building for Villagers. In addition, the university promised to create an N.Y.U.-run, experimental public school on the present Coles Gym site, yet this was never built, Greitzer said.

“This is infill infamy, and we can’t let this happen again!” Greitzer declared as the crowd cheered.

Beth Gottlieb, president of the Mercer-Houston Dog Run, said, “The buildings and scale of this project do not belong in the Village. We do not want to be homogenized, overbuilt or Gap-ified.” Warning politicians who will vote on the plan as part of ULURP, Gottlieb said, “To Councilmember Chin, Borough President Stringer and all our elected officials who say you represent us — do it! If not, you’ll hear from us on Election Day.”

Matt Viggiano, Councilmember Chin’s land-use planning director, said he knows people are eager to know Chin’s position on N.Y.U. 2031. The superblocks are in her district, and her stance presumably would have a major influence on the Council’s vote on the ULURP.

“It’s a little early for us,” he said of Chin revealing her full position on the project. “Over the next few months, the councilmember will continue to meet with residents and the community board. We have serious concerns about the size and impact of the 2031 plan.”

Nina Hernandez, an N.Y.U. alumna who lives on Mercer St. across from the “Zipper Building” site, said, “I know we need the jobs. But we need our community, we need our light, we need our air. I don’t want to live in a canyon.”

Mary Johnson, a former C.B. 2 member who lives east of Washington Square Park, said recent N.Y.U. projects, like its co-generation plan upgrade, turned the neighborhood into a nonstop construction zone.

“N.Y.U. has been renovating buildings, putting things on top of roofs, digging holes, connecting the co-gen to every area — it ain’t fun,” she said. “Eighteen to 19 years of that would be hell.”

Also, she said, the residents of the so-called “loft blocks” east of the park don’t want N.Y.U.’s proposed rezoning to add commercial uses in this area.

“We have plenty of shops on Eighth St. and Broadway,” she said.

Fearing the construction’s fallout and its impact on air quality, Laurence Maslon, a professor at the Tisch School, said, “What happens in my classroom when I have to take my 6-year-old to the doctor because he has a lung infection? Faculty housing is a covenant between a university and its faculty,” said Maslon, who lives on the superblocks. He said if a project of this magnitude were proposed at a small liberal-arts college like Wesleyan or Oberlin, the faculty would revolt.

Gary Anderson, a Steinhardt professor, referred to Villagers’ past battles to beat back the neighborhood-destroying plans of Robert Moses.

“They know they’re on the wrong side of history,” he said of N.Y.U.

Read More:

N.Y.U. calls out the troops in support of its mega-plan

The Villager - January 26, 2012 - By Lincoln Anderson

The Villager - January 26, 2012 - By Carol Greitzer

A Walk In The Park - September 17, 2011

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