Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
On April 11, Borough President Scott Stringer issued his recommendation for the “conditional approval” of NYU’s massive Village expansion plan. He cut a deal with the university to trim about 16% off the 2.5 million sq. ft. project. While the revised plan reduces slightly the size of the massive project, it would still require lifting long-standing neighborhood zoning protections, eliminating open space preservation requirements, giving away public land, and abrogating the terms under which NYU was given acres of publicly-owned land in the 1960s. Thousands of New Yorkers had written, called or signed petitions to the Borough President urging him to vote ‘NO’ on the plan, and community groups from Hell’s Kitchen to the Battery told the Borough President that the plan’s impact warranted rejection. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), among many other groups, had urged the Borough President to hold a public hearing on the plan before making his decision, as he had with the Columbia expansion proposal and the redevelopment of Con Ed’s East Side properties. He refused.
GVSHP, along with other groups, feels strongly that the plan is fundamentally flawed and should be sent back to the drawing board. For four years, GVSHP and a broad range of community groups met with NYU under the auspices of the Borough President’s community task force on NYU development. That Task Force issued several recommendations regarding how NYU should proceed with its growth plans. Among them was that satellite campuses absorbing the university’s growth should be explored, and that new facilities should not be located in the already-saturated Village unless there was a rationale for why they could not be located in alternative sites. The Borough President had pledged to be guided by these recommendations. NYU has never provided reasoning as to why these facilities must be located in the Village and has refused to explore satellite campus options.
The next stop in the approval process is the City Planning Commission. The Commission can approve, disapprove or scale back the plan. The Commission consists of thirteen members, seven appointed by the Mayor, one by the Public Advocate and five appointed one each by the Borough Presidents. Their public hearing will be held on Wednesday, April 25th at 10 am at the Museum of the American Indian, 1 Bowling Green (Broadway at Battery Place/State Street near Battery Park); normally hearings are held at the Commission, but due to the much larger than usual expected crowds, a larger space has been secured.
From there, the plan goes to the City Council, where City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the area in question, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the adjacent district (her district begins a block away from the site), will largely determine the proposal’s fate. They too can approve, disapprove or scale back the plan. The plan can only move ahead if approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
If the revised plan approved by the Borough President is adopted, it would turn several blocks in the central Village into a twenty-year construction zone, would add millions of sq. ft. of new NYU space to the area and further tip the balance of neighborhood character toward total domination by the university. It would eliminate scarce open space and consign remaining open space to the shadows of large new NYU buildings in perpetuity.
Perhaps worst, however, it would keep the Village on a track whereby this becomes the neighborhood’s fate – to lose more open space and long-standing neighborhood zoning protections to NYU, and to have the university become a more and more dominant presence in the neighborhood. In a best-case scenario, the development NYU seeks approval for is only supposed to accommodate their growth for the next 19 years – until 2031. What happens after that? The university will inevitably need to continue to grow, requiring they either knock down or take over more buildings, or overturn zoning or open space preservation requirements and build on more land where such development is supposed to be prohibited, as they are asking to now.
Instead, the university and the city should be looking to the kind of win-win solutions Harvard, Brown and Yale, among many other schools, have arrived at with their municipalities. They have identified nearby locations in their cities where large-scale development is not only compatible but desirable, stimulating the kind of economic development those cities want and need, while preserving the character of the historic and predominantly residential neighborhoods in which their main campuses are located. In New York, the Financial District or Downtown Brooklyn would make perfect sense for NYU to locate its expansion, and such development would be welcomed by those neighborhoods.
We must continue to fight to get our city officials to do the right thing. For more information, see www.gvshp.org/nyu.