By Andrew Berman, Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP)
On June 6th, the City Planning Commission voted 12 to 1 to approve the NYU 2031 plan. Each of the Mayor’s seven appointees and each of the five Borough Presidents’ appointees voted yes, while Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio’s appointee was the sole “no” vote. The plan, as approved by the Commission, would overturn neighborhood zoning protections, gut open space preservation requirements and eliminate urban renewal deed restrictions in order to allow the university to build two million square feet of space south of Washington Square Park – the largest development ever in Greenwich Village.
Some of the land upon which NYU would build is currently publicly owned and used as parks, playgrounds, dog runs, or community gardens, in what is statistically one of the most park-starved communities in New York City. The approval of the NYU plan would give this land to NYU. The remainder of the land upon which NYU would build was formerly publicly owned land which was given to NYU with very clear stipulations attached to it, namely that 1) no academic uses, such as those that NYU proposes to build, would be allowed on the sites (they were to be used for residential purposes only, with a small area set aside for stores) and 2) that the open space upon which NYU is seeking to build would remain open space in perpetuity. The City Planning Commission approved overturning these requirements.
The City Planning Commission did remove some elements of the plan. They did not allow NYU to include a commercial hotel in an enormous new structure they seek to build on Mercer Street between Houston and Bleecker Streets, where the Coles Gym currently stands (they will, however, allow NYU to keep that space and put more dorms, classrooms, laboratories or other university-related facilities in its place). They did make a modest reduction in the size of some of the enormous buildings NYU is proposing. They also eliminated a proposed freshman dorm NYU sought to build atop a proposed public elementary school on Bleecker Street at LaGuardia Place and they eliminated a proposed “commercial overlay” NYU sought to have rezoned on nine blocks between Washington Square Park and Broadway, to allow more ground floor commercial development there. They also eliminated some underground space NYU is seeking to build beneath some of the parks, which would require the removal of mature trees.
None of these changes would likely have happened if not for the determined opposition of thousands of neighbors, and NYU faculty, students and workers who have come out against the plan. However, the approval of more than 80% of what NYU is asking for is still a fundamentally wrong decision which abrogates long-standing commitments made to the public and which would have a devastating impact upon the Village.
Many, but not all, of the changes made by the City Planning Commission reflect those called for by Borough President Scott Stringer when he approved the NYU plan in March. Interestingly, the Commission did not accept all of the changes Stringer called for, including a small reduction in the size and footprint of the largest of NYU’s proposed buildings. Borough President Stringer faced sharp criticism from many, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, for approving the NYU plan based upon modest concessions that NYU was not obligated to abide by. With some of those concessions now back in the NYU plan, the Borough President got even less than he initially claimed NYU conceded in exchange for his support for the plan.
However, none of NYU’s planned developments can move ahead until and unless approved by the City Council. The Council will hold hearings in late June and vote by the end of July. The decision of the Council will largely come down to two members: City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the area in which NYU is seeking to build, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district comes within mere feet of the proposed NYU developments and who, as Speaker, has enormous influence over the Council’s land use decisions.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has generated thousands of letters, e-mails and petition signatures to Councilmembers calling upon them to reject the NYU plan. GVSHP has also submitted several studies disproving NYU’s claims that their expansion would be beneficial to the Village, while showing that it would have serious negative environmental consequences and could be more beneficial, with fewer environmental drawbacks, if located in other areas such as the Financial District or Downtown Brooklyn.
The City Council’s vote is the final stage in the approval process for this behemoth plan. If you’d like to contact the Council to express your opinion about the plan before they vote, go to www.gvshp.org/nyultr. To find out more information, see www.gvshp.org/nyu.