The community won a small but important first victory in the lawsuit challenging the City’s approval of NYU’s massive expansion plan on February 26th. State Supreme Court Justice Donna Mills sided with the petitioners and ordered the City and NYU to “show cause” why petitioners’ request for a hearing and expedited discovery on their “parkland alienation” claim should be dismissed. Petitioners argued that the City’s approval of the NYU expansion plan was illegal because, among other things, it gave NYU rights over four public parks, in violation of state law, which requires that parkland can’t be given away without state approval.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and dozen other community groups are plaintiffs in the case against the City Council and the City Planning Commission, which approved the plan.
On February 26th, approximately 100 opponents of the NYU expansion plan, including actor Matthew Broderick and playwright Kenneth Lonergan, showed up in Manhattan State Supreme Court to hear petitioners’ lawyer, former Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro of the law firm Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, make initial arguments. NYU and the City’s Law department claimed that, despite the decades-old use of some properties on the proposed construction site by the public as parkland, the sites were not, in fact, dedicated parks. Mastro argued that there is plenty of proof that the four sites are parks, including Parks Department signage at the locations, maintenance by the Parks Department, and a devastating affidavit from former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern that they are, indeed, parks. “If it walks like a park, talks like a park, and looks like a park – it is a park,” said Mastro at an impromptu press conference after court.
Actor Matthew Broderick, a longtime Village resident, said “NYU has taken more and more of what’s unique about the Village. Parks make the City livable.” “The university doesn’t own Greenwich Village, and the part they do own they’re destroying. And it’s not for the students, it’s for money,” said Village resident, playwright, screenwriter and director Kenneth Lonergan. (Lonergan is perhaps best known for his screenwriting for the movies Gangs of New York and Analyze This, among others.)
Judge Mills ordered the City and NYU to file briefs in opposition to the order to show cause on March 12, and for the petitioners to file a final brief in reply on March 15.
The hearing was the first in the case. In July of 2012, the City Council followed the City Planning Commission in approving the plan, which gives away public parkland, overturns long-standing neighborhood zoning protections, eliminates open-space preservation requirements, and nullifies the terms under which NYU was previously given public land in order to allow the university to build two million sq. ft. of new space in four massive buildings and an enormous underground complex in between LaGuardia Place and Mercer Streets, Bleecker and Houston Streets. The plan would turn the area into a jam-packed construction site for over 20 years.