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Community fights back against NYU expansion

Published: January 31, 2014
Section: News


When a college’s academics and financials are working well, they will likely want to expand to attract more students and make more money. Expanding and renovating a campus can be difficult and can infringe on populations outside of the school and bother students and faculty. Fellow University Athletic Association member, New York University finds itself in this situation. NYU 2031, a 20-year plan that culminates in the school’s bicentennial, has critics surrounding from all sides.

A State Supreme Court decision by Judge Donna Mills this month is preventing the school from moving on in full force with its $6 billion plans to expand and renovate two large “superblocks” just south of its Greenwich Village Campus in Manhattan. This comes after years of back and forth involving the university administration, city and state officials and local residents. The judicial decision allows the school to construct the largest building in the NYU 2031 plan, the one-million square foot Zipper Building. The facility will be built on the current site of the university gym and will provide new classrooms. The potentially 26-story building will not begin construction until at least next year as the design specifics await a final report by a faculty-led committee.

The remaining three buildings of the superblocks were to comprise nearly one million square feet. The university’s plans have been reduced by over one million square feet in the past few years due to opposition by the community. Revisions have included the removal from the plan of a university hotel, permitting less commercial space and requiring lower buildings.

Plaintiff and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick said, “NYU must go back to square one and present a different plan that does not include these open space elements,” according to The Huffington Post.

Both sides have had positive and negative reactions to the ruling with NYU officials saying that they are glad that they can proceed with the Zipper Building, which is to be located on the southern superblock along Mercer Street.

A university issued statement reads, “This is a complex ruling, but the judgment is a very positive one for NYU,” due to five of the six claims made by opponents being thrown out of court.

The area involved in this most recent court decision is located two blocks south of Washington Square Park, comprising the land between LaGuardia Place, Mercer Street, West Houston Street and West Third Street. The basis for the court decision on the land comes from the unauthorized distribution of public parks by the Bloomberg administration to NYU. There is some grey area concerning the parklands though, as they were not officially deemed as parks by the New York City Parks Department but were technically mapped as unused streets. Despite this, they were used as any other city park and the signage for the parks was the same as other city parks. Randy Mastro, representing the plaintiffs, said that legal precedent forbids the city and state from repurposing parkland whether it’s officially designated as such or not. The school will likely discuss the matter with community members before deciding whether to appeal Mills’ decision.

Many individuals in the thriving and desirable Greenwich Village area have voiced their concerns regarding the proposed expansion. Celebrity residents of the area Matthew Broderick, Padma Lakshmi and John Leguizamo have voiced their concerns, as the first two attended public meetings in 2012, and Leguizamo spoke on behalf of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation this month.

Tony Award-winning Matthew Broderick, a lifelong resident of the Village, said, “NYU has taken more and more of what’s unique about the Village.”

The group supports the university and its general growth but wants it to expand in a way that is responsible and respectful of its surroundings. The residents’ concerns not only stem from the current plans that NYU has, but also the changes that the school has made to the community in past decades, building large high-rise buildings in what had long been an historic residential neighborhood.

Numerous NYU faculty members are against the plan as well. NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP) includes over 400 NYU faculty members who are attempting to fight against the school’s plan. The group’s name comes from the head of the NYU administration, President John Sexton. NYUFASP’s objections include lack of faculty input and governance, possible increased tuition due to the multi-billion dollar plan, the disintegration of the cultural history of the neighborhood, a huge increase in the amount of foot and vehicle traffic in the area and focus being placed on land values over education.

The university’s plan incorporates adding academic space, student and faculty housing and some public space to replace any that is lost. Additional projects being planned away from the central campus include the Health Corridor on 1st Avenue and facilities in Downtown Brooklyn and Governor’s Island. Residents are also concerned that the schools plan will demolish affordable housing, further changing the area.

NYU and New York City have assisted each other since NYU’s establishment. The school employs over 16,000 local residents and 240,000 of its 360,000 alumni live in the metropolitan area.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “It’s very hard to differentiate where New York University stops and New York City starts. That is one of the real keys to NYU—the city goes right through it. NYU benefits from the city, and the city benefits from NYU.”

Whatever compromise or decision comes out of the tension will have a strong effect on the university as well as the city and metro area as a whole. The 11 groups who filed a lawsuit in September in Manhattan State Supreme Court will speak in court on Mar. 20.