By Dan Rivoli
Fordham University recently cleared a court hurdle in expanding its Lincoln Center campus.
A state Supreme Court judge dismissed complaints August 16 from a nearby condominium that believed approval of Fordham’s expansion should be rescinded.
The expansion was proposed to accommodate Fordham’s 8,000-plus student body, which is using a campus that spans a “super block” between West 60th to 62nd streets from Amsterdam to Columbus avenues. The proposal would create new dorms, a new law school, a library and includes two private luxury residential buildings that will help fund the school’s endowment.
Nearby residents had complained about the size of the proposal and demanded concessions during the public land use process. Indeed, the plan changed after Community Board 7, Borough President Scott Stringer, the City Planning Commission and, finally, the City Council weighed in on the plan.
At the end of the public review process, Fordham was approved to construct six buildings, adding 1.5 million square feet to its Lincoln Center campus.
Fordham’s planned expansion would arguably affect the Alfred the most. The 37-story condominium building is in the middle of the university’s campus. When Fordham acquired the “super block” in 1957, a Catholic school on West 61st Street was left out of the purchase. In 1989, that school was sold to a private developer that built the Alfred.
Though the City Council approved Fordham’s plans in July 2009, the Alfred’s lawyer tried to argue that the height of new construction, including the addition of a private residential building, violates a 1957 urban renewal plan that limits buildings to 20 stories.
“All of that was prohibited by the urban renewal plan,” said Elliott Meisel, attorney representing the Alfred.
Judge Judith Gische, in a 22-page decision, sided with Fordham because amendments were made to the urban renewal plan. One such amendment put a 2006 expiration date on the urban renewal plan’s restrictions on height and private land use.
Gische also rejected the Alfred’s claim against the city and the Council for approving the project “on the basis that the master plan was not well considered, the analysis techniques used in approving the master plan were flawed, if not outright misused, and the City had no right to amend the restrictive covenants [of the urban renewal plan],” the court decision says.
“We’ll be deciding what aspects of that decision we’re challenging,” Meisel, the Alfred’s lawyer, said about an appeal.
Sidney Goldfischer, the Alfred’s condominium board president, criticized Fordham’s proposal for being too large for an already crowded neighborhood.
“It’ll be Times Square not Lincoln Square,” Goldfischer said.
The Alfred was part of Fordham Neighbors United, a group of eight nearby condominiums that fought the proposal during the public review process. Goldfischer believes that, despite Fordham’s concessions, the project is too large and the two luxury towers should have been sold back to the city for community use.
“What they’re going to put up flies in the face of their agreement and their commitment to the city,” Goldfischer said.
Tom Dunne, Fordham’s vice president of government relations and urban affairs, was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We were confident,” Dunne said, “we were going to prevail.”
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