University makes modifications to plan, likely to be approved by full council
(by Alissa Fleck)
NYU’s modified expansion plan is one step closer to fruition, much to the disappointment of staunchly opposed community members. The City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee and Land Use Committee voted back-to-back on Tuesday, in overwhelming support of NYU’s expansion plan, with certain mutually agreed upon modifications. All nine members of the Zoning Subcommittee voted in favor of the project, while the Land Use Committee voted 19 in favor and one opposed. Councilman Charles Barron was the sole holdout. “We will regret this,” said Barron, urging his colleagues to have the courage to vote “no” and “send it back to the drawing board.”
Councilmembers, who defended their votes in support, expressed immense respect for Councilwoman Margaret Chin’s efforts. They applauded her attempts to negotiate all sides, while maintaining their displeasure with the plan despite modifications.
Chin, whose district covers Greenwich Village, stated she had not originally supported the proposal, but tried to keep an open mind and find a way to achieve a tolerable medium for all groups involved.
“I’m confident this proposal strikes the appropriate balance,” said Chin. “It holds NYU to its responsibility as a good neighbor.” Chin explained NYU had made significant concessions and no one got everything they wanted.
“I wholeheartedly believe NYU’s growth will occur at a sustainable pace and not overwhelm the village,” she said, adding the school’s willingness to cooperate in the process had been encouraging.
Councilmembers acknowledged continuing chasms between the community and the University. Councilman Vincent Ignizio urged NYU: “Now the real work begins for you. The community has issues with you…start the rebuilding process today.”
The primary modifications to the original plan include a 20 percent (70,000 square foot) reduction in overall density (for an approximate 1.93 million square foot expansion), space dedicated to community use, an increase in publicly accessible space and NYU taking responsibility for the maintenance of these open spaces.
“I have put in place strong checks and balances to ensure that NYU holds up its end of the bargain,” said Chin. “If NYU fails to do so, there will be consequences.”
These “checks and balances” include, for one, funds set aside to make sure the school adheres to its promises. The University will create a yearly endowment of $150,000 toward open space maintenance, proving they want to move beyond questions of trust to tangible verification. NYU Senior Vice President Lynne Brown echoed Chin, calling the modifications “a thoughtful balance.”
Brown, questioned by Councilwoman Jessica Lappin on how the school would fund the project, said financial support would come largely from philanthropy, working capital and fundraising, while adding a certain amount of debt is to be expected. With regard to tuition, she said: “There is always upward pressure on tuition.”
Before the plan went to vote, community member Georgina Bedrosian, who lives in the area in question and opposes the plan, said she was afraid councilmembers would accept some version of the plan.
“It lays primarily on Chin,” said Bedrosian. “We little people can make a lot of noise, but one would think councilmembers have been wined and dined. [We’ve] lost out to big real estate.”
Throughout the presentation process, disparaging gestures and outcries from audience members revealed there is still significant tension among community members who feel NYU is not being honest and forthcoming, particularly with regard to public space accessibility and conversion. Nonetheless, the hotly contested Sasaki Garden, at the heart of the Washington Square Village Superblock, will be preserved.
Following the vote in favor of the plan, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, called the plan’s passage a violation of public trust.
“The changes are less bad,” said Berman, “but not less bad enough.” Berman explained Council has a strong tendency to defer to local councilmembers, in this case Chin. He called the decision “deeply disappointing,” and said his group would continue to fight to full Council and beyond, and was considering legal options as well.
One NYU affiliate said he would not provide a statement to the press, while Vice President Alicia Hurley said, to the press, of the Council’s decision: “It’s so important for us to have these opportunities.”
As the session concluded, several audience members were escorted out, chanting: “Shame on you, Chin, you’ve killed the Village!”
The full City Council will convene Tuesday, July 24, to provide the final vote on the plan.
UPDATE: “The revised NYU plan remains grossly inappropriate and a violation of the public trust. This was public land given to NYU a generation ago with clear stipulations that forbade this kind of development from ever taking place here. There has been no true examination of viable alternatives and no real justification by NYU as to why this massive expansion of facilities must take place in the already oversaturated Village. NYU’s neighbors and faculty remain united in opposing this plan and we will continue the fight to the full Council and possibly beyond,” said GVSHP’s Executive Director Andrew Berman.
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