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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | With the start of the new year, the highly anticipated two-month-long ULURP review by Community Board 2 of N.Y.U.’s South Village superblocks mega-development plan also gets underway.
Under its “N.Y.U. 2031” scheme, New York University aims to add 2.3 million square feet on the two jumbo-sized blocks — with 1 million of that belowground.
Under the massive plan, on the southern superblock, Coles Gym would be rebuilt with what is now being called the “Zipper Building” with a freshman dormitory, as well as an N.Y.U. hotel, on top; also, the current Morton Williams supermarket site would be rebuilt with, hopefully, a public school, plus possibly more student dorm space on top.
On the northern superblock, under the plan, two new infill buildings — dubbed the “Boomerangs” for their lima bean-like shapes — would be added in Washington Square Village’s courtyard, which would be transformed into a public open space.
Extensive rezoning and changes to open-space requirements will be needed in order for N.Y.U. to do everything that it wants under the ambitious concept.
ULURP, or the uniform land-use review procedure, is a process that can take up to seven months, and is required for major projects affecting land use. Under ULURP, following the community board, the application will be reviewed, in turn, by the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the mayor.
As C.B. 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman explained at the monthly full board meeting two weeks ago, in January there will be no less than five separate public hearings before the board’s relevant committees, each hearing devoted to specific aspects of the university’s growth plan. In February, there will be a second round of hearings before these committees, during which more input on the N.Y.U. plan will be sought.
On Mon., Jan. 9, the board’s Land Use and Business Development Committee will review the zoning aspects of what the university intends to do, and there will be a presentation of the overall proposal by N.Y.U. officials.
On Tues., Jan. 10, the Traffic and Transportation Committee will review the plan’s impact on traffic, pedestrian use and mass transit.
On Thurs., Jan. 12, the C.B. 2 Parks Committee will consider the plan’s impact on public open space and parks.
On Tues., Jan. 17, the Social Services and Education Committee will review plans for a New York City public school to be built on the southernmost superblock.
On Wed., Jan. 18, Board 2’s Environment, Public Safety and Public Health Committee will look at environmental conditions as they relate to N.Y.U.’s multi-project development proposal.
Locations and times of the meetings have not yet been posted. Check the Community Board 2 Web site (www.cb2manhattan.org) for details.
All of the work by the committees, Hoylman explained, “will go toward an overall, or omnibus, resolution on the N.Y.U. plan” that the board will draft — similar to the one the board issued in November on the ULURP for Rudin Management’s redevelopment of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital property as high-end condos.
Kicking things off a few days even earlier, a coalition of 30-plus groups, including the Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031 (CAAN), the Greenwich Village Block Associations and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, co-sponsored by C.B. 2, will hold a “Community United Town Hall on N.Y.U 2031” on Wed., Jan. 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the A.I.A. building, 536 LaGuardia Place, between W. Third and Bleecker Sts.
The meeting’s stated objective is to “learn how to keep N.Y.U. from destroying our neighborhood.”
The Downtown Independent Democrats club is part of the coalition. In an e-mail encouraging people to attend the meetings and make their voices heard, Jeanne Wilcke, D.I.D. president, said N.Y.U. must be stopped from expanding in the Village.
“They have expanded in Brooklyn and have cited Governors Island, yet will not consider numerous locations further downtown that are 15 minutes away,” Wilcke said of the university. “N.Y.U. did not expand in Paris because city planners did not agree to noncontextual plans. Our City Planning Commission must raise the bar accordingly.
“Major changes from residential to commercial zoning, high-scale development with square footage the size of the Empire State Building, removing long-agreed-upon zoning stipulations, acquiring public green spaces and devastating the neighborhood’s character and balance are not in the public interest,” Wilcke said.
Borough President Scott Stringer assured he’ll be fighting hard for the community’s best interests during his portion of the far-reaching application’s ULURP review.
“This is my Mideast moment coming,” Stringer said in an interview in November. A year ago, Stringer stood with other local elected officials and community residents on a bitterly cold Sunday morning in front of the LaGuardia statue on LaGuardia Place and vowed that the statue wasn’t going anywhere — as in, wouldn’t be shifted to accommodate a bump-out of one of the new “Boomerang” buildings. And, Stringer said proudly, that is exactly what has happened: N.Y.U. redesigned its plans slightly and the plans for the building no longer call for it to extend on to the strip of greenery, LaGuardia Park, where the “Little Flower” stands.
“I think N.Y.U. has made some progress in this process,” he said. “Sometimes the car stalls in the way they relate to the community board.
“I’m very committed to getting this right,” Stringer said of his role in the ULURP review, which like that of Board 2, is advisory. The verdicts of City Planning and the City Council, on the other hand, will make or break the application. However, the positions taken by C.B. 2 and Stringer will help guide Planning and the Council in their decisions and, in the case of the community board, will strongly state where the community stands on the proposal.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Stringer said. “I think N.Y.U. is committed to working with the community, and I think the community is committed to working with N.Y.U.”
However, Stringer recently expressed concern about what exactly N.Y.U. sees as its commitment toward the public school project at the Morton Williams site. The question that he, as well as others, is asking is whether N.Y.U. actually intends to pay for the school’s construction — at least the basic shell of the school, that is — or only provide the land for the School Construction Authority to build on, and offer nothing else.
“I don’t think it’s clear yet,” Stringer said bluntly. “I think there’s a desire for a school, but there’s no details on the financing of that school, the construction of that school. It’s an idea, a concept that I do not think has been fleshed out and is something we have to get to.
“I do not have a specific proposal from N.Y.U. on what that school means,” he continued. “I don’t feel they have to give [the answer] to us today, but I do think a school is needed there.”
Asked point blank if N.Y.U. should fund the cost of building the basic structure of the school — the interior of which could be fitted-out later by S.C.A. at a cost of $30 million or so — Stringer said it’s a question of what N.Y.U. will do to help bring the project to fruition, that there’s a larger “pie,” to which the university could contribute in various ways.
“It depends what the final ‘dish’ is,” he explained. “I have not sat down and had a numbers discussion with N.Y.U. — but I think we’re going to get to that.”
Another issue is that community board members and Village activists say they recall N.Y.U. officials, at least initially, indicating that N.Y.U. would, in fact, fund the public school’s construction, but that N.Y.U. subsequently has backed away from that commitment.
“There is concern that the deal has been reduced to land only, and it’s obviously something that will be discussed during the land-use review process,” C.B. 2 Chairperson Hoylman said. “The community board wants to make clear that the school is not a quid pro quo fro any approvals,” he said, referring to the board’s role in the ULURP process. “N.Y.U. needs to do this because it’s the right thing for the community,” he stressed. “This is a community that sorely needs new school seats and this is an opportunity for 600 of them. N.Y.U. needs to make its commitment clear — and it’s not clear at this point. It seems like before it was ‘the core and shell and land,’ and that seems to have been reduced. We certainly don’t want N.Y.U. to go back on its commitment. We need clarification on what was originally promised. Maybe N.Y.U. overstated its public commitment to the school at a certain date and time, and if that’s the case, N.Y.U. should acknowledge it and we should move on and figure out how we can get this school built.”
Jo Hamilton was C.B. 2’s chairperson in 2008 when N.Y.U. first presented its mega-plan to the board. She said she recalled the university at that time saying it would build the public school itself, at least the basic structure.
“My understanding was ‘core and shell,’” she said, “not building out every little wall, but providing a real building.”
But that eventually changed, she said, noting, “In fall 2009, the board learned that they were just talking land.”
Hamilton observed that, clearly, the university already thinks it’s making a big financial commitment just by providing the property for a public school to be built.
“They paid $23 million for that the land,” she said of the corner lot with the Morton Williams supermarket, “and that’s the way they think of it — it’s a $23 million gift to the city.”
On the other hand, Trinity Wall Street — which as Trinity Church received all its land for free from the Queen of England back in colonial times — has pledged to include space for a public school in the base of a new building it hopes to build at Duarte Square at Canal St. and Sixth Ave.
Hamilton noted that if the Department of Education doesn’t manage to build the school at LaGuardia Place and Bleecker St. by 2031, the property would revert back to N.Y.U. for its own use.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, has been a chief watchdog of N.Y.U. and its development projects.
“They certainly tried to dangle the carrot of quote / unquote ‘providing a school,’” Berman said. “I think the common-sense understanding of that is that means paying for building it. I think anything less than that is bait-and-switch. Regardless of that, though, no matter how many schools they may or may not be providing, their massive expansion plans should not be approved by the city, and the zoning changes and public land they’re seeking should not be given to them.”
C.B. 2 members Terri Cude of CAAN and Anne Hearn both said they recall Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president, saying “core and shell” in March 2010 when Brown announced that the university’s plan would include the public school. Brown made her announcement at the Borough President’s Office at the same time as the release of the 40-page N.Y.U. Task Force Report critiquing the N.Y.U. 2031 plan. Cude and Hearn said they had felt miffed that Brown, with her announcement, had upstaged the task force’s report.
“I know she said ‘core and shell’ because it was the first time I heard it,” Cude said. “I ran home and looked it up because I didn’t know what it meant.”
They said speculation is now that N.Y.U. took back its offer of building the public school so that it could use the possibility as a bargaining chip later — during the ULURP review process, for example.
Asked what specifically N.Y.U.’s commitment is regarding the school, Alicia Hurley, the university’s vice president for government relations and community engagement, said the city would fund the construction.
“The proposal by the university does not trigger the requirement for a public school in the area,” Hurley noted. “We are not adding enough new school-age children to
trigger the requirement, as has been the case in other projects in the city. However,
dating back to 2008, the university first said it would explore the feasibility of a school, and then we committed to integrating space for a public school into the superblocks as we have undertaken the best planning scenarios for the two blocks. We have designated the site of the current Morton Williams supermarket to be the location of the future public school, which is to be built and run by D.O.E. / S.C.A. on their schedule.”
Hurley said, in fact, there has been “mixed reaction” regarding a public school being included in the plan. Not all neighbors support the idea, to hear her tell it.
“We broadly understand that there is a desire by the larger community to add school capacity to the district, which is why we agreed to include a provision for a school to be built,” Hurley said. “However, when you get to a more granular level and hear from some of the opposition, who live right on or near the superblocks, there is certainly a mixed opinion about having a public school.”