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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | More than 30 Village businesses and property owners have signed onto a coalition that recognizes New York University’s right to expand but is calling for modifications of the proposed superblocks projects.
Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood began organizing last month and is led by Judy Paul, C.E.O. of the Washington Square Hotel. The group hopes that N.Y.U. will negotiate with businesses and elected officials to scale down its proposal to add 2.5 million square feet of development to its two superblocks between LaGuardia Place and Mercer St. from Houston to W. Third Sts.
“We recognize that N.Y.U. is going to expand and acknowledge that the university is good for the neighborhood, but there are problems with the expansion that need to be addressed,” said Paul, whose family has run the Washington Square Hotel at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park for 40 years.
“We hope we can find a common-sense solution that expands opportunities for local businesses, creates quality open space and adds infrastructure improvements that ensure that our neighborhood is not overwhelmed,” Paul said.
The coalition believes that the positions of Community Board 2, the Municipal Art Society and the New York Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association could provide a road map for a solution.
Reducing the density and height of the proposed new buildings, decreasing the proposed underground space for academic uses and protecting and improving usable public space in the superblocks would made the N.Y.U, project more in keeping with the historic character of the Village, a coalition statement says.
Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood is also suggesting that improving the subway stations at W. Fourth St. and at Broadway/Lafayette St. and paying the cost of a new public school would make the project respond more to the needs of the Village.
Barry Chatlawi, owner of Fashion Shoppe Express at 42 W. Eighth St. and a member of the coalition, said the university’s proposal to add several thousand feet of retail space to the “loft blocks” from W. Fourth St. to W. Eighth St. is unnecessary.
“We already have enough vacant commercial space in the neighborhood,” Chatlawi said.
Dan Barber, owner of Blue Hill restaurant at 75 Washington Place, acknowledged that N.Y.U. is an important part of the community.
“But I’m afraid their proposal without adjustments will be damaging to the Village,” Barber said.
Noam Dworman, owner of Comedy Cellar at 117 MacDougal St. for more than 20 years, said, “The quality of the neighborhood is no laughing mater. N.Y.U. should limit its expansion in keeping with what makes this neighborhood great.”
Dworman’s neighbor on MacDougal St., Rani Marom, owner of Café Wha?, said, “N.Y.U. is an important asset to the community and should be able to expand its campus, but they shouldn’t do it in a way that overwhelms the community and gets rid of open space.”
Vicki Sando, owner of Marumi Restaurant at 546 LaGuardia Place and an active coalition member, said, “As property and business owners in the Village, we believe the current N.Y.U. expansion plans are completely out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. We look forward to partnering with other likeminded neighborhood folk to have a voice in this process.”
The new group is separate from the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Tony Juliano, last week joined construction union members at a rally in strong support of the N.Y.U. plan.
Tom Gray, the chamber’s executive director, speaking this week, said the chamber is sticking to its position. Referring to the new group’s call for compromise, he called it “divisive.”
“We are supportive and will continue to be supportive of the N.Y.U. plan,” Gray said. “But our feeling is this is divisive and pitting businesses against businesses — which doesn’t need to happen. I think we should continue to dialogue. I think it’s admirable that they’re generally supportive of the plan,” he said of Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood. “A lot of these businesses, they depend on the university traffic — and they’re going to grow with the university.”