PROGRESS REPORT: Still, the fight CAANtinues! Yes, we CAAN win this thing

BY TERRI CUDE and  MARTIN TESSLER  |  ACTIVISM  |  When NYU first presented its 2031 expansion plan, we knew this would be a fight — a fight that can only be won with a strong and united front to stop the destruction of Greenwich Village. Many of us joined the Community Task Force on N.Y.U. Development that Borough President Stringer organized in 2006. Four years of meetings culminated in a March 2010 report strongly opposing N.Y.U.’s 2031 Plan.

Shortly following the task force report and the suspension of its meetings, the Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031 (CAAN 2031) was formed as an umbrella organization then comprising 30 — now 35 — neighborhood groups willing to work together to prevent the Village from being turned into N.Y.U.’s private campus.

CAAN has always focused on three major points: We stand against any blanket rezoning; we oppose city-owned land being acquired or used by N.Y.U. for its own purposes; we are against overturning existing deed restrictions on development prior to their expiration.

However, N.Y.U. seeks to do all three of these. N.Y.U. has claimed that its plan does not require upzoning, but that’s exactly what the university applied for. N.Y.U. claims it is only building on its own land, but the proposed location of the “Zipper Building” is on city-owned open space — and other public spaces may be used for construction equipment staging or as access plazas. And N.Y.U.’s application seeks removal of current deed restrictions on the land.

N.Y.U. says only a few intransigent people are fighting the plan. But thousands of residents throughout the Village, Soho, Noho and beyond continue to express outrage at the attempt to ruin a stable residential neighborhood, showing up 500-plus at a time at rallies like the one CAAN co-sponsored on Fri., April 20, with Assemblymember Deborah Glick, state Senator Thomas Duane, Community Board 2, G.V.S.H.P., N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan and several other groups.

As N.Y.U.’s application began the city-mandated uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) process, CAAN helped win the support of Community Board 2, which has been stalwart in its opposition to the plan and wrote a strong resolution of denial.

As the process moved to its next step, we continued our advocacy with a letter to Borough President Scott Stringer restating CAAN’s key principles against N.Y.U. 2031. Just as it appeared that N.Y.U. was on the ropes, a torrent of support came from N.Y.U.’s allies in citywide media, a representative of the university’s law firm who also happens to be a former New York City mayor, an organization that features N.Y.U. on its board of directors, and even the current mayor.

On April 11 we were invited, along with several members of C.B. 2, including its chairperson, as well as the head of the Friends of LaGuardia Place, to attend the press conference where the borough president announced that N.Y.U. had agreed to some modifications to the proposal. We were there to obtain the details in the B.P.’s 24-page recommendation report and to get information on the scope of N.Y.U.’s concessions. After reviewing the documents, it is clear: Our community has so much more work to do!

We must make sure that City Planning receives testimony that will help its commissioners see the ill-conceived nature of N.Y.U. 2031, and Councilmember Chin and her colleagues in the Council must be reminded that N.Y.U.’s egregious land grab in the heart of Greenwich Village, despite being reduced by some 17 percent, according to The Villager, is utterly unacceptable.

New and important voices are joining with local residents, showing clearly that our opposition is not reactionary NIMBY or self-serving but broad-based and concerned for all aspects of our community. These new perspectives include a growing faculty group, N.Y.U. FASP, and another group of local merchants who realize that many small businesses will be harmed or put out of business by the changes to Greenwich Village that N.Y.U. 2031 will bring.

CAAN’s goal from this point forward is exactly the same as before — stopping N.Y.U. 2031. There are legal and environmental strategies being pursued with CAAN’s support, and we work daily to convey our community’s deep concerns about this still-overbearing and burdensome assault on our historic residential neighborhood.

CAAN does not fight N.Y.U. the educational institution, just NYU the developer that wants to change long-standing zoning protections to enable the university to gobble up Greenwich Village. There are many other options for N.Y.U.’s growth: Not only have leaders in the Financial District invited N.Y.U. to build there, but Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz has recently extended a similar invitation. Considering all the middle and high school students that go that far — and farther — for their education, it’s hard to believe that a few subway stops are too far for university students!

At this pivotal moment it is essential that we stand together. We cannot let N.Y.U. divide the community. We are united.

The fight CAANtinues!

Cude and Tessler are co-chairpersons, Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031 (CAAN 2031)

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