N.Y.U. flip-flops on what it requires in its ‘core’

BY ANDREW BERMAN  |  The April 25th City Planning Commission hearing on New York University’s proposed Village expansion plan has been called the longest in the commission’s history. Hundreds of Villagers, N.Y.U. faculty and students, and average New Yorkers showed up to urge the commission to reject the plan.

The commission is now examining the N.Y.U. proposal and the testimony and comments submitted about it, and will render its decision by in early June.

Many substantive issues were raised at the hearing questioning the very basis of N.Y.U.’s claims regarding the need for its Village expansion plan. The commission asked N.Y.U. to respond, and in early May the university did so with a long, written submission.

It’s quite telling what N.Y.U. said — and did not say — in its response. The university left almost every major question about its proposal unanswered, but may have inadvertently shed some new and even more unflattering light upon its plans.

N.Y.U. is asking to upend zoning protections, take over public land and violate urban renewal deed restrictions to allow its Village expansion. In response to questions from the commission about who would be utilizing the facilities N.Y.U. wants to build, we found out that the occupants of the large freshman dorm proposed for the Silver Towers superblock would be students moved there from N.Y.U.’s large freshman dorm located at 23rd St. and Third Ave.

Of course N.Y.U.’s acquisition of the 23rd St. building for freshman dorms was met with great fanfare in 2007, framed as part of the university’s move to think “outside the core” and stop oversaturating the Village with its facilities. Adding to the irony, N.Y.U. has tried to promote its Village expansion plan as one which locates in the core only that which “must” go there. Has the university been unable to function for the last four years with first-year students housed on 23rd St.?

This is one of the few concrete answers N.Y.U. does provide in its submissions. The university was pointedly asked by a Planning commissioner to reply to documents submitted by G.V.S.H.P. showing that, over the years, N.Y.U. has eliminated nearly 200 faculty housing units in Washington Square Village through apartment combinations subsuming two, three, or four units at a time into larger and larger “super-apartments.”

We also documented how N.Y.U. has been warehousing apartments in the same complex, with scores remaining empty for long periods of time — so much so that this census tract registered the largest population drop, largest number of empty units, and largest decrease in number of housing units in the Village between 2000 and 2010.

How can N.Y.U. ask for the aforementioned rules to be bent (broken, really) to build more faculty housing units, when it is the one that has eliminated or warehoused the units it now claims to need? The university’s response: a deafening silence — N.Y.U.’s submission doesn’t even address the issue.

This is not the only question dodged in the N.Y.U. submission. The City Planning commissioners asked N.Y.U. to elaborate upon why facilities it proposed for the core needed to be there, as opposed to elsewhere. G.V.S.H.P. has repeatedly raised this issue, submitting to the C.P.C. reports showing how other schools and other cities have used the satellite campus approach to address the type of growth N.Y.U. claims it must accommodate, and how even schools without satellite campuses routinely spread their facilities over distances considerably greater than the 10-to-15 minute walk N.Y.U. claims is essential for its facilities. We found 30-minute walks from one end of campus to another are common — the equivalent of a walk from Washington Square to the Financial District, where we have suggested N.Y.U. consider locating new facilities. (A subway ride turns this into a 5-to-10 minute commute).

N.Y.U.’s response: We need to put our facilities here because we need to put our facilities here. The university offered no other rationale for why more facilities could not be located in other areas, especially when alternative locations we have suggested are within the same distance or commuting time that other colleges all across the country spread their facilities.

It’s up to the City Planning Commission to decide what to do with N.Y.U.’s responses, or lack thereof. Since the majority of its members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, who has stated his absolute support for N.Y.U.’s Village expansion plan, the commission may well simply rubber-stamp this plan.

But the ultimate decision as to whether or not N.Y.U.’s plan is approved will then fall with the City Council, particularly Councilmember Margaret Chin and Speaker Christine Quinn. If the City Planning Commission does ignore N.Y.U.’s deafening silence on these issues and approve the university’s plan, then we, the public, must insist that our city councilmembers do not.

Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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5 Responses to N.Y.U. flip-flops on what it requires in its ‘core’

  1. Graduating in Washington Square Park is one of the greatest moments of my life. If NYU continues its wrongheaded over-development, no student will ever get such an opportunity again. NYU will be too big to graduate there.

    But don't count on Margaret Chin to save NYU from itself. She is the worst council member this area has ever had. But the democrats will not let someone run against an incumbent. And they know we will not vote republican. Please, someone run for this seat in the next election, or we have no choice. That is not democracy.

  2. Great piece. Community Board 1 has expressed interest in hosting NYU facilities and the university administration should begin negotiating with them. Our subway system is great, but NYU could also purchase a few "green," quiet buses and outfit them with wi-fi to ferry students to the Financial District and back in a few minutes. Lots of campuses are spread over one and half or two miles like this, and use such systems. I'm a NYU faculty member who lives outside Manahattan, but I reject the planned construction in the Village because it will blight and financially cripple the campus where I work as well as the neighborhood.

  3. Howard Negrin

    As usual, Andrew Berman is right on target in his comments on the contradictory and indefensible positions of NYU on its future growth. On the one hand , the NYU administration seeks to clone the university in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, and possibly other exotic locations, and the president, John Sexton, has proposed a type of global conveyor belt transporting faculty and students overseas for one, two, or more years. On the other hand, NYU finds it unacceptable to ask students and faculty to travel the short distance between Washington Square and the Financial District. As Berman points out, many universities have facilities and programs spread out over an equivalent distance.

    What's especially frustrating is that the Financial District proposal is a potential win-win solution. The Village wins because it avoids the thoroughly destructive transformation threatened by the 2031 plan, and the Financial District, eager to fill its available commercial space, wins by gaining a prestigious university as a neighbor.

  4. Sylvia Rackow

    Thank goodness for Andrew Berman. He truly represents the feelings of Villagers about NYU's catastrophic 2031 ULURP Proposal. When we attended the Planning Commission meeting in April, Pres. Sexton also was unsure of what will go into the "Zipper Building". Despite supposed "concessions" with the Boro Prez most who testified were flopping all over the place. We did have to laugh when Vice Pres Lynne Brown said they needed the "commercial overlay" in order to "Enliven" Mercer Street. (As if one block from Broadway's feast of stores and the long blocks of Bleecker Street are unable to "enliven" our area).

    We shall certainly be disappointed if Mrs. Chin doesn't help us overturn the overbuilding of the 2 residential "super" blocks and the commercialization (no doubt to profit NYU's Board of Developers) of an integral part of Greenwich Village. Nor should she allow NYU to usurp the Mercer Street public land strip to build a Hotel!

    Sincerely,

    Sylvia Rackow
    Committee to Preserve Our Neighborhood

  5. Village Resident

    Someone stop them please. A restaurant was blasting Lady Gaga with speakers onto University Place at full volume . The bars and crowds have taken over so that there is nowhere left for residents to walk or shop. The noise and congestion in the 5th Avenue and University Place corridor, near apartments and homes has been escalating so that we feel hemmed in by Time Square like crowds filtering off of Union Square. Any politician that lets this unbridled growth continue, is not getting any favor in this area, Residents are irate. There are so many other options for large institutional development in the city, this is a serious breach of civic oversight.

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