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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | The City Planning Commission on Wednesday approved, with one dissenting vote, New York University’s Plan 2031 to add 2.1 million square feet of new development to the university’s two superblocks south of Washington Square Park.
The approved plan, which goes to the City Council next month for a final decision, includes some but not all of the reductions that N.Y.U. President John Sexton and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer agreed to in April.
Stringer said he was disappointed that City Planning did not ratify a change on the south superblock between Houston and Bleecker Sts. to create a notch that would set the “Zipper Building” back from Mercer St. to allow light and air for residential buildings across the street.
Stringer also criticized the commission’s refusal to include the removal of one story belowground under the proposed public school on the south superblock.
“This makes no sense, especially in light of the fact that N.Y.U. agreed to these changes. I expect the City Council to correct these mistakes,” Stringer said.
But the borough president was pleased that other important aspects of the agreement were approved. Removal of a dormitory on top of the proposed public school and, especially, removal of a temporary gym on the north superblock between Bleecker and W. Third Sts. were important, Stringer said. The removal of underground space beneath park strips on the north superblock was also among the significant changes approved.
“Additionally, the commission ratified a commitment I received to ensure continuous access to playground space on the north block throughout the construction,” Stringer noted. He also said he was pleased that the approval included a reduction in height to 162 feet for the proposed Mercer St. “Boomerang Building” and a height of 128 feet for the other “Boomerang” on LaGuardia St., both on the north block.
In addition, the commission ratified the N.Y.U. decision to drop from the plan a hotel in the “Zipper Building,” but did not reduce the height of this proposed south-block building.
The commission also approved the N.Y.U. decision to scrap a proposed commercial rezoning of the “loft blocks” east of Washington Square Park north of the two superblocks.
Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2 and a candidate for the state Senate, also had a mixed reaction to the City Planning vote.
“We’re glad that the project has been reduced in scale and that the temporary gym and the commercial overlay east of Washington Square Park are gone. But there is a lot more work that needs to be done to make this project remotely palatable to the community,” Hoylman said.
The university, however, was gratified at the vote.
“We‘re pleased that N.Y.U.’s strategy for its core has been approved by the commission,” said Alicia Hurley, university vice president for government affairs and community engagement. “We think the plan with modifications enacted by the commission allows the university to meet its academic space needs near its Washington Sqaure core over the next two decades while addressing concerns of the local community.”
Hurley said that the project on university-owned property does not involve eminent domain, tenant dislocation or upzoning. She added that the plan has overwhelming support from dozens of civic leaders, N.Y.U. alumni, local business owners, local editorial boards and many others.
“We look forward to the next stage of the process before the City Council,” Hurley said.
Among the project’s supporters is the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce.
“Because of support from Manhattan Borough President Stringer and now the Planning Commission, we are one step further to bringing new jobs to the area and insuring that one of the city’s top institutions remains competitive,” said Tom Gray, G.V.C.C.C. executive director.
Another business group, Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, was also positive but suggested further changes.
“I applaud the City Planning Comm
ission for recommending significant changes in the size of several buildings, protecting open space and removing the hotel use and the commercial overlay on the loft blocks,” said Judy Paul, chief executive of the Washington Square Hotel and spokesperson for the group. But she also suggested removing proposed commercial uses on the superblocks and reducing the height of the Houston St. end of the “Zipper Building” to no more that 162 feet.
However, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, remained adamantly opposed to the project.
“The ‘no’ vote by Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, the public advocate’s representative on the commission, was certainly a helpful development,” Berman said. “We hope Councilmember Margaret Chin and Council Speaker Christine Quinn will show similar independence,” he added. The preservationist accused the Bloomberg administration of being behind what he called “the rubber stamp” approval.
The first phase of the 20-year construction project would be on the south superblock. Construction on the second phase — between 2022 and 2031 — would start on the LaGuardia side of the north block, preserving the Washington Square Village Key Park playground until 2027.