‘It’s gone too far’; Broderick brings down the N.Y.U. house

Village native Matthew Broderick testified against the N.Y.U. plan on Friday. Someone in his group left a cell phone open atop the 2031 balsa model to capture all the action.  Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY ALBERT AMATEAU |  New York University’s plan to add four new buildings and a total of about 2 million square feet of development to its two superblocks south of Washington Square Park was aired at a City Council hearing last week.

University officials, opponents and supporters of the plan and councilmembers spent about eight hours on Fri., June 29, going over the application to expand N.Y.U.’s Greenwich Village campus over the next 19 years.

The Council will make a final decision on the plan at a Wed., July 25, vote, completing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that began in October.

An hour before the 9:30 a.m. hearing, opponents of the plan, including preservation advocates, superblocks residents and N.Y.U. faculty members, rallied on the steps of City Hall.

A half hour later, supporters of the N.Y.U. 2031 plan, including construction union and building service union members, gathered in a smaller demonstration on the steps before the Council Chamber doors opened.

N.Y.U. President John Sexton told the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises that the plan was intended to strike a balance between the university’s pressing need for new space and concern for the Greenwich Village neighborhood.

He said the university is meeting half of its total need for 6 million square feet outside the Village, including in the N.Y.U. medical corridor along First Ave. between 29th and 34th Sts. and in the MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn, where the N.Y.U. Polytechnic engineering school is located.

The total cost of the entire 6 million-square-foot expansion is estimated to be $6.2 billion.

It’s not hard to decipher the word opponents were shouting at a pre-hearing rally against N.Y.U. 2031 — “Noooo!” — or to see Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s approval. With her, from left, were Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council; Andrew Berman of G.V.S.H.P.; District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar and Terri Cude of Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031 (CAAN). Photo by Tequila Minsky

But councilmembers, who noted that Community Board 2 rejected the university’s plan for the superblocks, said the proposed development was too big and too tall.

“What about a Plan B?” asked Queens Councilmember Leroy Comrie, chairperson of the Council’s Land Use Committee.

“Is there room to negotiate in order to reach a consensus?” asked Councilmember Robert Jackson of Washington Heights.

“I’m still concerned about the size and scale of the project,” said Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who represents Stuyvesant Town, East Midtown and part of the Upper East Side.

“It seems too dense and way too tall,” said Jessica Lappin, an Upper East Side councilmember, adding, “It’s a residential neighborhood and that is our concern.”

Sexton replied that the university’s assessment of space needs in the Village was as accurate as possible.

“If we can’t meet our needs on this site we will have to meet them elsewhere in the core,” he said. “We did not conceive of this project by inflating our needs and expecting it to be reduced,” he said.

“If this goes forward as planned we don’t expect to have anything else in the core,” Sexton added.

[/media-credit] N.Y.U. President John Sexton responds to questions by city councilmembers, as he’s joined on the panel by, left, Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president, and Alicia Hurley, vice president for government affairs and community outreach.

“The core” refers to what N.Y.U. considers to be its main campus — the area around Washington Square.

None of the proposed new buildings would be taller than any of the existing buildings on the north and south superblocks, Sexton noted.

Moreover, a planned hotel use in the so-called “Zipper Building” on the Mercer St. side of the south superblock has been dropped, he said.

Nevertheless, Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose district includes the superblocks, said, “I strongly believe that this plan is unacceptable in its current form.”

Councilmembers who represent an area where a project is located usually have the most influence on Council land use issues.

Although she acknowledged N.Y.U.’s importance and the proposal’s potential for bringing new jobs and new economic opportunities to the city, Chin said her priority will be to reduce density on the north and south superblocks.

She said later that reducing the density of the “Zipper Building” and the LaGuardia Place and Mercer St. “Boomerang Buildings” on the north superblock would be among the targets for reducing density.

“N.Y.U.’s academic and housing needs should be prioritized in this plan but not at the expense of residents’ quality of life,” Chin said.

Regarding public open space, Chin said the green, open-space strips along Mercer St. and LaGuardia Place owned by the city should serve as a buffer for residents in Washington Square Village on the north superblock between the proposed new buildings.

“These strips must be preserved in the final plan,” she said.

Chin and other advocates are also concerned about the fate of 505 La Guardia Place, a Mitchell-Lama building with moderate-income residents. N.Y.U.’s land lease for the building expires in two years, making the future uncertain for residents, many of who are seniors.

“Just give it to them,” state Senator Tom Duane said during his June 29 testimony, regarding 505 LaGuardia Place.

The ULURP application says the proposed redevelopment would create 90,000 square feet of public open space, considerably more than what is available currently.

But Tobi Bergman, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Parks Committee, said the plan creates public space that would never be used by the public.

“It would be an inward-facing student area,” Bergman said of the university’s plan to create a new public green space in the middle of Washington Square Village, replacing the current Sasaki Garden.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said the open space formula in the city review is deceptive. In fact, the project would actually decrease public space, she asserted.

“For example, the fallacy that a green space without a bench is not considered public space but a paved lot with a bench is public open space is unacceptable,” Glick said. “The proposal as it stands now will create many pedestrian plazas and paved walkways but will destroy much of the green open space currently in the area,” she said.

The City Planning Commission last month recommended the creation of an Open Space Oversight Organization that could address some concerns. But Glick said this body would not address community needs unless the organization is given power in the design of open space.

David Gruber, the new chairperson of C.B. 2, said that during the first 10 years of the development project, when the south superblock is under construction, only 18 percent of the project would be for academic uses.

“Why not look at the north superblock in 10 years? Why should we give N.Y.U. a blank check?” he asked. “The north superblock does not belong in this plan,” said Gruber.

Late in the day, actor Matthew Broderick, a resident of the Village with his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, appeared to testify. Broderick grew up in the neighborhood.

“They might need to expand but they certainly don’t need to destroy the Village,” Broderick told reporters. “I used to play in the area when I was a child; it was very important to me growing up. I’ve watched so much of it disappear. I think it’s gone too far and it’s really hurting the Village,” he said.

Although cheering and applauding weren’t allowed, so as to keep the hearing moving, Broderick’s comments were met with an explosive flurry of flickering hands in the air — which was how the opponents showed their agreement with the speakers.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, submitted a petition against the project with nearly 3,000 signatures. The preservationist also submitted studies that compare the economic and environmental impacts that N.Y.U.’s expansion would have if were located in the Financial District, Downtown Brooklyn or Long Island City.

G.V.S.H.P. also submitted a study claiming the university has eliminated hundreds of faculty housing units over the years while seeking approvals now for more faculty housing.

Nevertheless, major labor and business groups testified in favor of the N.Y.U. 2031 plan.

Tony Juliano, chairperson and president of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, told the councilmembers that the plan is vital for the small business community.

“From the Chamber’s point of view, N.Y.U.’s 16,000 employees, 40,000 students and tens of thousands of visitors provide the economic lifeblood for our neighborhood,” Juliano said.

The NAACP and the Association for a Better New York submitted testimony saying that N.Y.U.’s expansion would have important beneficial effects far beyond the Village. The Real Estate Board of New York and the Union Square Partnership also submitted testimony in favor of the project.

Robert Bartels Jr., business agent for Steamfitters Local 683, said the project would create jobs as early as 2013 when construction could begin on the 800,000-square-foot “Zipper Building.”

“More importantly, N.Y.U. has committed to using union labor, providing union wages and benefits,” Bartels said. “These are the wages and benefits which are crucial to building strong and stable neighborhoods and communities.”

Paul Fernandez, chief of staff of the Greater New York Building Trades and Construction Council, comprised of 15 unions with 100,000 members, said the N.Y.U. 2031 plan would create 18,200 full-year jobs over the next two decades.

“Not only do three out of four members of the industry live in New York City,” Fernandez said, “but these members represent the diversity of local communities, with African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities now comprising the majority of the workforce.”

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11 Responses to ‘It’s gone too far’; Broderick brings down the N.Y.U. house

  1. Marilyn Stults

    NYU has spent an enormous amount of money on consultants, studies, plans, drawings, etc. without so much as approval to build a tool shed. This grandiose planning is indicative of the university administration's lack of plain old common business sense, and shows a callous disregard for its donors, its trustees, its alumni and, most of all, its faculty. Many NYU departments have voted against the 2031 Expansion Plan as financially irresponsible. It's time that John Sexton and his backers be called to account! This situation is looking more and more like "the Emperor's New Clothes."

  2. Truth_To_Power

    Speaking of the NYU faculty, the present contributor counted among them … Historically, it would be virtually unthinkable for a university to proceed with expansion, especially one as massive and as costly as NYU 2031, without faculty support. And yet, not only is there little to no faculty support in the present instance, there is, in fact, widespread and intense criticism. As of this week, 35 NYU Departments, Divisions and Schools – and counting – have voted in favor of individual resolutions, voicing their staunch opposition to the two-decade-long behemoth of an expansion.

    The Departments expressing their profound concern with the expansion range from Economics (which includes no fewer than 3 Nobel Prize winners), Politics, History, Art History, Comparative Literature, Classics, French Studies, Italian Studies, East Asian Studies, and Music to Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Chemistry and Mathematics. Entire Schools and Centers voting against the Plan include the Stern Business School (by the overwhelming count of 52-3, which should tell the public something about the financial feasibility of Sexton’s $ 4-6 billion-dollar plan … considerably more than our modest endowment), the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the Silver School of Social Work and the Center for Neural Science. The large majority of departmental votes have been unanimous. Meanwhile, a Faculty Senate Council survey from this spring found that 85% of all voting faculty in NYU’s oldest school, the College of Arts and Science, was opposed to the plan. While the wording of every departmental resolution is different, the spirit behind each one is the same: We, the NYU faculty, believe that the current administration is endangering the intellectual and fiscal health of the University, in light of the scale, unjustified academic purpose, threat to faculty retention and recruitment and enormous cost of the planned expansion. (For all of the individual resolutions, see: http://nyufasp.com/ ).

    The majority of departmental votes have been unanimous. Meanwhile, a Faculty Senate Council survey this spring determined that about two-thirds of all the voting faculty at NYU – and 85% of voting faculty in NYU’s oldest school, the College of Arts and Science – were opposed to the plan. As most readers can appreciate, it is difficult to overstate just how extraordinary the department-by-department expression of faculty opposition to Sexton’s 2031 Plan really is. Or what a risk faculty are taking, especially those who are untenured, to officially register their opposition to the recklessness of Sexton’s plan. To be sure, this groundswell is absolutely unprecedented – on anything approaching the current scale – at NYU. And it is only growing in volume and intensity with every passing week as we approach the critical City Council vote, as more and more faculty come to grips with the gravity of the current threat to the well-being of our University, to say nothing of the well-being of our surrounding neighborhood and its marvelous diversity, whether expressed in its people and small businesses or its distinctive architecture and neighborhood gardens and playgrounds. While unprecedented, it is not difficult to explain the growing swell of faculty voices, perhaps best expressed by the formation of NYUFASP (NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan), an organization numbering over 415 members: The stakes simply cannot be higher, both for the well-being of NYU and that of the neighborhood that has so long sustained our school.

    The most important distinction to draw here is that between the faculty’s commitment to NYU the University and its educational mission and NYU the global brand and real estate-hungry corporation. While we, as faculty, feel great love and devotion for the former, we have nothing but profound concern for the true motivations of the latter, especially in these uncertain times, as we continue to live through the most severe economic crisis in eighty years. The only rationale that we have heard voiced by our administration in the five years since NYU 2031 was publicly introduced is that our University must grow because, well, it must grow … presumably to stay competitive compete with the smaller, leaner and exceedingly more richly endowed academic institutions (which admit 10%-15% of its applicant pools to NYU’s roughly 30% and have but a fraction of NYU’s student body) that invest their resources in their academic missions, rather than their footprints alone. “And, by the way, there may never be a better time in the history of the world to do construction in New York City than this next five-year period or so,” President Sexton told a group of NYU students in a town-hall setting earlier this year, “because interest rates are so low and that’s what affects our mortgage and construction costs are so low.” It is the faculty’s core belief, however, that our University’s educational mission should not be driven by low interest rates. We are better than that, and we must demand better. Above all else, we must demand a fairer shake for our students.

  3. Truth_To_Power

    To conclude … How do you think the NYU administration plans to pay for its expansion-gamble, given that philanthropy would be a mere drop in the bucket? You guessed it. Admitting still larger student classes to increase what is already the largest student body of any private university in the U.S. and hiking already-punishing tuition rates (over $55,000/yr and climbing) would be a disgrace. On this, any serious educator would agree. But the decisions recklessly being pushed forward by NYU with regard to its expansion are not being made solely by educators. And therein lies the biggest problem.

    All the while, what the public might not yet be aware of is that NYU has already been expanding by 290,000 sq. feet every year … for the last ten years. Somewhat amazingly, the administration is using this alarming figure to convince our City Council that the University now desperately needs ANOTHER 2.2 million sq. feet of new space into the already-heavily populated Super Blocks. The administration's appetite for space isn't yet satiated. Far from it. One is left to wonder: Is NYU becoming like a shark that has to keep swimming and feeding to even sustain itself? If a university continues to admit more and more students, thus relaxing its admissions standards in the process (and devalue the degree for all alumni), so as to collect more tuition dollars and then proceed to argue that it must now build bigger, higher and wider to accommodate its student explosion … then, sadly, the answer is of course "Yes."

    Meanwhile, there is the issue of squandered space. Since when is it honest for the NYU administration to demand more space to house new faculty (to replace the distinguished faculty who will defect to other institutions, so as to avoid raising their families in a two-decade-long, dust-choked construction zone) when there are approximately 70 apartments (sitting empty in the Washington Sq Village, with another 30 of so vacant units in Silver Towers? We are talking about 90-100 wasted apartments here! Apartments that any New Yorker would kill for.

    To put it starkly, NYU is in danger of stretching itself to breaking point, fiscally and academically — and not only on the Square. Pres. Sexton has conceived a new kind of NYU student: that of the “global circulatory” variety. A growing number of our undergraduates, in fact, now have no intention of spending more than one year in New York over the course of their four years. In short, the octopus-like aspect of Sexton’s crusade to realize his vision of a multi-satellite Global Network University – in which “NYU NY” is a “portal” to places like Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and, most recently, Sydney – cannot be underestimated. In short, NYU is now forsaking New York for the world. As distressing as it is for me, as someone who has devoted my professional career to teaching and mentoring NYU students, to admit, the brand has virtually eclipsed our academic mission. For who profits by this expansion? It’s not the students, faculty and alumni, constituting the lifeblood of any university. It’s not even the local small business (particularly those presently on LaGuardia Pl), as attested by the formation of Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, an organization comprising over 50 businesses that include the likes of Washington Sq. Hotel and Blue Hill Restaurant, all of which have spoken out publicly against he aggressive scale of Pres. Sexton’s plan. Who else supports the plan other than NYU’s high-level administration and the local Chamber of Commerce? The construction workers’ union? If so, are we to believe NYU is committed to using union labor to build the buildings, but opposes collective bargaining for its own faculty and graduate students? Let’s also remember that construction workers will have jobs whether giant dorms are squeezed into the middle of two residential blocks or in the Financial District, where Margaret Chin has been courting NYU to build for 5 years now – with no real response from the administration.

    In its vitality and intellectual energy, NYU has contributed a great deal to the City. Now, I believe it’s NYU’s turn to acknowledge how much Greenwich Village and its vibrant cultural and economic life has contributed to its own character and sense of place. As things stand, however, the University administration – unless stopped – is about become complicit in destroying the very community that embraced and nourished it from its inception – the same extraordinary urban community that our students cross many states, even oceans, to join. The loss not only to the very fabric of the Village but to the character and standing of our own University would be irreversible. The community should be heartened to know that the faculty stands with them shoulder-to-shoulder in this struggle, and we will never stop fighting to remind the administration of our university's original academic mission. The costs are far too high to remain silent.

    • "NYU is in danger of stretching itself to breaking point, fiscally and academically — and not only on the Square." This is the heart of the matter. Sexton, and Academic administrators, all have edifice complexes (…), and NYU has been dominated by its vice-presidents, provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, program directors ad naus since John Sawhill was president (and I was teaching there…).

  4. Maybe those tenured NYU professors who disapprove of this plan should resign in protest.

    • Truth_To_Power

      Make no mistake, BBMW: A great many members of the faculty will leave NYU for its rival institutions if NYU 2031 becomes reality. Both distinguished older faculty and those starting not only their careers at NYU but also their families in the Village, many of them accepting their posts in large part thanks to the green space and playgrounds of the two Super Blocks that they now call home, will defect to other universities that both value and uphold faculty governance and care about the quality of life of their employees. NYU will be raided for its top talent faster than you can blink. That will be the sad state of affairs for faculty retention. As for faculty recruitment, to replace the dozens of exceptional faculty who will invariably depart? Best of luck to the current administration in convincing the most promising candidates — in many cases holding offers from our other competitors — to relocate their families to an ear-splitting, rat-infested twenty-year construction zone that, when actually completed, will more closely resemble Midtown than the Village that we all know and embrace … and that currently attracts faculty and students alike from across the world. And so, in the end, what quality of education will our students (and their families) be receiving for their $55,000+ of tuition per year and years of student debt? More and more classes taught by cheap labor (adjuncts, graduate students, other contract faculty) and cheaper labor still (online offerings).

      Ultimately, however, it is not our fellow faculty that should be expected to leave. Not after working tirelessly, in many cases for decades, in elevating NYU to the reputation that the University and its alumni currently enjoy. We are anything but resigned that this ill-conceived, financially ruinous expansion is a done deal. It is perhaps someone altogether different who should be doing the resigning. And you can probably guess whom I mean.

  5. Patrick Shields

    Right now community leaders should be sitting down and having a hard conversation with the Building Trades and Construction Council. No matter what the outcome here, there is an enormous and long lasting benefit for labor. There is no rule that says labor has to always be on the side of the developer when the jobs argument arises, what's NYU going to do, walk away from their plan?? Only with labor on the community side of the bargaining table
    on this matter is NYU going to budge on the size of its proposed plan and this project get underway. Every available resource and every elected official should be working at this time to make this happen. The Greenwich Village community and labor community are a far more natural constituency economically than labor and NYU, it galls me every time I see labor walking the line with a developer knowing that they will be under siege at the bargaining table at the next contract. We need labor, and they need us. They're loyalty is, and should be, to jobs, and right now, the community and its elected officials can provide this more quickly than NYU. Every elected official in this community should be working to make this happen. Get labor to our side now, I'm sure they'll be forgiven by development the next time a high rise needs to get built by skilled union laborers.

    • Patrick – I think almost anybody supports more jobs for labor. The problem is that short-term construction jobs financed by more debt is not sustainable. Future NYU students will be taking out more debt so construction labor can have temporary jobs. This is very similar to the single family market disaster that we still have not recovered from 5-years later. Construction workers, loan officers at banks, employees in the CMBS industry, and realtors/etc. all were part of this boom and now many of these workers do not have jobs or make significantly less money than they made in 2007.

      Single family homes were built that households could not afford. Now, NYU is creating a product that students cannot afford. The long lasting implication of Sexton's 2031 Plan is far worse to labor (and everybody else) if a student debt crisis hits.

      NYU has created all these fancy drawings, plans, studies but they have failed to release the basic financial plan.

  6. New York City needs to take a lesson from San Francisco which, starting back in the '70s and '80s, had elected progressive officials (mayors, supervisors, planning commission members) who believed in preserving the beauty and character of the city's skyline and old Victorian neighborhoods rather than "Manhattanizing" itself. It is not surprising that NYU continues its bulldozing mentality of targeting the Sasaki Garden, the community gardens, the majestic trees along Laguardia Place, etc. when it has already wiped away the historic Edgar Allan Poe house and the historic Provincetown Playhouse rather than realizing the importance of preservation and restoration. Shame, shame.

  7. Sarah Jessica Parker is a fashion icon. But the "Sex and the City" star, 48, admits to ABC News that her twin daughters Marion and Tabitha, both 4, don't need or even want fashion advice from their mother.

    "They are their own people, for the last two and half years, they have dressed themselves," she told ABC at her launch for a Hallmark greeting card line. "Monday through Friday, they pick their own clothes."

    Parker said the only time she gets to help is "on the weekends if there is a special occasion, then I get a say in it."

  8. Great to know such projects exist. I will definitely consider joining one of these. Thanks for sharing! :)

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