Margaret Chin and N.Y.U.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Land Use Committee voted overwhelmingly, by 19 to 1, to support New York University’s 2031 development plan for its two South Village superblocks.

The resulting plan wasn’t what opponents were hoping for, but represents significant concessions by N.Y.U., and may be the best outcome achievable under the circumstances. The Bloomberg administration strongly supported the plan — as witnessed by the City Planning Commission’s earlier vote to approve the 20-year project.

In any compromise, no one is ever completely satisfied. Six years ago, N.Y.U. started a public process to provide a rational and transparent planning process for the expansion of its facilities, which it said had not kept pace with its student body’s growth and the school’s changing nature from a commuter school to a world-class university.

Growing on its own footprint is an improvement to the university’s former approach of haphazardly finding development sites. Yet, the superblocks plan was an overreach and needed to be reined in. City Councilmember Margaret Chin and Borough President Scott Stringer — and City Planning, which nixed an N.Y.U. hotel from the project — have all played a part in paring the plan down. The earlier removal of a temporary gym was also a win for neighbors.

Chin worked long and hard on this — her first major ULURP — to secure compromises from N.Y.U. And the concessions by the university are binding, agreed to in writing by N.Y.U. President John Sexton.

Specifically, the Mercer St. Boomerang building has been shaved down significantly, from 11 stories to four. Its footprint, along with that of the LaGuardia Place Boomerang, has been reduced, which will take up less space within Washington Square Village, and make the complex’s courtyard seem less like a walled-off “college quad.”

The Zipper building, which will replace Coles gym, has also been reduced in size and its mass shifted toward Houston St., so that the project will have less impact on residents living near the building’s northern end.

Also important, N.Y.U. has agreed to maintain the open-space public strips on the superblocks at the same level as its privately owned public spaces on the blocks. Up till now, N.Y.U. has done an atrocious job in this regard, for example, allowing a playground on Mercer St. to become a condemned sinkhole, unusable by the public. This agreement will rectify that long-festering problem.

In another major concession, N.Y.U. has agreed that — if the School Construction Authority doesn’t build a public school at the current Morton Williams supermarket site — then the university will include at least 25,000 square feet of space in a new building there for use by community groups, at a moderate rent.

In her critical negotiations with the university during this process, Margaret Chin has handled herself as a competent and committed community leader. She has listened to all sides in this roiled debate, including her constituents, many of whom never gave her a reasonable road map to a final solution. Had they backed off of an unreasonable maximalist position of “no growth whatsoever in the core,” she might have been able to make more headway. Without any guidelines, they left her up against the N.Y.U. powers almost alone.

The councilmember pushed N.Y.U. to make critical cuts in the project and provided novel community spaces and amenities. In this most important decision of her Council tenure, Margaret Chin stands tall.

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9 Responses to Margaret Chin and N.Y.U.

  1. In the end, I thing NYU got what it was really looking for. They put a lot of pad in the original proposal, knowing that they'd have to make strategic concessions. They really didn't put up a fight on any of these, and I have a feeling all this was prenegotiated behind the scenes early on, and they knew exactly what they were going to get in the end. The rest was kabuki theater for the beneit of the locals.

  2. NYU facult y member

    Horrible editorial. How naive can you be? NYU pads out a humongous building project and eventually agrees to reduce it to a merely huge building project. Some "compromise"! The Sexton administration has been partying it up. It's still a disaster for the community. Margaret Chin let us down big time and will pay for it. Once again, the big-moneyed interests trump the clear preferences of the community.

  3. Margaret Chin stands tall? How? Where, in what parallel universe? In the Land of the Lilliputians? This editorial comes about as far from left fiield as the completely nonsensical, pom-pom waving editorial issued by the NY Times earlier this summer, telling everyone how gosh darn good this trainwreck of an expansion (that is to say, rapacious takeover of the neighborhood, street by street, block by block) will be for the Village. Yours is the same paper that, just two weeks ago, published "Chin Must Reduce NYU 2031 project's scale," did it not — including a perfectly reasonable 6-point road map toward a more principled solution? I would have expected a great deal more from your paper, one that, as if you need reminding, is supposed to represent the local community.

  4. When a faculty colleague of mine called the office of Speaker Quinn days before the zoning and land use subcomittee sham of a vote, she was told that she was one of hundreds to call in to express strong opposition to the shocking aggressiveness of the plan in its massive scale, density and destruction of zoning-protected public green space. How many local residents (or faculty, like myself) called in to voice their support? Believe it or not, not a single one. Bottom line is that this "deal" was no compromise at all. The administration threw a giant disgusting plate of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. And what stuck was exactly the portion that it had the appetite to eat in the first place. The City Council vote makes a mockery not only of the zoning laws and the now-violated public trust invested in these laws but of the democratic process itself. This was a deal brokered behind closed doors. There were no real stakeholders in this room. No one really directly affected, with kids or elderly parents, by the next twenty years of ceaseless construction and the dust-choked air and ear-splitting noise that will accompany it.

  5. There were no members of the community, no small business owners from the surrounding streets who will be afflicted by the plan, if not driven out completely, no faculty and most certainly no students, presently constutituing the most indebted student body of any single private university in the entire country and set to pay 3.8% more come September. No, there were only SHAREHOLDERS in the room — Pres. Sexton and his brood of suits. This is with whom Chin, Quinn and co. were bargaining for months if not years now, all with the blessing of our development-obsessed, three-term mayor. There was not a genuine educator among them. And no, sorry, Sexton's class on baseball does not qualify.

  6. Everyone can be dead certain that the faculty, for one, will not stand for what amounts to the most egregious violation of faculty governance in recent academic memory here in New York. This week was but one (sad) chapter in the ongoing struggle for not only the body and soul of the Village but also that of NYU as an academic institution rather than the top-down corporate one that is has fast become. This marks the beginning, rather than the end, of a much bigger and still more bruising fight. For if the City Council, so hopelessly steeped in its spineless rubberstamping ways, could not give the community (and I most certainly include the faculty among it) a fair hearing, perhaps the courts will. I hope that this paper's editorial board will side with the good guys next time.

    As for Chin? See you at the polls.

  7. Margaret Chin sold out. One needs not be an astute observer to see that. I called her office today to briefly express my hope that she was seeing the light vis-vis what an awful thing the Zipper Building NYU plan would be. A very nice aide, Michael was answering the phone. I assured him that I would not vote for her and would encourage other neighbors to support anyone but her, should she go with NYU. He was very understanding and said "I'm hearing a lot of that". I think he was with our side and I think she is not.

  8. Sylvia Rackow

    ” She (Chin) has listened to all sides in this roiled debate, including her constituents, many of whom never gave her a reasonable road map to a final solution.” Are you joking? The CB2 voted unanimously “NO” to the plan. Community members testified continually at City Planning, Subcommittee on Zoning & Land Use.

    Chin continually said she was “against giving away public lands” and for “Affordable housing”. How many lies can you tell us now?

    “Competent and committed community leader”? You must be joking! Chin simply did NOT represent her constituents and we shall not forget.

  9. How can this editorial slam the community for demanding nothing, but not NYU for demanding everything??? If the final result had been something in the middle, then maybe there might be a case for defending Chin. But it's not. Not even close. Everyone knows these small concessions were built into NYU's original plan, so they actually got everything they wanted. And our elected council person allowed the community to get screwed. This 10-15% reduction in scale is a drop in the bucket. Why not something in the middle? Then this editorial might make a little sense.

    Chin has forced BIDs on the community that it does not want. She has allowed historic sites to be torn down for big new development and campaign cash. And now, she has showed to true colors again, supporting another big business over the folks who voted for her. She's making the previous councilmember look like a saint, and that's no easy feat. I can't wait for Chin to run for re-election. I'm sure she's counting on the Dem's pact to not run against an incumbent, and we can all look forward to getting screwed again. sad.

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