Council O.K.’s N.Y.U. plan; Antis booted out before vote

Ruth Rennert, a Washington Square Village resident, left, and Paul and Marianne Edwards, 88 Bleecker St. residents, shouted their displeasure over the Council’s anticipated vote on the N.Y.U. plan as they were ejected from the Council Chamber’s balcony Wednesday. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  According to Judith Callet, former resident chairperson of the Bleecker Area Residents’ and Merchants’ Association, they were supposed to start chanting after the vote.

“Many of us put hundreds of hours in on this and we wanted to be there,” she said. “Let’s just say, we would have had a reaction to the vote.”

Instead, as Council Speaker Christine Quinn started to speak in support of New York University’s superblocks mega-development plan on Wednesday, opponents sitting in the balcony began to hiss and call out, at first only a few.

“Shame!” and “Shame on you!” they spat out.

“We’re going to ask for quiet one more time, and then we’re going to clear the balcony,” Quinn warned.

But the cries only increased in frequency and intensity, and Quinn promptly took action.

“All right, sergeants, please clear the balcony,” she stated.

Police officers and Council security quickly moved to herd out the 75 or so opponents — though it took about 10 minutes to clear them all out of the balcony.

Angrily brandishing their yellow “N.Y.U. is Wrong for the Village” signs, the opponents unleashed a barrage of jeers as they shuffled out.

“Democracy is dead!”

“Corruption and greed in City Hall!”

“Shame on Quinn!”

Swept out along with them were N.Y.U. officials, since all the public was seated in the balcony, as the full body of the Council occupied the floor below for the vote.

When it appeared to the opponents that the N.Y.U. officials might try to re-enter the Council Chambers, they started yelling, and ultimately the university representatives also had to leave City Hall along with the opponents. John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesperson, later denied the N.Y.U. group had been thinking about going back in.

Quinn said the N.Y.U. plan that the Council was about to vote on represented a 27 percent reduction in square footage to the plan that was originally presented. This, however, refers to the space the project would add aboveground. When new underground space is also included, the final project was cut more than 20 percent from the original.

In total, the university’s plan now is to add 1.9 million square feet of new development to its two South Village superblocks, between Houston and W. Third Sts. and LaGuardia Place and Mercer St.

Quinn and Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose district contains the superblocks, both said the plan, in its final form, “strikes a balance” between allowing N.Y.U. to grow and flourish while ensuring that the surrounding community isn’t overwhelmed.

At a press conference before the vote, The Villager asked Quinn to reconcile the Council’s approval of the project with the fact that Community Board 2 had voted an “absolute no” on it.

“I understand — as does Margaret — why the community board voted ‘no,’ ” Quinn answered. “This plan is different from the original plan,” she said, noting the square-footage reduction.

Asked if this would be the end of N.Y.U.’s expansion of its facilities in the Village, Quinn said she wouldn’t anticipate seeing any more growth in the neighborhood by the university anytime soon.

After the press conference, speaking on the Council Chambers floor as the Council was getting ready to vote, Quinn said the N.Y.U. project would help make the university an “even greater force to bring people to New York to study.”

She noted that both the planned Boomerang Building and the Zipper Building, both on Mercer St., had been significantly modified in the review process.

“I think when all is said and done in 2031, this will be seen as a fair process,” Quinn added.

After the vote, Councilmember Charles Barron, the only councilmemnber who voted against the N.Y.U. plan, spoke with the plan’s opponents, including Miriam Kaplan, the director of research and data analysis for the Superblocks Coalition, center. Photo by Tequila Minsky

Made themselves heard
As she spoke, the opponents’ shouts could still be heard from outside in City Hall plaza.

“It’s really a plan for 20 years, so the community knows what N.Y.U. is going to do,” Chin said in her remarks, adding that the agreement the Council negotiated with the university includes dedicated funds and protection for the superblocks’ open spaces.

Referring to the reduction of aboveground space by more than one-quarter from the original, Chin said, “This is significant, and it reflects N.Y.U.’s willingness to engage in the public process. I modified this proposal to directly address concerns expressed by my constituents, namely, by reducing building heights and preserving open space. I am proud of the victories that have been achieved. This modified proposal meets N.Y.U.’s academic needs while providing new amenities and improved green space for Greenwich Village residents. As this plan comes into being over the next 20 years, I am confident that it will not outpace growth in Greenwich Village. I urge my colleagues in the Council to stand with me and vote ‘yes’ in support of N.Y.U.’s 2031 proposal.”

‘Met with every group’
Chin added that she had “met with every group that asked for a meeting” about the contentious project.

She also noted that this was N.Y.U.’s “first ULURP application.”

“They have always done stuff ‘as of right,’ ” she noted, referring to projects that don’t need to undergo the city’s full-blown, seventh-month-long, public review process.

The councilmember also noted that she stressed to N.Y.U., “No more broken promises.”

‘It’s not a quiet area’
Leroy Comrie, chairperson of the Council’s Land Use Committee, also spoke in support of the plan. Nothing that “nothing stays the same,” Comrie said the idea of a quaint, quiet Village is a thing of the past. Just the other night, he said, he had taken his daughter to SOB’s at Houston and Varick Sts. and the Village had been bustling.

“It’s not a quiet area. It’s not a passive area,” he stated. “It’s not the Village of the ’60s or ’70s when people are going to bed at 8 o’clock at night. The Village is a very active place” where people can go out to get a meal or see entertainment, he said.

Only Barron votes ‘no’
Once again, Charles Barron — a frequent foil of Quinn in the Council — was the only member to vote against the N.Y.U. plan. He had done so the previous week at the Council’s Land Use Committee vote.

Even under the modified version, there would still be several large towers in the plan —  “a 17-story tower, a 15-story tower…,” he said. The project would also overburden local infrastructure, he warned.

“The underground sewer system is going to be jammed,” he said.

He blasted Comrie’s drive-through observations, scoffing that he “drives in for five minutes and makes an evaluation.”

“None of us live there,” Barron noted of his fellow councilmembers.

Meanwhile, he said, C.B. 2 had “an extensive response” to the N.Y.U. 2031 plan — in the form of a resolution completely rejecting it.

“This is not a body that is supposed to be defending N.Y.U. turning its neighborhood into an extended campus,” he stated.

Barron also objected to the ejection of the opponents from the Council Chambers.

“You don’t put them out because they’re frustrated with a plan for where they have to live,” he scolded.

Did it for Chin
Gale Brewer, speaking before the vote, told a photographer that everyone knew Barron would vote “no” but that all the other members would vote “yes.”

“We did it out of respect for Margaret Chin,” she said, referring to how councilmembers typically defer to the councilmember in whose district the specific project in question is located.

Addressing the Council before her vote, Brewer said Chin had done “yeoperson’s work on N.Y.U.,” but Brewer also praised Andrew Berman, director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, one of the project’s chief critics.

“I respect Andrew Berman and the work he does in the neighborhood,” she said.

Councilmember Lew Fidler said he lived in the Village for three years when he attended N.Y.U. Law School.

“This is not a quiet little neighborhood,” he said. “N.Y.U. is an inextricable part of Greenwich Village — and it always will be. And people who moved in there 15 years ago should have known that.”

Tough vote for Mendez
Councilmember Rosie Mendez referred back to her comments before the Land Use Committee vote, when she had said “the easy thing to do would be to vote ‘no.’ ”

Yet, she noted, she had “stood shoulder to shoulder” on Chin with so many local issues.

“You’re an awesome colleague, you’re my sister,” she said.

On the other hand, Mendez said, she wants N.Y.U. to let its graduate students hold a union election.

“Today, while a lot of my constituents are going to be unhappy — and I’m very conflicted by my vote — ‘yes.’ Thank you, and this is for you,” Mendez said to Chin. “I vote ‘aye.’ ”

N.Y.U.’s culmination
Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community outreach, in a release after the vote, said, “Today’s City Council vote in favor of N.Y.U.’s 2031 core plan marks the culmination of over five years of planning, hundreds of hours of meetings with our N.Y.U. and external communities, and successive iterations of our plans that were designed to strike a balance between allowing the university to meet its critical academic needs while being sensitive to our surrounding community.

“The university will now have the ability to plan for growth on its own property in Greenwich Village, complemented by expansion that is taking place in Downtown Brooklyn and near our health facilities on Manhattan’s East Side. This road map for where to plan future facilities will ensure a vibrant and strong university for the decades to come.”

Hurley praised Chin’s efforts “balancing the community’s concerns with the university’s need to grow.” Chin’s efforts also required financial and procedural commitments on building and maintaining open spaces and providing community facilities oriented to children and seniors, Hurley noted.

“We look forward to working with Councilwoman Chin, community groups and valued stakeholders as we embark upon early enhancements to open spaces on the superblocks, the creation of the open space committee [Open Space Oversight Organization], and the creation of protocols for the construction advisory committee,” Hurley said.

Chamber’s for it
In a statement, Tony Juliano, chairperson and president of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, said “N.Y.U. is an economic engine that fuels the neighborhood’s economy and contributes greatly to the economic well-being of New York City. The university’s expansion can help the area’s businesses dramatically, if done in the right way. It has been clear from the initial stages of this planning process that N.Y.U. wanted to create a plan that balances the university’s needs and those of its neighbors.”

‘We’ll be in a cave’
However, Marianne, 67, a painter, and Paul Edwards, 61, a writer, who have lived at 88 Bleecker St. across from N.Y.U.’s planned Zipper Building for 35 years, said they’ll be living “in a cave” once the Zipper is constructed. Their third-floor apartment currently overlooks the existing Coles Gym — which will be razed for the Zipper — though to their chagrin, the university six months ago painted the rooftop courts there purple.

“That area, when I look at it, there’s light and air,” said Marianne. “It’s going to be all dark.”

“So they reduced a tower in the Zipper Building from 15 stories to 10 — so what?” Paul said. “We’re still going to be living in a cave.”

‘It’s hopping enough now!’
Ann Pettibone, who lives in Soho directly across from the superblocks, said Comrie is right, the Village is active — but adding a 1,000-bed freshman dorm in the Zipper Building will be too much.

“Yes, it is a hopping place. And we love it because it’s a hopping place,” she said. “But we don’t want another 10,000 students hopping through it.”

Lawsuit coming soon
Afterward, members of N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan and Berman announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the project.

Berman noted, “In the 32 years of G.V.S.H.P.’s existence, we’ve never even considered, much less taken, legal action. But these circumstances are extraordinary, both in terms of the impact that the plan would have and the flaws in the process.”

Glick slams Quinn
Assemblymember Deborah Glick put out a statement headlined, “New York City Council to Greenwich Village: DROP DEAD: Approval of N.Y.U. 2031 Plan Shows Complete Disdain for the Community.”

“Today’s decision once again signals the Council’s deaf ear to the community’s concerns about huge development schemes,” her statement said. “Sadly, this has been a hallmark of Speaker Quinn’s leadership.”

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17 Responses to Council O.K.’s N.Y.U. plan; Antis booted out before vote

  1. Well, we Villagers know against whom to vote next election! Chin's got to go. Stringer will never see a vote from anyone I know in the community, nor Quinn. I hope some form of retribution will be taken.

  2. Judith Chazen Walsh

    Thanks Mr. Charles Barron__Thanks to the tireless, honest, factual communications and shared information from all of the opposition forces__Don't feel sad – feel empowered ____Anyone trying to run for office who wants our votes in the future will be subjected to some hard questions – like__WHOM DO YOU REPRESENT NOW AND WHOM WILL YOU REPRESENT WHEN ELECTED?____We do not seek revenge but so seek justice for the superblock ersidents, for our citywide neighbors who are and will be subjected to greedy developers. We should work for recall laws in NYC to g4t ride of elected officials who do not represent us____Sorry kids and trees and plants, and small businesses and residents, and students and faculty and Key Park Playground and Sasaki Gardens and LaGuardia Corner Gardens and the Dog Run and Adrienne's Garden…__Your vote has been disenfranchised……..taken away……robbed by the City Council…..maybe next time__we will be proactive enough to see the future and change it ____

  3. Councilmember Chin and Speaker Quinn can spin it all they want, but the fact remains that the bohemoth NYU 2031 Expansion Plan is a blatant giveaway of public land, open green space, playgrounds and gardens to NYU and corporate interests.

    Christine Quinn excelled in her job as consigliere to Mayor Bloomberg and Chin and the City Council excelled at cowering under Quinn's strong-arm tactics and forgetting who they truly represent.

    Many thanks to Charles Barron for being the sole city councilmember who stood up for the people of New York.

    Charles Barron for mayor.

  4. Lawrence White

    Chin and Quinn
    Never again

  5. Sheri Clemons

    NYU has been growing and buying up spaces and building new gigantic buildings for years and years. No Mayor or City Council has ever stopped them, nor slowed them down very much. NYU is a constant generator of change and building in the Village. The only way it will stop is if the School itself stops growing. I know people are angry with Quinn and Chin right now. I believe that anger is misplaced. Quinn and Chinn did reduce the size of the new construction and won other concessions as well. It is not like they gave NYU Carte Blanche to do whatever NYU intended to do in the first place. Politics is the art of the possible. I believe Quinn and Chin achieved what was possible.

  6. Sylvia Rackow

    I agree with Terri Cude's comment that this is "a sad day for Greenwich Village". Rarely have politicians been so crass in their denial of a community's rights. I'm astounded that Mr. Comrie spent a few minutes in the Village and said we needed a change. How ridiculous.

    Blessings on Andrew Berman and the NYUFASP. We hope the courts will recognize the covenants which allowed NYU to build Silver Towers on property given them by the city.

    As to Mrs. Chin, she sold out her constituents. We shan't forget. Strange how politicians act around money.

  7. Pres. John Sexton was never elected to his position. We, the NYU faculty, never had a say in his ascension to the throne. He was appointed. Margaret Chin, Speaker Quinn and the rest of the sad and sorry assemblage that makes up the present sham of a City Council, however, were elected to their positions. To a person, they were voted in to their positions of public duty, entrusted with the responsibility to protect their constituents and to advocate for their well-being, their security and their prosperity. In reading the quotes from Chin and Mendez, in light of these public officials sworn oaths and Lincoln's quote adorning the City Council's ceiling ("Government of the people, by the people, for the people…"), I can only think of one word polite enough to use here: Disgrace.

    The community had more than done its part in this entire process. Between the CB2 report, the findings of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and the NYU faculty's own road map toward a more sustainable, fiscally-responsible and student debt-conscious model for future grown, the City Council had received a set of principled solutions to both the community's as well as NYU's academic (as opposed to commercial and gym) needs. For months, we waited for the City Planning Commission and the City Council to recognize the administration's land grab for what it really was — and to act on behalf of the community and its needs, placing them ahead of the wants of a university administration turned real estate tycoon. We waited and hoped in vain.

    But we did not work in vain. Those whom we voted into office in error – and whom we trusted to safeguard our interests and our rights – did not do their job. The fix was in from the start. The City Council has done its worst. We will continue to do our best to save both NYU's academic integrity and the Village itself, body and soul.

    And while our elected officials refused to give neither the Village community nor NYU's own community of faculty and students a fair hearing, it is my hope that the courts will.

  8. Promises, promises. We've heard too many hollow promises. Our councilmember, Margaret Chin, should know better, especially given the string of broken promises from NYU and other power players in her district.

    Regarding broken promises, Councilmember Chin wrote in a Guest Editorial published in the Downtown Express in July 2011 ("Soho's Broadway BID Plan Improved":… ) about a promise she received from the SoHo BID Steering Committee following unprecedented opposition to that unpopular attempt by real estate interests to take control in SoHo:

    "… I have been assured by the BID organizers that they will come up with the funds necessary to keep ACE cleaning Broadway this summer …"

    One year later that promise from the BID supporters has not been kept. And the councilmember – despite being "assured" – has done nothing to put that promise into action. She got that assurance from the SoHo real estate interests, a very successful group that could easily fund the sidewalk clean up they promised to undertake (made necessary by the influx of retailers that the BID proponents installed in the neighborhood). Instead of taking care of problems brought on by their business practices, the real estate interests angling for power prefer to sway public opinion by allowing the situation along Broadway to deteriorate. So much for their promise to be "Good Neighbors" and do what's needed to improve conditions in SoHo. And so much for any promise of compliance that Councilmember Chin offers to her constituents. Similar toothless assurances are now part of the NYU package for growth under the Sexton 2031 plan.

    Promises mean nothing when they are hollow, and are used only as a ploy to sway the discussion. It's been pointed out that NYU has a whole history of false promises. Apparently the university has no problem, morally or otherwise, when breaking those promises. Adding insult to injury, we get more hollow promises from our elected officials, who assured us that they would not allow NYU to build on the public lands bordering the super blocks, but then caved when the moment of truth arrived.

    Our councilmember should be wise enough to know that power players need to be judged by their acts, not by their words. In too many instances our elected representative has failed in this respect. There's an unanswered question before us now: Why has Councilmember Chin chosen to place her trust in those who have reneged on their promises, rather than standing up for her constituents?

  9. Quinn has joined the cabal, and Glick postures a lot and loses the big fights. It's time to clean house this year, and again in 2013. The long running group of old pals presently in office, Council and Assembly alike, has let this community down when it has mattered most. Do they really think that we love them so much that there will be no fallout?

    • Jean Standish

      I disagree. Assemblymember Glick has been very supportive regarding the concerns of her constituents, not like the majority of elected officials in the City Council. If more politicians followed Glick's lead, NYU wouldn't have stood a chance. So, She lost the big fight, but she gets kudos for speaking out. This is not posturing–it's activism. Quinn is not a surprise. She, like Bloomberg, is pro-development regardless of how it affects surrounding communities.

      • Patrick Shields

        Her job is to "get the other politicians to follow her lead". They're just supposed to line up behind her like sheep? Whatever muscle is in that office is either not being used effectively or has atrophied. After the fact is not how you stop an institution like NYU or Rudin. Watch as Pier 40 disappears to hotel and condo next. Wielding the power of your office in an absolutist manner and failing to seek or better yet, force compromise early, has set this community up for a series of disastrous and complete failures on the largest and most important development and quality of life issues. Taking a principled stand and then getting steamrolled is getting painful to watch.

  10. Too Big To Fail

    What is the point of Community Boards if their advice is ignored? Sixteen hearings led CB2 to conclude that NYU's expansion was too big for the superblocks and would have a negative impact on the neighborhood. Why participate when the community's overwhelming opposition is ignored?

  11. Mayor Bloomberg still has an option to veto this devastating NYU2031 Plan for more skyscrapers in the heart of Greenwich Village. Let's hope he has the vision to send this ill conceived plan back to the drawing board and to stop the destruction of our children's playgrounds, park strips, dog run, the Sasaki and LaGuardia Place Corner Gardens, and the creditability of NYU.

    Can't the facts be faced that very few people will want to live, work and play around this massive building site for the next 20 years?

    Even construction workers would prefer to build projects in many NYC blighted areas where they would be needed and welcomed.

    NYU did nothing to help the Bronx by deserting their University Heights Campus and The American Hall of Fame when that part of our city needed help.

    This institution of "higher education" desperately needs to connect with higher human values.

  12. To recapitulate for the millionth time: The community and the Community board have been almost unanimously against the NYU 2031 Plan (Sexton's Folly), as have the faculty (almost unanimously), and many of the local merchants. Margaret Chin has failed to listen to her constituents and needs to be voted out of office. Christine Quinn has thrown her own constituents under a bus for the sake of her political ambitions. These people do not represent us, nor should they from this day forward. This was a tragic decision by the City Council, and a day of shame in this city. NYU has won this round — it has, in retrospect, probably been a "done deal" from the very beginning. I would be ashamed — historically speaking — to have been on their side. They have emptiness and dust and the deaths of others and the community they once had the privilege of working in on their hands.

  13. Barbara Ruether

    Community Boards should be the most relevant voices in our democractic process. Instead, every revision of the Charter finds the Boards losing more and more say so, and less and less funding. We should do away with the City Council, which apparently only votes according to what the Speaker desires a la the Mayor. Think of all the money we could save. The Community does all this research, works, organizing to be heard, and then shut out. Shut down to the point of being removed from the halls of power because of some mumurs in the gallery at the time of the so called vote of the Council might bring a sense of shame into the hall. Then, to come out in the sunshine and find that a press release touting the vote outcome had been already printed!!

  14. Barbara Ruether

    I question the entire ULURP process in this City and the purpose of a City Planning Commission that acts as the rubber stamp for the real estate and bankers. Democracy has become a joke and it's time we find some real leaders for the people.Quinn is a mere puppet. Sad day for our Village and for those who believe in democracy. We cannot continue to be rolled over, and over — even the few decent public representatives can't break through the gold wall of greed and arrogance of those in power. Kudos to Deborah Glick for her voice and her efforts.

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