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.’ ”
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.”