N.Y.U. repeatedly ignored the community’s road map

BY ANDREW BERMAN  |  I was reminded of two old adages when reading The Villager’s editorial last week regarding the City Council’s approval of New York University’s expansion plan (“Margaret Chin and N.Y.U.”). The first: We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

One can believe that it is O.K. to sell off precious public parkland in a neighborhood starved for open space, or to upzone and subject a residential neighborhood to 20 years of construction, in violation of longstanding agreements. One can believe that it is O.K. to further oversaturate the Village with N.Y.U. facilities, without requiring the university to explore reasonable alternatives or justify the need for those facilities in the first place — which is what the plan approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee, at the direction of Councilmember Chin and with the support of Speaker Quinn, does.

But to say that the opposition to the N.Y.U. plan “did not provide a reasonable road map,” which prevented Councilmember Chin from “making more headway,” simply ignores the facts.

The opposition regularly pointed to potential win-win alternatives, which were ignored. These included locating N.Y.U. facilities in the Financial District where they are wanted and needed, and making better use of existing N.Y.U. space by holding Friday classes or moving administrative facilities out of the Village where they are not needed to open up more room for classrooms and labs.

But the opposition also pointed to several key changes that could have been made to the plan that the Council also failed to include in any way in the plan it approved. One of these was ensuring that no public green space was sold off to N.Y.U., as both Councilmember Chin and Borough President Stringer publicly promised on multiple occasions they would not allow, and yet both ultimately approved this in the N.Y.U. plan. Other proposed changes included turning the supermarket site into a public park if no school is built there to offset the loss of public space under the university’s plan; delaying the approval of construction on the northern superblock; and removing at least one of the “Boomerang Buildings” from the plan so the supposed public amenity of green space within Washington Square Village would feel in any way open to the public.

With the exception of the removal of the commercial overlay on the blocks east of Washington Square Park from the N.Y.U. plan, which was done by the City Planning Commission, virtually none of the major objections to the plan and potential solutions presented by the affected public were reflected in what Chin, Stringer and the Council’s Land Use Committee approved.

The editorial frames the meager changes to the N.Y.U. plan that were made by the City Council as “compromises” that Chin “secured” from the university.  But this also ignores the facts regarding how this land use approval process works. None of what N.Y.U. wanted to build is legal or allowable under current zoning and urban renewal agreements. The only way N.Y.U. could build is by getting the City Council (among others) to approve changes to these rules. The Council was not obligated to approve any part of the N.Y.U. plan. Unless they were operating from the supposition that N.Y.U. was entitled to get whatever it wanted — which would be a shocking revelation — there was no need for the City Council to “negotiate” or extract any concessions from NYU.

Upon reviewing the totality of the plan and the public feedback regarding it, the Council simply needed to approve those parts, if any, of the plan that it thought appropriate, and disapprove those it thought inappropriate. There was no need to extract concessions from N.Y.U. In fact, it should have been exactly the other way around — N.Y.U. should have had to extract any changes or approvals from the public, whose interests should have been protected in this process.

If the university’s plan as approved does move ahead, it will lead to a further oversaturation of the Village with N.Y.U. facilities, tipping the balance of neighborhood character and violating a sacred public trust under which the formerly public land N.Y.U. now owns and wants to build upon was given to it.

Approval will also provide the university with many more opportunities to violate agreements it has made supposedly to provide public amenities in exchange for ridiculously generous giveaways on the part of government officials. Particularly surprising about the deal Chin, Quinn and the Council’s Land Use Committee agreed to was that the few additional changes mostly involved promises of community amenities, such as public access to an atrium inside the nearly 1-million-square-foot, 300-foot-tall “Zipper Building” on Mercer St. and space for a “community facility” in Washington Square Village and also in the new building on the supermarket site.

At no point in the four-year process leading up to this point did the public clamor for “public atriums” or even “community facilities” from N.Y.U., and most are aware that N.Y.U. has made these exact same promises of such “public amenities” on prior land use deals and has never fulfilled them. For example, the Bobst Library was built partly on public land and allowed to be much larger than any development on that site was supposed to be. The university’s promise in return? This would be their last building on Washington Square South, and the extra-large library building would include a grand, open, light well in the center that would be accessible to the public. The light well is there, but the public access has never been, and N.Y.U. has continued to destroy buildings and build on Washington Square South.

The other old adage I was reminded of when reading The Villager’s editorial: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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10 Responses to N.Y.U. repeatedly ignored the community’s road map

  1. Promises, promises. Too many hollow promises. Our councilmember, Margaret Chin, should know better, especially given the 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": http://www.downtownexpress.com/bid-plan-for-soho&… ) about a promise she received from the SoHo BID Steering Committee:

    "… 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 those proposing the BID has not been kept. And the councilmember has done nothing to put that "assurance" into action, an "assurance" she was given by the real estate interests who could easily fund the sidewalk clean up, something made necessary following the influx of retailers those real estate interests have so successfully brought into the neighborhood. Instead of taking care of problems brought on by their business practices, those angling for power prefer to let the situation along Broadway get out of control, as a way to sway public opinion. So much for their promise to be "Good Neighbors" and do what's needed to improve Broadway in SoHo. And so much for any promise of compliance that Councilmember Chin offers to her constituents.

    Promises mean nothing when they are hollow, and are used only to sway the discussion. As has been pointed out, NYU has shown itself to be full of false promises, and the university apparently has no problem, morally or otherwise, breaking those promises.

    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, and has chosen to place her trust in those who have reneged on their promises, rather than standing up for her constituents.

  2. Thank you Andrew Berman for your thoughtful and constructive response to the NYU/City Council's devastating plan to destroy our living quarters, children's playgrounds, park strips, dog run, the Sasaki and LaGuardia Place Corner Gardens, and the creditability of NYU – for the construction of more massive nondescript high rise buildings that provide small public access or benefits.

    Let's hope that Mayor Bloomberg will veto this ill conceived plan and avoid unnecessary law suits, more protest demonstrations and possible further injury to city residents and innocent people caught in the crossfire.

  3. The City Council's decision was breathtaking in its violence and disregard for the community and faculty's wishes. What is the point of a democratic charade if Chin and Quinn and her henchmen rode roughshod over the wishes of the community and the faculty — the people who live in this community, and need and use its playgrounds and gardens — and illegally gave over everything to Sexton's Folly.
    Vote out the interlocking power elite of Chin-Quinn-Bloomberg-NYU Trustees. The only hope, slim as it is, is legal action.
    And SHAME on all of you who knew better and just wanted to appease a colleague (Margaret Chin, Christine Quinn) who sold their own constituents — the constituents they purportedly represent — down the river.

  4. Andrew Berman is our Champion. Thanks to All who helped fight this plan for five long years. Greenwich Village is now but a memory, it will become Campus Village. Giving away public land is criminal. I wish Quin and Chin the same Luck they have saddled on this community tenfold. Never will we vote for them again. Watch for the mass exodus of Faculty. Coming soon thousands more underaged drunks acting out on our streets.

  5. "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." or in the case of NYU, those who trample on a community are allowed to repeat it! The council's vote echoes the theme in many areas…in banking, wall street, oil companies… no one is held responsible. corporate amnesia is a sad fact of life…now add to it governmental amnesia. sad…

  6. It is obvious the Councilmembers (except one) support the corporate interests and rampant growth rather than acting as duly elected representatives of the people. The 'revised' Plan appears to only reduce, in small measure, the height of the proposed buildings without any reduction of the large footprint of the plan. Hence, encroachment and destruction of existing green space, including my uncle Hideo Sasaki's (and partner Peter Walker) beautiful and serene garden and the LaGuardia Community Gardens will continue. Shame on the planning sub-committee and city council for their destructive votes.

  7. Jean Standish

    This whole process of the NYU 2031 ULURP was a sad commentary on the regard the City Council has for its constituents, whom they are supposed to serve. Once again, the community was totally disregarded and corporate interests prevailed. The fact that alternatives to this massive development plan were never considered was particularly egregious.

  8. Student Debtor

    This plan is a monstrosity. I agree that calling it a "compromise" by Chin and Quinn is a disgrace to everyone involved. NYU surely put much larger plans than they expected to to be approved. Trimming off a mere 20% is probably less than NYU actually expected!

    I wonder whether when NYU students start getting larger and larger tuition increases that they will come to realize that much of the increase is related to NYU 2031. NYU students will also not see any improvement in classroom space because NYU will surely have to admit more students to pay for this plan (note that the plan adds little classroom space anyhow)…..

  9. Leslye alexander

    Andrew thank you for your wonderful words, and we thank the community and the faculty for working so hard at trying todo what is right. It is sad day that the reprsentatives that we the voters the tax payers elected and who we pay their salaries put corporate greed in front of their civic duty of doing what is right for the public. Giving away public land to a private corporation to increase the profits of that corporation knowing full well how they have broken every promise they have ever made to the community is shameful. We obviously live in a city who raises real estate taxes, subway fares, closes firehouses, but can give over 70 million dollars of public land away, give millions upon millions of our tax money to NYU and Columbia both private corporations, whiie letting public schools and public universities fall by the wayside. There is something seriously wrong with our administration in this city. Margaret Chin and Christine Quinn you not only did not have our back, you stabbed us in the back. It is an outrage.

  10. Justifying building millions of square feet paid for by already highly indebted students is a ponzi scheme. It cannot be supported and will eventually cause financial distress on NYU (and the surrounding community).

    No matter if you are republican or democrat you can see major problems with this plan.

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