V TALKING POINT
BY MARTIN TESSLER | Recently, The Villager reported on Councilmember Margaret Chin’s announcement about the tenancy of some of the “community facility” space that New York University promised as a condition of getting Council approval of the NYU 2031 Plan. The article happily spoke about Creative Steps Playgroup partnering with University Settlement to be able to grow and have more space for our neighborhood’s early-education needs, and Visiting Neighbors — one of our community’s beloved senior service organizations — getting some space as well. One community member asked whether these were carrots tossed at us to make the N.Y.U. 2031 plan more palatable before the backhoes and pile drivers destroy our community.
Sadly, there really aren’t even any carrots here — just spin. This space is at below-market rent, but not free. This is the “giveback-for-pay” N.Y.U. needed to get Council approval. Twenty-five thousand square feet in the to-be-built building at the current Morton Williams supermarket site; 6,000 square feet in Washington Square Village; and about 7,000 in the proposed “Zipper Building” on Mercer St. Stack that against almost 2 million square feet of approved new buildings, and it comes up virtually infinitesimal. Less than 2 percent for the community — and the nonprofits still have to pay for it!
If the numbers above are correct, this is also an admission that a public school — the one thing N.Y.U. has been promising the community for decades — will not be built. The school on the Morton Williams site was to be 100,000 square feet. The city’s School Construction Authority has until the end of 2014 to state whether it has the need and funding to build this school, but the inclusion of 25,000 square feet in Councilmember Chin’s release shows that she does not expect the school either. Is she hoping we’ll all forget that a school was part of the original promises secured to make the 2031 plan slightly less egregious — not to mention all the other times a school was promised in exchange for prior N.Y.U. projects and not delivered?
Creative Steps Playgroup used to pay no rent as a guest of the Washington Square Village Tenants Association, which has had use of space at no cost since its formation. This facility is a benefit to our neighborhood, which desperately needs early childcare — and more now since the closing of the Children’s Aid Society in our area. The good news is that University Settlement is coming in as a partner so Creative Steps can grow. Perhaps they will help Creative Steps pay N.Y.U. what the daycare center never had to pay before. Yes, the rent, we are told, is well below market rates in our very expensive neighborhood, and the expanded daycare will have more space. But below-market is still not the same as free.
This “gift we pay for” doesn’t even begin to mitigate the damage the N.Y.U. 2031 plan will do to Greenwich Village. But that’s O.K. — just turn on your air conditioner (whether it’s hot or not) and you won’t notice a thing… .
Councilmember Chin’s recent campaign speeches, especially when questioned about N.Y.U. 2031, feature the fact that 505 LaGuardia Place residents got a very affordable price on the building’s land lease — which could otherwise have reset to a huge number thanks to the revaluation of the land Chin helped N.Y.U. get rezoned from residential to commercial. Saving affordable housing is laudable. But 505 LaGuardia’s land lease was not part of N.Y.U. 2031. This Mitchell-Lama income-limited building’s land lease cost was somehow added into the expansion plan negotiations, with N.Y.U. aware that Councilmember Chin’s dedication to 174 units of affordable housing was a priority despite the thousands of other superblock and adjacent families that would be directly affected by N.Y.U. 2031, and the more widespread effects of the destruction of a historic, residential neighborhood. In addition, 505 LaGuardia had excellent attorneys and other elected officials fighting this battle on their behalf, so it is unclear how much of this victory is the councilmember’s to claim.
So our beloved community organizations get to pay N.Y.U. for the carrots, and we get the sticks. And steel. And concrete. We also lose our city-owned parkland and our light and air and gardens, and instead get decades of a toxic environment, and vermin, and congestion, and air conditioning.
Tessler is co-chairperson, Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U. 2031