N.Y.U. to appeal park strips ruling, but political landscape has shifted

Melissa Mark-Viverito, left, with her City Council supporters — including Corey Johnson, rear right, and Ydanis Rodriguez, front right — marched toward City Hall on Jan. 8, chanting, “Si, Se Puede!” (“Yes, We Can!”) and “Treinta Y Uno!” (“31!” as in the number of votes she had secured), before she was sworn in as the new Council speaker.  Photo by Tequila Minsky

Melissa Mark-Viverito, left, with her City Council supporters — including Corey Johnson, rear right, and Ydanis Rodriguez, front right — marched toward City Hall on Jan. 8, chanting, “Si, Se Puede!” (“Yes, We Can!”) and “Treinta Y Uno!” (“31!” as in the number of votes she had secured), before she was sworn in as the new Council speaker. Photo by Tequila Minsky

By LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Updated Wed., Jan. 15, 11 p.m.  |  After initially saying last week’s stunning legal setback on its South Village development plans was “very positive for N.Y.U.,” the university now plans to challenge the court decision.

Meanwhile, the office of City Councilmember Margaret Chin — whose district contains the superblocks, where N.Y.U. hopes to build — this week offered a statement indicating that, despite the judge’s unequivocal verdict, they still support the entire project going forward.

Corey Johnson — who succeeded Christine Quinn in the Council — is wholeheartedly championing Mills’s decision, declaring that it calls into question the entire “N.Y.U. 2031″ plan.

And new Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the ruling “has the potential to change the project significantly.”

Last Friday, Crain’s New York Business reported that New York University will appeal Judge Donna Mills’s Jan. 7 ruling, in which she agreed with a community lawsuit’s contention that several open-space strips on the university’s two South Village superblocks are indeed parks. Mills said the park strips cannot be used for construction purposes unless the state Legislature votes to “alienate” them — meaning to remove them from being public parkland.

Although the city and N.Y.U. argued the strips are technically under the Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction, the properties have been used as parks for decades, and there has never been any plan to use them as actual streets. Mills agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the parcels — which sport official Parks Department signage — are implicitly parks.

“We are appealing because we disagree with the court’s designation of three of the strips as ‘implied parkland,’ ” N.Y.U. spokesperson John Beckman told Crain’s. He reiterated the university’s claim that Mills’s decision still allows the university to proceed with the first part of its proposal — the 1-million-square-foot, mixed-use “Zipper Building.” A spokesperson said N.Y.U. would not be commenting further, for now, beyond the Crain’s article.

Mills’s ruling was in response to a landmark lawsuit filed by a unique coalition including dozens of local residents and community groups, plus N.Y.U. faculty members, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Jim Walden, who along with Randy Mastro, both of the law firm Gibson Dunn, argued the case for the plaintiffs, said N.Y.U. is wrong to think it can now proceed with just half of the 2-million-square-foot 2031 plan while the status of the rest of the project is in doubt.

Walden gave the example of whether a project that was approved because it had an affordable-housing component would be allowed to go forward if the affordable housing were later removed.

“It would be a terrible precedent,” Walden told The Villager last Friday, “if a developer were permitted to proceed with a development plan after part of it was ruled to be illegal. Can you imagine if variances were granted and deed restrictions lifted by the City Planning Commission and City Council specifically based on the inclusion of affordable housing in a development plan, and, upon challenge in the courts, only the affordable-housing component was determined to violate some law? Would the commission and City Council be satisfied with a developer who was determined to charge ahead? I doubt it.

“Because the City Planning Commission and City Council approvals in this matter were based on a plan now declared illegal in part, the approvals themselves must be null,” Walden asserted.

“We are hopeful,” the attorney concluded, “that, rather than having this dispute fester in the courts toward an inevitable result given the clarity of the court’s ruling on parkland protection, N.Y.U. will come together with its faculty, the community, the new borough president, the new City Council speaker and the new administration to explore other alternatives.”

The community plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed against the city and state. Since N.Y.U. was central to the case, it joined as a so-called “necessary party” in defending against the suit.

According to a source, N.Y.U. can appeal the ruling on its own.

However, asked if the city — now under a new mayoral administration and with a new City Council speaker — would join N.Y.U.’s appeal, a Law Department spokesperson said it’s not clear yet.

Chris Reo, lead attorney of the Law Department’s Environmental Law Division, told The Villager on Friday, “We are still continuing to review the decision.”

Assemblymember Glick said of N.Y.U.’s plans to challenge Mills’s ruling, “Well, that’s not surprising, but I believe that the ruling was appropriate and will be upheld on appeal. And I’m confident that the land grab of parkland will be rejected once again.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., said of the university’s latest move, “It’s ironic because when the decision came down, N.Y.U. tried to spin it as an affirmation of their position and that it was a good thing for the university. But, obviously, their plan to appeal is an admission that the decision was a defeat and a rebuke of the plan.”

Mills, however, did rule that the strip with the Mercer-Houston Dog Run (plus the sunken playground and seating area that N.Y.U. has failed to maintain and which are fenced off) is not a park because it lacks official Parks Department signage and because N.Y.U., not Parks, has maintained it (well, at least the dog run).

N.Y.U. contends this means that the university can proceed with the Zipper Building — which would sit on part of this open-space strip, which N.Y.U. would purchase from the city.

Berman would not tip his hand if the plaintiffs intend to challenge Mills’s decision on this particular open-space strip.

“We’re reviewing all legal options available to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, new Councilmember Johnson — who succeeded Quinn in representing the Third District — hailed Mills’s ruling on what he, too, like Glick, called N.Y.U.’s “land grab.” And, in fact, he said it now casts the whole 2031 plan into doubt. Quinn, as the Council’s powerful speaker, supported the N.Y.U. plan, and with Chin, as the purported lead negotiator dealing with the university, pushed it through the Council to approval.

“I applaud State Supreme Court Justice Mills’s decision striking down key parts of the N.Y.U. expansion rezoning,” Johnson said. “I agree with the determination that the public park strips on Mercer St. and LaGuardia Place were alienated [removed as public parks] without approval from the state Legislature. This decision calls into question the entire N.Y.U. plan — including the proposed plans for the superblocks, as well as the Zipper Building. N.Y.U. has the right to appeal the decision, but it is my hope that N.Y.U. will not appeal and that the city explores whether or not this project should go back to the drawing board and start over.”

When she was still a councilmember, Brewer voted for the N.Y.U. 2031 project — though she admitted to Villager photographer Tequila Minsky on the floor of the Council Chambers right before the vote, that she was “doing it for Margaret [Chin].”

Asked for comment this week on Mills’s decision, Brewer broadly praised it.

“The judge’s ruling has the potential to change the project significantly, and my office is closely monitoring the case,” Brewer said. “I am particularly pleased that the judge ruled in favor of retaining publicly available open space. Protecting open space has long been a priority of mine, and I will continue to work hard on this issue as borough president.”

Meanwhile, Chinʼs office, this Tuesday, offered The Villager an expanded statement on Millsʼs decision.

Following Mills’s ruling, Chin on Jan. 9 issued a brief initial statement to The Villager.

“Preserving green space is one of my utmost priorities,” Chin said. “I am glad that [Justice Mills’s] decision creates the opportunity for the LaGuardia Corner Garden and Time Landscape to enjoy the same protections as other parks in our community. Throughout the N.Y.U. 2031 negotiations, I worked to ensure that any construction is respectful of the residents that call this neighborhood home — and minimizing impacts on community green space was and continues to be an essential part of that goal.”

(The Time Landscape is the long, fenced-in plot south of the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, and is intended to represent Manhattan’s pre-Colonial foliage in its natural state. However, N.Y.U. has never expressed any interest in using the Time Landscape for its development plans.)

The Villager, in turn, asked Chin, specifically, if she was equally glad that the open-space strips on the north superblock (which include Mercer Playground and LaGuardia Park) will now — due to Mills’s ruling — likewise enjoy park protections. N.Y.U. hoped to use these strips to help construct “infill” buildings for its 2031 project, but now cannot based on Mills’s decision.

This Tuesday, “Chin’s office” provided an additional statement indicating they still support the N.Y.U development plan in its entirety for both superblocks. In the Jan. 14 e-mail, Chin’s director of communications, Amy Varghese, specifically said the statement is “attributable to the office of Council Member Margaret Chin.” (On the other hand, the e-mailed statement sent the previous week was described in the message as “CM Chin’s quote.” Varghese did not respond to a request for clarification on why Chin did not want to be quoted directly in the most recent statement.)

At any rate, in the new statement, “Chin’s office” said: “The City Council approved the N.Y.U. 2031 plan with legislative action to ensure that the north block parcels would obtain the same protections as mapped parkland, and has been working with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation to bring the remaining parcels under Parks’ protection as well. Residents, Community Board 2, neighborhood stakeholders and Councilmember Chin’s office worked together to include provisions in the N.Y.U. 2031 plan to reduce impacts on community green space in the interim, including staging construction away from these strips and requiring the use of minimally invasive construction materials. The court’s decision coincides with our continued efforts to minimize construction impacts on green space in our community.”

However, the statement does not say that Chin and/or her office no longer support giving N.Y.U. 20-year easements for use of the superblock strips during the construction, which is what the City Council approved in 2012. Under that agreement, only after the 20 years were up, would the two strips on the northern block formally be transferred to the Parks Department.

In 2012, Community Board 2 passed an “absolute NO” resolution against the N.Y.U. 2031 plan, recommending denial of the entire thing.

On Tuesday, David Gruber, chairperson of Community Board 2, said, “It’s interesting that N.Y.U. is appealing a court decision that mirrors and agrees with the community board’s resolution, as well as the position of a plethora of individuals, elected officials, community-based organizations and the ever-expanding N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan group, and still claims to be a good neighbor and friend. It’s time that N.Y.U. realizes that it’s a part of the Village community and not the reverse.”

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20 Responses to N.Y.U. to appeal park strips ruling, but political landscape has shifted

  1. The Chin quote at article's end is priceless, absolutely priceless. This charlatan's shameless nerve…

    And speaking of nerve: If the NYU administration really does continue to claim that it has acted as caring steward in "maintaining" the long-derelict, padlocked small childrens' water playground, small reflecting garden and the volunteer-run Mercer-Houston Dog Run (all standing/surviving on Dept of Transportation, as opposed to NYU-owned, land), I absolutely shudder to think what actual NEGLECT looks like.

    For anyone unfamiliar with the present state of the small children's water playground and its adjacent reflecting garden (their names now a total mockery), both gone to seed just feet away from the entrance to Coles Gym on the south Mercer St. park strip, please have a long hard look for yourselves. A senseless but altogether deliberate waste of recreational space that NYU had promised to maintain in its 1970s agreement with the City in return for receiving permission to build the monstrosity that is Coles (1981) in the first place. It was, in short, intended to be the NYU administration's way of "giving back" to the community.

    Infuriating isn't the word.

  2. I would also like to thank Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Senator Brad Hoylman for not surrendering and helping to preserve the Village green spaces and park lands. There were many other activists who were also intsrumental in winning this court victory. That is one of the wonderful things that makes living downtown great..

    We all must work together to help solve NYU's need for more space. This includes Councilmember Chin and BP Brewer. During the campaign for BP, former Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin suggested finding space in the financial district. That may still be a viable option. So lets stop pointing fingers and get on with the necessary business at hand. NYU for all its faults is a valuble asset to NYC.

  3. Even if this is upheld, and the legislature doesn't just okay transfer of the DOT strips (both of which together are unlikely,) I don't see why the plaintiff lawyers think NYU can't proceed on the land it controls. From a technical standpoint, what the city council did was two basic things (at least), they transferred the DOT strips to NYU, and the rezoned the entire area to match the plan NYU negotiated with the council. Even if they don't eventually get the strips, that zoning is in place. It wasn't reversed, and it can still be used.

    • the next step will be to sue to have the zoning change reversed.


      • That would involve redoing the entire ULURP process. NYU has the political clout to prevent that. I'm also guessing the have the clout to push an approval of the strip transfer through the state legislature. If they sell Sheldon Silver on the idea, it's a done deal.

        And far as getting the council to reverse the ULURP, considering it passed OVERWHELMINGLY, I consider that very unlikely. Outside of the immediate area, I doubt many care about this. There was a lot of sturm un drang about this in The Village the last time it hit the council, and no one there cared.

    • bbmw = Bombarding Backyards Means Wealth

  4. NYU has lied to the public again and again! What kind of university teaches mendacity and lying to its students by example? The words "give-back to the community" are foreign to NYU and its Board of Trustees, and over the years they have lied every time they have used them. Look at the "Poe House public reading room" (a few hours once a week, early morning) and the public area on the corner of W. 3 St and Sullivan (NYU pretended they'd forgotten that was a promised give-back and tried to make it private until a lawyer took up the problem for the community). In a word NYU is controlled by cynical liars and land-grabbers. They want free city land while charging $50G a year to students, refusing to build in the nearby Financial Center, betraying their alleged (HA!) nonprofit status by spending money like drunken sailors to buy second homes for "preferred faculty," using mostly cheap adjuncts to teach their students, using quid pro quos to get what they want from certain mendacious public officials and in general acting like a conspiracy of racketeers against the public. NYU teaches by example, and that example is to deceive and lie and conceal its lying practices every chance it gets.

  5. Am I wrong or is every other leader on the opposite side of Margaret Chin? Why is she so out of step? Can't she see that this makes her look soooo bought out? so so sad.

  6. Thanks to the Villager and its editor for providing a forum for downtown residents. One can only hope that Margaret Chin and her staff and advisors will be reading the Villager's coverage of her positions and statements.

  7. The following statement is incorrect:
    (The Time Landscape is the long, fenced-in plot south of the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, and is intended to represent Manhattan’s pre-Colonial foliage in its natural state. However, N.Y.U. has never expressed any interest in using the Time Landscape for its development plans.)"
    NYU's early plans showed retail stores in the Time Landscape section of Laguardia Place and around the corner behind 505 Laguardia Place. We objected to those plans.

    Mrs. Chin's support of NYU's 2031 plans was a betrayal of our trust. She continually told us that she would "never" allow NYU to take of public lands. She lied to us. And now, her continued defense of NYU's 2031 plan; despite CB2's rejection of the plan and the continued opposition of neighborhood residents and NYUFASP, illustrates her lack of interest in what our community needs. She represents NYU and not her constituents.

    We appreciate Councilman Johnson and Borough President Brewer's support.

    Sylvia Rackow, chair
    The Committee to Preserve Our Neighborhood

    • And it a true measure of how much political support there is for overturning this plan, Chin was handily reelected.

      What does that tell you?

      • Obviously, that Chin is the Corrupt Representative of areas which include corrupt Greedheads like her, and that she is as much of a corrupt, mendacious Greedhead as those on the real-estate-honcho NYU Board of Trustees. Her district includes the Financial District, City Hall, and the site of the World Trade Center, didn't you know?

        • And that's exactly the point. Outside of a small cadre of NIMBYs in the central Village, anyone who cares about the NYU development plan (and the vast majority don't), support it, because the see the advantages to the city as a whole. The fact that Chin got reelected shows that, even in her district, which includes the Village, not enough people care about it to vote her out.

          • BBMW, I think you've mistaken the Villager for a site advertising commercial real estate in Vegas. Who knows, maybe there your nonsense might even be mistaken for wisdom.

            Sorry to break it to you, but you're the only NIMBY repeatedly polluting the comments section here. NIMBY as in: "Never anything Important or Meaningful to say — a Bloviating Yacker."

          • In the end. NYU will build it's new buildings, and you'll just get to be bitter. But I'm sure you enjoy that.

  8. Chin is ignorant trash. And I happily (but respectfully) told her that to her face when she was in my building (505 LaGuardia Place) going door to door and trolling for votes last fall. I never heard so many doors slam! I credit her for listening to me and trying to make her case, but am amazed at her breathtaking level of stupidity and lack of interest in saving anything other than her own ass. I hope NYU is greasing her plenty, because other than Sexton, a better shill for NYU's destructive, misguided, inappropriate and asinine project can't likely be found. Her recent opponent Jenifer Rajkumar will not immediately be confused with a qualified elected official (irony noted), but how Chin can win any election is a sad indictment on the rest of us.

  9. Don't feed the troll.

    Even a nitwit would know that Chin lost in the 66th AD – the area west of Lafayette St to the Hudson, where NYU is located.

    Chin won only because of a racist gerrymandered district in the East Side's 65th AD that her and her ex-commie allies at AAFE pushed lib-tards like Dinkens, lobbyist Bill Lynch, Mark Green and Ruth Messinger to approve back in 1991. That part of the council district is 2-1 Chinese, who vote with a racial bias. Many of them hate her as much as we do, but ethnic politics trumps common sense. Sad but ture.

    Folks, BBMW is a troll. Ignore him. Don't even 'vote' on his comments . Soon this loser will move on and infest some other blog with his misinformed comments.

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