Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

N.Y.U. President John Sexton addresses the meeting, as Lynne Brown, university senior vice president, and Alicia Hurley, vice president of government and community affairs, listen.

N.Y.U. prez faces a hail of questions at town hall

By Albert Amateau

New York University President John Sexton held his third annual community town hall meeting on Mon. Dec. 19 — a lively and at times tumultuous event with Villagers. The discussion mainly focused on the school’s proposed E. 12th St. dormitory, but striking graduate students also used the forum to demand that the university negotiate with the Graduate Students Organizing Committee of the United Auto Workers.

G.S.O.C. strikers picketed at the entrance to 100 Washington Square East before the meeting but at 6 p.m. they too filed into the crowded hall on the ground floor of the Silver Building. Raucous at times, the strikers restrained themselves sufficiently not to be ejected from the hall and, except for occasional outbursts, eventually quieted down enough to let the meeting continue.

Sexton reaffirmed his stand of no more negotiations with G.S.O.C. and speaking through the shouts of jeering and banner-waving graduate students, he said the union’s effect on the university’s relation with its students was “corrosive.”

But he reaffirmed the commitment expressed at last year’s neighborhood town hall meeting that N.Y.U will be “in and of” the city and the Village.

Neighbors, however, were worried about the university’s plan to build a dorm on the site of the former St. Ann’s Church on E. 12th St. between Third and Fourth Aves, where zoning and air rights transferred from the Cooper Station Post Office would allow a 26-story dormitory that could accommodate 700 students.

“I hope the university will not build all the allowable bulk in the site,” said Melissa Baldock, preservation director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation who spoke for G.V.S.H.P. director Andrew Berman.

Sharon Greenberger, recently appointed vice president of campus planning and real estate, said the ultimate size of the building “whether it is 12 stories or 26 stories,” has not yet been decided.

Noting that the university had agreed with the developer, Hudson Companies, to include the remaining St. Ann’s steeple as part of the new building, Greenberger said, “We’ve resolved the preservation issue, and now we will begin a dialogue on the development issue.” She promised to involve the community in discussions of dormitory design. “This is the start of conversations on the 12th St. site,” she said.

N.Y.U. students in dormitories far from the Washington Square campus have indicated that they want to live closer to the center of the university and the 12th St. dormitory is a response to that, said Lynne Brown, N.Y.U.senior vice president. The university does not plan to increase the number of students in all divisions and schools beyond the current 35,000, Lynne said.

Nevertheless, many at the meeting remained skeptical. “You are all very charming,” said Sharon Troy, a longtime neighbor. “Are you going to be charming and go ahead and build a 26-story dorm on the grave of St. Ann’s?” she asked.

Many Central Village residents were also concerned about the future of the present N.Y.U.-owned site of the Morton Williams supermarket on LaGuardia Pl. at Bleecker St.

The fears that the university will build a high-rise building on the one-story supermarket site, which was the main concern at Sexton’s 2004 community town hall meeting, were still on the minds of Villagers at this year’s town all.

Greenberger said the university has no plans for the Morton Williams site, but neighbors remained anxious. Sexton cautioned that he could not guarantee the single-story building would never be redeveloped, but he agreed it would not change “in the foreseeable future.”

One Villager said Morton Williams was the main source of food for residents in the South Village and Soho down to Canal St. “Please don’t take away our food,” he implored. Greenberger noted that the market had a long-term lease on the property and would return to the ground floor even if the site were redeveloped.

Granville Leo Stevens, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, said the university has to be more transparent about its affairs. “I heard a rumor that N.Y.Y was going to buy Stuyvesant Town,” Stevens said.

“N.Y.U. doesn’t have enough money to buy Stuyvesant Town,” Sexton quipped, but he acknowledged that the university rents about 58 apartments in the complex on the east side of First Ave. between 14th and 20th Sts. “I know we have less than 100 graduate students there,” said Sexton. “We don’t rent any apartments in Peter Cooper Village [between 20th and 23rd Sts.] but I know some students have rented apartments there on their own,” Sexton added.

Leo Blackman, an architect and resident of the East Village, also called on the university to restrain its development in the Village and East Village. “There is a tipping point beyond which the neighborhood becomes untenable,” he said.

Anna Sawaryn, of the Coalition to save the East Village, also protested that development by N.Y.U and Cooper Union has put pressure on residential rents in the neighborhood threatening the ability of longtime residents to remain.

Zella Jones, head of the Noho Neighborhood Association, said the university’s plan to restore the loft building at 30 Cooper Sq. for its department of journalism violated the manufacturing zoning of the site which does not allow classroom use.

City Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson and Assemblymember Deborah Glick sent prepared statements commenting on N.Y.U. development policy in the neighborhood but also calling on the university to negotiate with the graduate students union. Gerson also suggested that N.Y.U. should consider developing on Governors Island to relieve pressure on the Village and East Village.

Greenberger said her recently created office wants to develop a master plan that is dynamic and flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and she promised to involve the community in the process.

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