Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006
Renderings showing the view from the north, at left, and west, at right, of the planned 26-story New York University dormitory on E. 12th St.

Conceding nothing, N.Y.U. starts building megadorm

By Lincoln Anderson

Work recently started on New York University’s new 26-story dormitory on the former site of St. Ann’s Church on E. 12th St., which, when completed, will be the East Village’s tallest building — and neighbors and preservationists are saying they’ve been duped.

Neighbors and preservationists who have opposed the project — yet, have still tried to work with N.Y.U. and the developer, Hudson Companies, to make it more acceptable to them — are angry that N.Y.U. didn’t notify them when it pulled the building permit for the dorm two weeks ago. Neighbors were recently notified that construction would be starting. Also, members of the St. Ann’s Committee, an ad-hoc residents group that formed in response to the project, are accusing N.Y.U. of ducking a follow-up meeting at which the university was to respond about whether it would incorporate any of their suggestions.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, obtained the project plans on his own from the Department of Buildings, but said it wasn’t easy. Berman initially misread the plans and said the building would be more than 300 feet tall. But he called back later to say he was mistaken, and that that measurement was from sea level, not E. 12th St. By Berman’s reckoning, the building is correctly, in fact, 261 feet tall, including the rooftop mechanicals. The developer had promised them it would only be 230 to 240 feet, he said.

Berman said N.Y.U. failed to include any of the neighbors’ suggestions. He said neighbors had supported bringing the lower floors out to 12th St. to align with the old church tower — which is being incorporated into the project — and that this space was to be classrooms. But the design wasn’t changed, and there aren’t classrooms.

“This is about as insulting as you can get — it was a total snow job. And let’s go back to four years ago and [N.Y.U. President] John Sexton’s saying, ‘The Village has a fragile ecosystem and we’re going to respect it.’…. I’m drafting a letter to President Sexton as we speak,” Berman said. “To be blunt, this exceeded my worst expectations about N.Y.U. I honestly took them at their word when they said they would listen to community concerns and try to integrate some of them into the design.

“Look at the design — it’s like something out of a Japanese horror movie — it’s about as bad and ugly as you could imagine,” Berman continued. “The only good thing I have to say is that it may make their Third Ave. dorms look warm and fuzzy and low-scale by comparison.”

An N.Y.U. spokesperson did not return calls for comment by press time. But David Kramer, principal of the Hudson Companies, did respond, saying he’d heard from Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. director of government and community relations, about the flap.

Kramer said the plans that were filed call for a height that was exactly what they had been saying it would be all along. Kramer said the height had always been around 240 feet.

“It’s 242. I remember saying 239,” he said.

Kramer said the idea of making the building’s base larger was brought up late, and that N.Y.U. took “a hard look at it.” But if it had been done, it would have doubled the price tag of the $13 million project, largely due to escalating construction costs caused by inflation, he said. It also would have caused a year’s delay, he said.

Kramer charged that there is a “double standard” under which N.Y.U. takes excessive criticism for its projects. For example, the Toll Brothers condo tower being built on Third Ave. a block and a half north is almost as big, at 210 feet, but hasn’t drawn fire from the community, he noted. Meanwhile, N.Y.U. makes the effort to meet with the community but just gets “beat up” for it, Kramer said.

“So much of this is just N.Y.U. bashing,” he said. “The irony is that ours is an as-of-right building. We’re complying with all zoning regulations,” he added. “The community unfortunately has been represented by a few people who are entirely antagonistic to the project.”

Kramer said it will take two years to complete the dorm, which will have 700 beds.

Elizabeth Langwith, co-chairperson of the St. Ann’s Committee, said she was disappointed with how things played out.

“I certainly feel that N.Y.U. has not followed through on their promises,” she said, “the fact that we heard nothing from them until the building is going up.” She said that there was an understanding there would be a follow-up meeting with N.Y.U. after their earlier meeting in February — but the follow-up meeting never happened.

Told that Kramer had called The Villager, but that N.Y.U. had not, Langwith said, “Where is N.Y.U.? Hiding behind the developer…. We’re not happy about this.”

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