Volume 76, Number 12 | August 9 - 15, 2006

N.Y.U. lashes out at preservationist over dorm flap

By Lincoln Anderson

After coming under criticism last week for filing plans for its new E. 12th St. dorm without first notifying the community or elected officials, as well as for not incorporating neighbors’ input into the design, New York University is firing back. In the crosshairs of the university’s spin counteroffensive is Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The G.V.S.H.P. head has led the criticism of the university over the contentious building, which at 26 stories, will be the East Village’s tallest.

In an e-mail statement to The Villager, Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. associate vice president of government and community affairs, blasted Berman for claiming that the dorm will be more than 260 feet tall. In fact, it will only be 242 feet tall, she said.

In addition, Hurley said that the community and elected officials were “notified.”

“Andrew Berman’s claim that the community was not notified, is wrong,” she said. “Starting with Councilwoman Rosie Mendez’s office, the elected officials were notified; the St. Ann’s Committee and other residents in the immediate area were notified, as well as Community Board 3. All were notified that the university weighed the options that were presented by the community but that those options were cost prohibitive — costing $13 million, yet lowering the building by only 10 feet; that the project was going forward, construction would soon commence and — based on numerous presentations that had been shown to them all in the past — that the option of the 26-story building would be pursued. This outreach was done prior to July 17 when the Department of Buildings granted the permits for the construction.”

Berman and neighbors contend the neighbors were only notified when the construction was about to begin, which is required under law.

Furthermore, Hurley said, the design that was filed with D.O.B. — showing a rectangular building with a water tower on top with the old St. Ann’s Church tower incorporated into the plan — is just a zoning schematic, not a final rendering.

“Andrew Berman is wrong to call the zoning drawings final building renderings, and assessing them as the actual design of the building,” Hurley stated. “This is naïve at best and duplicitous at worst. His likening of zoning drawings to ‘something out of a Japanese horror movie’ is like looking at someone’s X-rays and rendering [sic] them ugly because of their skeletal structure.”

In an e-mail statement, John Beckman, N.Y.U.’s spokesperson, elaborated on Hurley’s X-ray analogy by saying, “The schematics tell you about the height and the size of the building, but the look and design of the building cannot be understood from these elevations. We will be producing renderings, and they’ll explain the look of the building much better.”

Beckman declined to diverge from his prepared e-mail statement when asked if the actual shape of the building will differ from the zoning schematics. He refused, for example, to say if the building might resemble a triangle rather than a rectangle.

Hurley also noted that it is “completely false” that N.Y.U. has decided on what color the building’s bricks will be.

Ratcheting up the war of words, Beckman is demanding that Berman apologize to N.Y.U.

“Andrew Berman’s public utterances are discouragingly full of falsehoods and willful misinformation,” Beckman said in an Aug. 2 statement, further accusing Berman of trying to “inflame neighborhood passion through carelessness and inaccuracies…. We publicly call on him to retract his false assertions.

“The construction of this student residence is NOT an expansion of the university or its student housing system,” Beckman asserted. “It is a replacement for a property we currently lease to house students near the South St. Seaport, and an effort to move some of our undergraduates closer to campus.

“We regret the poisonous tone that Mr. Berman has been trying to set for the neighborhood,” Beckman said.

Last Wednesday, Berman, joined by State Senator Tom Duane and Mendez, led neighbors in a protest rally over N.Y.U. having filed the plans without notifying them or incorporating the community’s input.

“We didn’t get informed [by N.Y.U.],” Duane told The Villager on Tuesday. “I don’t know of anyone who was informed. There wasn’t a follow-up meeting. So I fail to see how and when community input took place. And I think it’s wrong to attack Andrew on this. G.V.S.H.P has done a lot of wonderful work in the Village — that has enhanced it for N.Y.U.” As for the university accusing Berman of not acting in good faith, Duane said, “I think that maybe N.Y.U. should hold a mirror up — because whatever they say about Andrew is reflected back on them.”

As for Hurley’s comment that the design is akin to an X-ray, Berman said, “Unless their design somehow is going to render their building invisible, I don’t think anything about their design is going to solve the basic problem. All they’re basically saying is that the color of the brick is yet to be determined — outrageous.”

Of the attacks on him, Berman said, “This is to deflect attention away from their project, which is completely unwanted by the community, and their utter failure to respond to community concerns or keep their commitment to do so.”

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