Volume 76, Number 44 | March 28 - April 3, 2007

Green (cash) sways co-op on N.Y.U.’s green plan

By Lincoln Anderson

It seemed a sure bet that residents at 250 Mercer St. would never accept a lengthy excavation of Mercer St. for the expansion of New York University’s co-generation plant. Yet, in a last-minute surprise, an attorney for the building’s co-op board announced at last Thursday’s Community Board 2 meeting that the co-op board had made a monetary agreement with N.Y.U., under which 250 Mercer St. would now accept the project across from their building. As a result, C.B. 2 approved the project for the Mercer St. site.

The agreement’s terms were not immediately clear, with neither N.Y.U. nor the co-op board revealing the dollar figure or conditions.

However, when attorney Allan Bahn, representing the 250 Mercer St. co-op board, made the announcement at the meeting, it was enough to sway C.B. 2. The community board voted unanimously — albeit with seven abstentions — in favor of the Mercer St. option over a second option: excavating into N.Y.U.’s own Gould Plaza at W. Fourth and Greene Sts., plus a smaller excavation on Mercer St. This latter option would have permanently eliminated more than 10 underground classrooms for N.Y.U.’s Stern Business School.

Part of the university’s Green Action Plan, the $126 million co-generation plant expansion will bring electricity to 23 more N.Y.U. buildings, taking the university further off the Con Ed power grid and polluting less in the process. The construction will take two years.

On Monday, Bahn declined to provide more information, only saying: “250 Mercer St. looked at all the options and decided to support the Mercer St. option. It was decided that that was the option that was in the best interest of the building.” Asked the amount of the monetary settlement, Bahn said, “The only thing I could tell you is what we stated at the community board meeting. That’s really all I could say or what I would advise my client to say.”

The meeting was raucous. A contingent of 250 Mercer St. tenants who oppose the co-generation plant being expanded under Mercer St. attended and shouted out in dismay when Bahn made the announcement.

Maria Passannante Derr, C.B. 2 chairperson, said she felt the board had done a diligent job over four months of reviewing documents on the project and listening to presentations. She said giving the board added confidence in their vote was that Councilmember Alan Gerson had gotten N.Y.U. to agree to construction mitigation measures.

Gerson stressed that the project was “as of right” — since N.Y.U. two years ago obtained a vault permit to dig under Mercer St. Yet, he said, the university had not consulted with the community early enough about it. In the end, Gerson endorsed the Mercer St. option.

“It was lively with a capital ‘L,’” Derr said of the meeting. Acknowledging the tenants who attended to express their opposition, she said, “There’s obviously a split in that co-op corporation. The same 10 percent that show up at every meeting — they’ve got a beef with that co-op board.”

Derr said she opposed siting the project on Gould Plaza, because of what she called “the needless destruction of 12 classrooms. And then,” she added, “there’s the Noho Neighborhood Association’s concerns about the displacement of thousands of students into an area without zoning for classrooms.” Noho residents feared the displaced students would wind up in the former Tower Video building on Lafayette St., which N.Y.U. is leasing long term, setting a precedent for the university’s incursion into their neighborhood.

Shan Reddy, a 250 Mercer St. co-op owner, however, felt the way things ended up was an outrage.

“I don’t understand this as ‘as of right,’” Reddy said. “This project was brought to the community not because N.Y.U. presented it to us, but because it was discovered [by 250 Mercer St. tenants], when they wanted to start in two weeks.

“Throughout the entire campaign, N.Y.U. was portraying this as a NIMBY [not in my backyard] and a green issue,” Reddy fumed. “The green aspect of this did not change from one location to the other. The biggest NIMBY in all of this was N.Y.U.! They didn’t want to put it in their own property in their own basement.”

He said he was shocked that the co-op board hadn’t notified them of their decision prior to the C.B. 2 meeting.

Tobi Bergman, a C.B. 2 member, also had misgivings about how things resolved. He said he supported putting the project entirely on Mercer St., instead of on Gould Plaza and Mercer St., since the latter option would have disrupted two areas, instead of just one. But he was upset at how the monetary settlement was ultimately the deciding factor, causing the co-op board to drop its opposition.

“I felt that they were negotiating their position before the community board to get a better monetary settlement,” Bergman said. “And I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Dr. Alicia D. Hurley, N.Y.U. associate vice president for government and community affairs, called C.B. 2’s vote a great achievement for a top environmental project.

“We are extremely pleased that we were able to work with the community to come to a decision on this,” she said. “This is a really good project that is beneficial not only to N.Y.U., but the local community and even the world, and it was important to us that the community be a part of the conversation.

“All of the scientific evidence points to the fact that we are facing a global crisis and it is incumbent upon universities and other large institutions to emerge as leaders in committing to the reduction of our environmental footprint,” added Hurley. “This project allows us, in one fell swoop, to dramatically reduce pollution and emissions.”

As for the monetary settlement, Hurley said it’s confidential but “small in relation to the cost of the project.” She said the co-op will use the funds to open up old entrances to the 270-unit, square-block building, which is comprised of many formerly individual buildings, and also to repair a sidewalk once the project is completed.

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