Volume 77 / Number 41 - March 19 - 25, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Shoshanna Bettencourt

A view of the large interior courtyard space of Washington Square Village. N.Y.U. might add new buildings in the complex’s interior under a possible future development scenario to add space.

Tenants freak out at meeting on Wash. Sq. Village ideas

By Albert Amateau

Residents of Washington Square Village erupted in anger and panic at a March 13 meeting on New York University’s possible future redevelopment of the superblocks south of Washington Square Park.

More than 150 residents of the four-building complex between W. Third and Bleecker Sts. from LaGuardia Pl. to Mercer St. reacted to the presentation of the long-range N.Y.U. 2031 scenario as if it were an eviction notice.

Alicia Hurley, associate vice president for government and community affairs, began the meeting by noting that 2031 will be the university’s 200th anniversary. The presentation, she said, was intended to involve the community in exploring “ideas about possibilities five to 10 years away or even 35 to 50 years away.”

But before Will Haas, N.Y.U. planning director, completed the presentation, tenants interrupted by calling the plans “ruthless” and demanding, “Where do the tenants go?”

In response to the outcry, Hurley agreed to restrict the presentation to the block encompassing the four-building complex with 1,100 apartments, built by private developers in 1958-’59 under a Robert Moses urban renewal plan and acquired by N.Y.U. in 1964.

The four buildings — two on W. Third St. and two on Bleecker St. — are separated by a central lawn and playground area built on top of a 650-car underground parking garage, all reserved for residents. The rent-regulated tenants include N.Y.U. faculty, graduate students and non-N.Y.U.-affiliated tenants who were already in the buildings, which had 1,292 apartments at the time the university acquired the property.

The urban renewal area at the time also included the superblock to the south between Bleecker and W. Houston Sts. from LaGuardia Pl. to Mercer St., the current site of the Morton Williams supermarket and the trio of residential high-rises of 505 LaGuardia Pl. and Silver Towers on the west side and the university’s Coles Sports Center on the east side of the superblock.

N.Y.U. anticipates the need for a total of 6 million additional square feet of space by 2031 for academic uses, housing for undergraduate, graduate, professional and faculty personnel and for student services. The university’s planning consultants have been looking at potential locations, including the so-called core campus around Washington Square, including the two superblocks, as well as the broader neighborhood between 18th and Canal Sts. from First to Eighth Aves.

More remote locations for redevelopment include the Brooklyn campus of Polytechnic University, which is in the process of merging with N.Y.U. Polytechnic’s board of directors and N.Y.U.’s directors have both approved the merger, and regulatory approval is expected by May.

Other remote locations for N.Y.U. expansion include Governors Island and the health and hospital corridor along First Ave. between 23rd and 34th Sts. where N.Y.U. Medical Center is located.

One of the three scenarios for the Washington Square Village block involves demolishing the existing buildings, restoring the street grid that existed in the early 1950s and putting up new buildings on the east and north sides of the superblock with a public green space on the southwest quadrant. The new buildings could be low-to-medium-rise residential or academic buildings, or a combination of uses.

Another projection for the block would preserve and readapt the current buildings, and add a new building for academic uses one or two stories above and below grade with a park on the roof in the area now devoted to the lawn and playground open space in the complex’s interior. The other projection would also keep and readapt the current buildings but fill in the current open space with four or five medium-rise buildings.

“Our main concern is what are you going to do with us and when are you going to tell us about it?” said one anxious Washington Square Village tenant.

Residents refused to accept the validity of any scenario that does not specify exactly how any new buildings would be used.

“We’re not sure what we’ll need 25 years from now,” Hurley replied. Residents also seemed to ignore Hurley’s assertion that the demolition of Washington Square Village was not the only possibility and, in any case, would be years in the future.

Residents paid no attention to distributed copies of the planning principles that N.Y.U. agreed to this year, one of which promises a tenant relocation policy for legal residential tenants if required by construction.

“If I have to relocate I might just relocate myself out of here and take my grant money with me,” another resident said.

“Why is your need for space greater than our need for space?” asked another.

“Nazi tactics,” charged one resident, adding, “I’m not calling you a Nazi, I’m saying the tactics your are using are Nazi.” Hurley was indignant but restrained at that comment, but when another resident said the meeting was “a waste of time” and intended only to “razzle tenants,” Hurley suggested that anyone who agreed should leave the meeting. No one made a move to go.

Although the Washington Square South Urban Renewal Plan that governed the two superblocks in the 1950s has expired, deed restrictions may govern the blocks, and redevelopment would probably require extensive city review, according to Haas.

For his part, Councilmember Alan Gerson has told The Villager he believes it may be the case that no new construction is allowed on the superblocks until 40 years from the last construction; so, in the case of the southern superblock, where Coles Sports Center was built in the early 1980s, any new construction might not be allowed until sometime after 2020, Gerson said. The councilmember has formed an N.Y.U. Superblock Task Force and is researching the issue.

Several residents at last Wednesday night’s meeting demanded a discussion of tenants’ legal rights and Hurley agreed to hold a meeting devoted to tenants’ rights.

The scenarios that upset Washington Square Village tenants have been made public at several community meetings and N.Y.U. open houses since June of last year.

“I’ve been to three of them,” said Allan Horland, co-executive of the Washington Square Village Tenants Association, “But most residents are not active in the community and these plans are new to them.”

SMWM, the urban planning consultants that have been working on the N.Y.U. 2031 long-range plan for a year, are expected to make their final report at the end of April, Hurley said.

“That’s when we’ll begin thinking about all our options and what to do about them,” Hurley said. “We see this as the beginning of an intense consultation with the community.”

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