Volume 79, Number 15 | September 16 - 22, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

N.Y.U. signs skirmish

New York University’s Silver Towers recently got slapped with a violation by the city for illegally installing No Parking placards and other signage throughout the historic South Village complex.

The property, known as University Village and located between Bleecker and W. Houston Sts. from LaGuardia Place to Mercer St., is a city landmark that requires any new work to be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The signage in question includes about a dozen attached and freestanding notices located around the 5-acre complex, as well as series of “canine hygiene stations” for residents to clean up after their pets. (See Page 11 for photo of a sample sign.)

According to landmarks law, L.P.C. must pre-approve all work at a given site and issue a permit for any construction to move forward. In this case, the work included stand-alone concrete stanchions embedded into the ground, as well as signs attached to fencing throughout the complex and near the property’s notable Picasso sculpture.

“On the N.Y.U. scale of things it’s pretty minor, but it’s a small thing which unfortunately says a lot about N.Y.U.,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, which has been a vocal watchdog of the university’s development plans. “N.Y.U. knows that once a building is landmarked you can’t install concrete stands for signs without getting landmarks approval. But they did it anyway. N.Y.U. seems to think that landmarking is great, as long as they don’t have to actually obey any rules, or do anything differently than what they would have done anyway.”

Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U.’s vice president of government affairs and community engagement, explained that signage has always been present at the property and that the new placards simply replaced old ones that “everyone ignored.”

“Prior to the landmarking of the site,” Hurley said, “we had set in motion a series of repairs to the roadbeds and the lighting in the area, as well as the removal of old ad-hoc signage with new, nicer signage for the site. Some of the work has stretched to take longer than anticipated. We are working with L.P.C. to ensure we are in compliance.”

Berman added that N.Y.U. initially resisted the landmarking designation and previously discussed plans to build a high-rise on the complex’s grounds.

“The irony is that I am sure they could easily get approval for something like this; the L.P.C. is very willing to accommodate practical considerations like needing to let people know to curb their dogs (though they might not approve putting one right in front of the Picasso sculpture, as N.Y.U. has done),” Berman wrote in an e-mail. “But with typical N.Y.U. hubris they just went ahead and did it anyway, as apparently these kinds of rules apply to everyone else, but not to them.”

Targeting tags

In an effort to advance the city’s graffiti-removal program, the City Council has introduced legislation that would allow crews to clean vandalized buildings without having to wait for property owners’ permission.

Currently, in order for residential and commercial buildings to receive free graffiti-removal services, property owners must submit a waiver granting crews permission to clean the building. Under the proposed legislation, property owners will instead submit a form to the city only if they wish to keep graffiti on their building or take it down themselves.  

Once a building is identified for graffiti removal, the city will notify the property owner of the planned cleanup. Owners will then have 35 days to opt out of the removal by submitting a form requesting that the graffiti remain on the building or that they will remove it themselves.  

“Taggers and defacers start with a big advantage: Graffiti is quick and easy to get up, and time consuming and expensive to remove,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Councilmember Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side. “And despite our best efforts year after year, I recognize that we need a new approach.”

The new measure, an amendment to the current “Graffiti Free” bill, received a test run in West Chelsea Aug. 31, when Council Speaker Christine Quinn gathered with local elected officials and advocates to observe the cleanup process firsthand.

“Today we cleaned a piece of graffiti that has defaced this corner of Chelsea for years,” said Quinn, who became bothered by a tag spray painted on a wall on 24th St. and 10th Ave. near her London Terrace home. “With the help of Graffiti Free NYC [the citywide graffiti-removal program] and members of the community, we are able to bring beauty back to this block in my neighborhood. With the new ‘Graffiti Free’ bill, we are now giving more power to the community to keep their neighborhoods beautiful.”

New R.E. head for cooper

The Cooper Union has appointed a new vice president of finance and administration, it announced on Monday.

Theresa C. Westcott, who will be leaving the same position at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, will also be treasurer and oversee the East Village-based school’s real-estate operations.

Before joining what was then Polytechnic University in 2004, Westcott served as senior vice president and C.F.O. at Planned Parenthood of New York City, handling the organization’s financial operations. Prior to that, she spent 11 years as an executive at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New York. 


Photo courtesy Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

While New York University says the grass at Silver Towers needs to be preserved from dogs, a dispute between the university and local preservationists is brewing over the signage used to convey the prohibition, as well as other signs and small fixtures installed on the grounds of the landmarked complex. 


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