Volume 74, Number 24 | Octuber 13 - 19 , 2004

It’s time for N.Y.U. to stop blocking superblocks transfer

Only four months ago, this page clearly spelled out that the force blocking the transfer of two, two-block-long strips of property running along LaGuardia Pl. and Mercer St. south of Washington Sq. was none other than New York University.

Since then, the community’s long-frustrated desire for these strips to be transferred from the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation to the Department of Parks has only grown stronger. That sentiment was evident at last Wednesday’s Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting attended by dozens of concerned residents and gardeners who came to voice renewed support for the transfer.

N.Y.U. officials at last week’s meeting assured that LaGuardia Corner Gardens would not be developed on. Furthermore, N.Y.U. argues its rights as a property owner would be compromised if the strips were remapped from roadbed — as they have been listed since the 1960s when Robert Moses failed to create highways down LaGuardia Pl. and Mercer St. N.Y.U. says such a remapping would leave its Morton Williams supermarket development site “landlocked” — in that the market plot would no longer be a street-front property on LaGuardia Pl., since there would now be an officially designated park between it and the street. According to N.Y.U., such a remapping could affect any future building on its supermarket site in terms of bulk configuration, rear-yard setback requirements, means of egress (i.e., exit doors) and so on.

Challenging the rationale for the transfer, N.Y.U. argues that any city property proposed for a change of use, whether owned by D.O.T. or Parks, must undergo a lengthy ULURP review during which it is vetted by the local community board and City Council, before possible approval. Such a review makes it unlikely the gardens would ever be allowed to become a development site, N.Y.U. says.

Still, university officials continue to try to placate the community by saying N.Y.U. “has absolutely no plans at all” to develop on the gardens. That is — no plans NOW. What about in five, 10 or 20 years? The university won’t commit to such a long-range, binding pledge, in a clear effort to keep its options open.

We know N.Y.U. by law holds certain development rights. But we think the community’s right to know that their open space and light will be preserved is of equal if not greater importance. Unfortunately, the community doesn’t trust N.Y.U.’s assurances — a result of the university’s past over-development in the Village and breaking of promises, for example, to provide well-maintained community space and several community facilities on the southernmost superblock. That being the case, to become a better neighbor, N.Y.U. should allow the transfer of the strips to Parks to proceed. This will assure that the gardens will be saved, that N.Y.U.’s new building will be no more monstrous than necessary and that the Mercer St. strip, in such atrocious disrepair — seemingly totally written off by N.Y.U. — will finally be fixed so the public can again use it. N.Y.U.’s behind-the-scenes blockage of the strips transfer must end.

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