Bloomberg News

NYU Scales Back Expansion Plan in Bid to Win Council Vote

July 17, 2012

New York University officials agreed to reduce the scope of a 19-year expansion plan that Greenwich Village residents and faculty members opposed on grounds that it would change the character of the neighborhood.

The deal would lower the density of the project near Washington Square by about 20 percent to 1.9 million square feet, Lynne Brown, an NYU senior vice president, told the New York City Council today.

The council’s Land Use committee approved the revised plan in a 19-1 vote today after university officials and council members agreed on its details last night and this morning. The proposal, which provides more open space and land for a new public school, now returns to the Planning Commission. If approved, it will go to the full council for a vote this month.

“I wholeheartedly believe that this proposal will allow NYU’s growth in the Village to occur at a sustainable pace, and that it will not overwhelm the wider Village community,” council member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, said in a statement.

The neighborhood, between Houston and 14th streets, has been home to artists, writers and musicians, including Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Bob Dylan. The actor Matthew Broderick joined hundreds of fellow residents at council meeting last month to oppose the plan.

Growing Until 2031

NYU, whose enrollment of 41,000 makes it the largest private, nonprofit university in the U.S., is seeking to expand its facilities to accommodate plans to grow to 46,500 by 2031, President John Sexton said last month.

Among the project’s economic benefits, Sexton promised, would be 18,200 construction jobs, 2,600 long-term employment opportunities, $490 million in economic output and almost $27 million a year in taxes over 20 years.

Beyond those benefits, Sexton told council members last month, “there is a clear consensus among our city’s leaders and leading thinkers about the important linkage between higher education and the economy, and between the economy and New York City’s future well-being.”

NYU’s expansion is part of 6 million-square-foot, 20-year growth plan costing from $3 billion to $4 billion. It also includes a nursing school near the university’s hospital on the East Side and an applied-sciences school in downtown Brooklyn. The Planning Commission passed the application to the council after approving it June 6.

Zoning Change Needed

NYU seeks a zoning change in Greenwich Village that would permit it to build four facilities for classrooms; residential units for faculty and students; a new athletic facility; and retail stores. Brown said the university will maintain about 3 acres of publicly accessible open space.

The four buildings would be built on two Village “superblocks,” six blocks that were fused into two in the 1950s and 1960s. They run north and south between West Third and Houston streets, and east and west by Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place.

By reducing their heights and widths, the university brought what had been 2.1 million square feet of construction down to 1.9 million square feet. The current plan represents about a 22 percent density decrease from the university’s original 2.46 million square-foot proposal.

‘Zipper Building’

Among the development’s public amenities, Brown promised to provide 6,000 square feet of land for “community use,” if the city decides against using the site for a new public school, and a 7,500-square-foot ground-floor atrium in a project’s signature “Zipper Building,” named for the jagged up-and-down effect created by its varying heights.

The building, to include faculty and student housing and a gym, has been scaled down about 9 percent to 720,000 square feet from the 790,000 square feet approved by the planning commission, Brown said.

“These modifications are insignificant,” said David Gruber, chairman of Manhattan Community Board 2, which opposes the original plan and the amended version. Building facilities on what had been mostly open space threatens destroy the Village’s low-rise, low-density character, Gruber said.

“The problem is the footprints are still there and they create closed-off spaces, college campus quads, that for all practical applications will not be used as public space,” Gruber said.

Faculty members rallied on City Hall’s steps before the council met, saying the university would become less attractive to teachers who would be living near a construction site for years. Several said the school would be compelled to increase tuition to pay for billions of dollars in construction costs contemplated through 2031.

“This will be a disaster for students who will pay for it in the future and a disaster for faculty who will have to live with their children next to a construction site for the next 19 years,” said Jan Bluestein, 59, a professor of health policy and medicine who has taught at NYU for 15 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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