By Roland Li
Greenwich Village residents and elected officials expressed concerns over New York University’s proposed expansion, while other groups testified in support, at a public hearing at the Department of City Planning on Tuesday.
The hearing was the first opportunity to comment on a draft scoping document, prepared by AKRF, N.Y.U.’s land use consultant, which will form the basis of a study of the potential impacts of four new buildings in Greenwich Village. (AKRF has worked on a number of high-profile land use cases, including Columbia University’s expansion, Atlantic Yards, and the World Trade Center reconstruction.)
“We look forward to continuing our dialog with the community and other key stakeholders as we move toward full review and approval next year,” said Alicia Hurley, vice president of N.Y.U., in a statement.
Numerous local residents said the proposal, which would add 2.5 million s/f of new development and require construction over a span of 20 years, was out of context with the neighborhood and would overburden the existing infrastructure. Some have said N.Y.U. should seek space in the Financial District, where they believe large-scale development is appropriate and welcomed.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said that the school should examine ways to more fully utilize its existing academic space and faculty housing. The group also called for more attention on the effects on the neighborhood and nearby historic structures.
“The planned developments would undeniably, irreversibly alter neighborhood character,” said Berman.
Elected officials praised the school for its contributions to the city, but had reservations about the specifics of the plan.
“I certainly appreciate the role N.Y.U. plays as an economic, cultural and intellectual engine for our City, and I recognize its prerogative to grow,” said State Senator Thomas Duane, in written testimony. “Yet, I am quite concerned about the impacts of the particularly expansion N.Y.U. seeks to undertake.”
The input of Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, and the local City Council member, Margaret Chin, may prove to be critical as the school seeks approval for the project through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a seven-month process that will follow the finalization of the scoping document.
Stringer’s office suggested N.Y.U. examine three alternative plans, in which the school would seek lower density development, removal of a planned University-run hotel, and open space without the acquisition of strips of open land, currently owned by the city’s Department of Transportation. It has been suggested that the strips be controlled by the Parks Department.
Stringer also expressed concern over the development of a public school. Under the current plan, N.Y.U. will provide the space, but will not pay for a core and shell.
“Like other major developments, this project must balance local needs with the University’s need to expand,” said Stringer, in written testimony.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin said that residential displacement could occur as a result of the plan, although none of the new buildings would replace existing residential buildings. She cited the possible conversion of the 74,000 s/f 15 Washington Place into a 129,000 s/f academic building, which would lead to tenant displacement. Construction could also indirectly lead to residential displacement, she said.
“I appreciate the need for the continued growth of New York University,” said Chin, in written testimony. “However, they must also understand that they are part of a delicately balanced community. Their proposed development will change that balance.”
Another critic of the plan is Community Board 2, which will submit a non-binding, advisory opinion on the expansion during ULURP. The board had an exhaustive report that outlined numerous additions to the environmental study, including impacts on traffic, local retail, shadows and displacement.
Supports of the plan included the New York Building Congress, construction industry officials, local business groups, and the Real Estate Board of New York.
“This environmental review is an important part of the evaluation process, but it should not be used to try to block a project this city vitally needs. We urge you to conduct this review with all deliberate speed so the city’s ULURP land use review process can commence,” said REBNY in a statement.
The New York City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which has an office adjacent to the development site, praised the open space plan and the design of the buildings, but raised questions over the mass and height of the “zipper building,” which would replace the current Coles Sports Center at 181 Mercer Street.
AKRF, N.Y.U.’s land use consultant, expects to finalize the environmental study by the end of the year. Another public hearing will be held at City Planning, but has not yet been scheduled.