Lower East Side Gets N.Y.U. Dorm Without a Fight
When you’re one of the hottest universities in the country-attracting 30,000 applicants a year for a mere 4,000 spaces-growth is inevitable. When that growth must take place downtown in a crowded city like New York, conflict is also virtually inevitable.
New York University-which has had its share of such conflicts-is, however, managing a major dorm expansion in the East Village with virtually no clashes with growth-weary neighbors. Perhaps the involvement of a private developer helped ease the way. Or perhaps N.Y.U.’s and the developer’s willingness to negotiate and compromise did the job.
At the Oct. 4 meeting of Board 3, representatives of the developer told board members that they were ready to move ahead with construction of a new 12-story building at the corner of East Second Street and Bowery that will include 153 new N.Y.U. dorm rooms. And absent any pending board votes or major complaints, the developers were beginning excavations on Friday, Oct. 12.
N.Y.U. will act as the dormitory’s landlord under the terms of a 10-year lease that it signed with Coral Realty, a Little Italy construction company that has renovated or built four other dorms for N.Y.U. since 1995. The present incarnation will house some 400 students in 90 double-occupancy studios and 63 triple-occupancy units.
Inevitably, many locals weren’t thrilled at the prospect of a 128-foot tower going up on a block of Andrew Jackson–era brownstones.
“Everybody would rather have a tropical greenhouse,” said resident Neal Johnston. “It would be wonderful if it wasn’t there, but [Coral and N.Y.U.] are working hard to try to address individual concerns.”
Specifically, residents contended that the main entrance, originally slated for Second Street, would have disrupted a quiet residential block. In response, Coral announced at the Oct. 4 meeting that it would move the entrance to Bowery, which is more heavily trafficked.
Locals also said that the influx of porch-sitters and partygoers would translate into litter-strewn streets. Coral and N.Y.U. agreed to institute a special trash-removal program.
The building developers have also promised to use brownstone-colored bricks on the dormitory’s façade, and to plant some trees along Second Street, all to maintain the residential ambiance.
And to satisfy concerns about access to a rear entrance for the Amato Opera building next door, the developers have promised to build a cut-through, allowing Amato’s performers to enter the theater through the dormitory.
The dormitory is an “as-of-right” construction, meaning that Coral didn’t need any zoning variances to erect it. Coral was also allowed by law to build at roughly twice the square footage of a general residential building because of special zoning rules for community buildings like dorms.
The rooms will each have a full kitchen and bathroom, and there will be laundry facilities in the basement. In compliance with zoning regulations for community facilities, the building will also include a study-recreation room that will be open to neighborhood residents, said Coral’s project manager, Tom Whalen.
The units seem to be so plush, in fact, that many residents have expressed their fears to The Observer that Coral would attempt to let them out at increased prices to the general public when N.Y.U.’s lease expires. Mr. Whalen rejected the claim as spurious, noting that the very provision that allows him to build a larger-than-normal building also restricts that building from ever reverting back to general-populace dwellings.
“If the University rents all [the units], we’ll have one tenant, one check. If we have to rent it out privately, we’ll have to deal with 153 tenants,” Mr. Whalen told The Observer . “That is the absolute last thing that would be good for us.”
N.Y.U. Develops Better Biotech Plan
Board 6 members gave each other pats on the back at their Oct. 10 meeting. They have made their voices heard, and the result will be significant changes in New York University’s East River Science Park, a proposed million-square-foot biotech facility on land bounded by 28th and 30th streets, First Avenue and the F.D.R. Drive.
“This is a perfect scenario for community involvement in a development plan,” chairman Mark Taylor told The Observer. “It is exactly what should happen in city development, where developers tap the expertise of community leaders, amending their plans accordingly.”
In 1794, the city bought a large parcel of East River farmland which Bellevue, the nation’s oldest public hospital, has been occupying since 1811. Part of the surplus land now in question is home to garages, Bellevue’s obsolete laundry facility and the old psychiatric building, which has been housing a homeless shelter.
In 1999, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Health and Hospitals Corporation issued a request for “Expressions of Interest,” preferably including commercial biotechnology labs, for what they deemed surplus public property. Of the seven proposals received, they concluded that the N.Y.U. School of Medicine’s was the best.
Their plan involves razing the laundry building, renovating the psychiatric building and constructing three new facilities. They estimate the new facility will attract 1,500 biotech jobs. Funding for the project will be private and public.
As part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the city asked for Board 6′s support for its planned disposition of city land. At a presentation in July, the board rejected the bulk of the ULURP application.
Throughout August, architects of Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn worked with Board 6 to create a master plan best suiting the needs of both parties. The Oct. 10 presentation showed the culmination of those efforts.
The board’s main concerns had been public space and waterfront access. Members worried that new buildings would obstruct north-south campus walkways and prohibit pedestrian river access. The new plans have largely assuaged these concerns. Peter Cavaluzzi, a design principal for the architectural firm, told The Observer that Board 6 is responsible for increasing the development’s campus feel and allowing more pedestrian areas, making it “less about buildings and more about public space.”
Yet even with those design issues resolved, Board 6 members still have concerns about the larger issues involved in turning over such a vast public area to private development. And the board’s concerns often are weighed heavily by the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council, both of which must approve the plan before it can go forward.
Board members said they fear that, hoping to resolve the matter before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s term ends, N.Y.U.’s plans have been rushed and not fully thought out.
In addition, Board 6 members said they worry that Mr. Giuliani, who has never championed public hospitals, is not looking out for Bellevue’s long-term interests. What land will be used to expand Bellevue in the future? Will access to Bellevue’s emergency facilities be hindered? Will Bellevue receive any credit or profit for discoveries made on property it has occupied for two centuries?
LaRay Brown, a vice president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, told The Observer in July that Bellevue will benefit financially by not having to maintain the property. It will also gain housing, child care, parking and, through an affiliation in which the teaching hospital provides staff to the public one, coveted new doctors drawn to the N.Y.U. biotech labs.
Still, Board 6 thinks that slowing the pace would allow more time to think the full impact through.
“I begin to think I’m holding up the progress of mankind by asking simple questions,” Mr. Taylor told The Observer . “It’s a great project, but I don’t see the rush.”
Mr. Taylor said the board will continue to discuss these issues. Meanwhile, out of appreciation for the compromises N.Y.U. has made to its plan, the board is expected in November to overturn its July rejection and support the East River Science Park, Mr. Taylor said.
– Anna Jane Grossman
Oct. 17: Board 8, New York Blood Center, 310 East 67th Street, between First and Second avenues, auditorium, 7 p.m., 758-4340.
Oct. 18: Board 9, Community Board Office, 565 West 125th Street, between Broadway and Old Broadway, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200; Board 2, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, 10th floor, 6:30 p.m., 979-2272.
Oct. 23: Board 1, Pace University, Spruce Street between Gold and Nassau streets, 6 p.m., 442-5050; Board 12, Columbia University Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway, 7 p.m., 568-8500.