Scott Stringer Says City Planning Backpedaled, and Other NYU Rezoning Reactions

screen shot 2012 06 07 at 11 37 37 am Scott Stringer Says City Planning Backpedaled, and Other NYU Rezoning Reactions

The zoning-busting Zipper Building. (NYU Local)

The reactions have been rolling in to the City Planning Commission’s near-unanimous approval of NYU’s Greenwich Village expansion plan from yesterday. Activists oppose it, business groups support it and politicians are mixed on the issue. The most striking statement comes from Borough President Scott Stringer, who is glad to see further modifications to the plan but also expresses exasperation at the fact that some of his negotiations with the NYU have been walked back.

“I am pleased that the City Planning Commission’s vote today ratified important aspects of my agreement with NYU on the 2031 Core Campus plan. Those agreements included removing the dormitory on top of the school on Bleecker Street, the temporary gym, and university uses under two new public parks on the northern superblock. Additionally, the commission ratified commitments I received to ensure continued access to playground space throughout construction, and to create a contextual height for the LaGuardia Boomerang Building. I also commend the commission for eliminating the proposed hotel use and the commercial overlay.

“However, while I am pleased with the progress made, I am disappointed the commission did not ratify NYU’s commitment to eliminate a portion of the ‘zipper building’ to protect light and air for neighboring residential buildings, nor did it remove one story of university uses below the proposed public school to assist in reducing density-related impacts. This makes no sense, especially in light of fact that NYU agreed to these changes. I expect the City Council to correct these mistakes.”

The borough president had convinced the university to setback the Zipper Building, so it would  leave more light and air on Bleecker Street. A City Planning spokeswoman would not explain the changes, simply saying that this was the final recommendations were the result of months of negotiations, and what was proposed was most appropriate. An NYU spokesman would not comment on whether or not the university would follow the recommendations of the borough president regardless of the commission’s, but the latter are the only ones that are binding.

Generally speaking, the university welcomed the changes in its official statement, from Senior Vice President Alicia Hurley, who has leading the redvelopment efforts. “Following a comprehensive review by the City Planning Commission, we are pleased that NYU’s strategy for its core has been approved by the Commission,” she said. “We believe the plan with the modifications
enacted by the Commission allows the University to meet its academic space needs near its Washington Square core over the next two decades while addressing the concerns of the local community.”

The Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Conference supported the vote, but so did Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, a group of more than 100 business that have generally opposed the plan. That is partly because many of the commission’s actions addressed business, not residential concerns, from the elimination of a hotel to the removal of a commercial overlay that would have allowed NYU to add groundfloor storefronts to buildings in a nine-block swath east of Washington Square Park.

“I applaud the City Planning Commission for recommending significant changes including reducing the size of several of the buildings, protecting open space and removing non-essential pieces of the proposal like the commercial overlay on the loft blocks and the hotel,” said Judy Paul, CEO of the Washington Square Hotel and one of the organizers of the group.

Finally, a source close to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office points out that he is expected to support NYU’s proposal in some form, and the vote of his representative on the City Planning Commission against the rezoning—the lone dissenting vote—should not be taken as a sign of his standing on the project.