State Judge Hobbles NYU's Expansion Project Over Parkland Giveaway

By Gustavo Solis on January 8, 2014 2:24pm 

 The NYU 2031 proposal planned to add new buildings on two large Greenwich Village blocks bordered by LaGuardia Place and Mercer, West Houston and West Third streets.
The NYU 2031 proposal planned to add new buildings on two large Greenwich Village blocks bordered by LaGuardia Place and Mercer, West Houston and West Third streets.
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MANHATTAN — A state judge has sided with Matthew Broderick and Padma Lakshmi, dealing a blow to New York University's $6 billion Greenwich Village expansion plan because she said the Bloomberg administration erred in giving away public parkland to the school.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Donna Miller’s ruling did not completely kill the project. She cleared the university to build one of the four proposed buildings, but said the university must get approval from the state Legislature for the remaining three.

The ruling was a major victory for opponents of the expansion project, which include Broderick, "Top Chef" host Lakshmi, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and local community groups like the Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation and the Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association.

"This is a huge victory for the Greenwich Village community," said Randy Mastro, the attorney who filed the lawuit. "It's a major change in what they [NYU] wanted to do and this benefits the community."

They had argued that the city treated the four disputed areas — two large blocks bordered by LaGuardia Place, Mercer Street, West Houston Street and West Third Street — as official parks for decades even though they were never officially claimed as parks and were mapped as unused streets.

Because of the ruling, the expansion plan becomes a different project than the one originally proposed. Therefore, it must go back to the drawing board before moving forward, Mastro said.

“Land may become parkland by implication,” Miller wrote in her 79-page decision.

Residents had used the parks for decades, and the city had installed signs on them and even listed them as parks on its website.

Despite the setback, university officials remained optimistic.

“This is a complex ruling, but the judgment is a very positive one for NYU,” the university said in a statement. “The judge’s ruling allows us to move forward with our first planned project.”

That project — the so-called Zipper building, which is the biggest part of the 20-year expansion — will provide new classrooms on the site of the current NYU gym and could reach as high as 26 stories.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said construction will not start before 2015, as decisions about the building's specifics await the final report from a faculty-led committee.

Beckman said the university will be consulting with the city and the co-respondents in the case, and then announce whether it will appeal the judge's decision.

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