By Gabriela Resto-Montero
GREENWICH VILLAGE — They look like parks and act like parks, but neighbors say the designation of green strips around Washington Square Park as "roadbeds" leaves the open spaces vulnerable to takeover under NYU's expansion plan.
The university, which has a tumultuous relationship with neighbors becuase of its extensive expansion project, recently applied to obtain six of the park-like strips from Houston Street to Washington Square Park, along LaGuardia Place, as part of their development plan.
"We don't want to run with our tails between our legs," resident Beth Gottlieb said at a Community Board 2 meeting this week of supporters of the Mercer-Houston Dog Run strip, which would be absorbed by NYU. "We want to sit and stay."
Under the plan, NYU would also take over LaGuardia Park, a corner community garden, Mercer Playground and Mercer Plaza.
Representatives from the university said they would maintain some of the areas as parks and that taking over the property would be a way to open up the spaces and make them more accessible.
"We're really at a turning point where we can turn this into a wonderful place for the community," said Alicia Hurley, NYU vice president for government and community engagement, at the meeting.
But residents said the strips, which are about 50 feet wide and maintained by the Parks Department despite their ownership by the Department of Transportation, are already wonderful community spaces.
"You can't get credit for the nice things that you do when you want to take land that's open for everybody," said Larry Goldberg, president of Friends of LaGuardia Place, at the meeting, about NYU's plans.
As a way to block the strips from NYU, residents want to reclassify them as Parks Department property so they can gain additional protection as park land.
In order to make the transfer, neighbors have to push for a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to make their case, according to the Department of Transportation.
For Greenwich Village residents who fear losing scarce open space to NYU development, the arduous, bureacratic process is worth it.
"I'm sure this design is very well thought out," said Arthur Miller, a lifelong Village resident who said he grew up playing at the Mercer Playground.
"But there have to be other plans, and I'd like to see that," he said.