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Scaled-Down NYU Expansion Plan Approved by City Council Committee

By DNAinfo Staff on July 17, 2012 3:04pm  | Updated on July 17, 2012 5:09pm

By Dan Rivoli

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — A City Council committee Tuesday backed a modified plan for NYU's controversial expansion in Greenwich Village after the university agreed to scale back the project to win approval.

The Council's Land Use Committee overwhelmingly backed the expansion plan, 19-1, after NYU agreed to a deal with Councilwoman Margaret Chin to reduce the plan to build on two superblocks near Washington Square Park by about 20 percent overall.

Chin, who represents the area in question and whose support is key for the plan to pass the full Council, said the modifications include concessions addressing neighborhood concerns such as density and open space.

"This was a compromise," she said ahead of the vote. "But it was arrived at rationally and in good faith."

The changes include a nearly 20-percent reduction in above-ground density, which cuts 212,000 square feet from the project, from the plan approved by the City Planning Commission in June. Overall, 352,000 square feet have been removed from the plan since January.

The space reductions since January represent a 44-percent cut to space on the north superblock and a 9-percent cut to above-grade space in the Zipper Building at the corner of Mercer and Bleecker Streets, including the removal of nine stories from the structure.

Further, the footprint of so-called "boomerang" buildings on Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place will be reduced to increase access to interior open space, at least 60 feet.

In addition to changes in space, NYU would create a 6,000-square-foot space for a community nonprofit and agreed to maintain park strips on Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place, as well as a seating area on Bleecker Street. NYU will also create a $150,000 annual endowment to maintain private open space on the site.

The full City Council will have the final say in approving the plan now that the Land Use Committee signed off.

"The changes approved today in the NYU 2031 plan were made after we listened to the views and concerns of Council Member Margaret Chin, other members of the City Council and representatives of the community," said Lynne Brown, NYU's senior vice president, in a statement. The modifications "were made in collaboration with them so that we could arrive at a plan that balances the needs of NYU and concerns of the community."

However, the deal wasn't greeted well by everyone, especially anti-NYU advocates who view the ambitious development plan as too much for the community to handle.

"You have abandoned your constituents," yelled one opponent in Council chambers during the committee's discussion. "Shame on you."

Others said the deal was no compromise at all.

"It's not nearly enough to make this plan acceptable," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, a vocal critic of NYU. "Giving them 80 percent of what they asked for is hardly a compromise."

Terri Cude, co-chair of Community Action Alliance on NYU 2031, said the plan needs changes "more significant than a haircut" before the community could accept the expansion.

Patrick Deer, an associate professor at NYU's English Department, said the project's size is still too large, if the goal is to increase academic facilities. Deer, who belongs to a group of faculty opposed to the plan, said 18 percent of the expansion will be used for academic space.

"What do they need the other 82 percent for?" said Deer, whose group is NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, referring to the university's president. "I think the answer is, this really is all about the real estate and the rezoning."

He said the faculty group retained Gibson & Dunn to pursue litigation over the public land use review process that NYU and the community has endured. The group will also push the NYU administration internally to address concerns over the project's financing and impact on tuition, Deer said.

"It doesn't end with the vote" at the City Council, Deer said.

Joining the chorus of detractors was Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who in a statement called the plan a "disgraceful land-grab" that "demonstrate[s] the power of major institutions to roll over neighborhoods and local residents."

Others, like Congressman Jerrold Nadler, said the compromise offered "welcome improvements" but still expressed reservations over the plan's affordable housing component.