MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Chef and TV personality Padma Lakshmi tossed her support behind foes of New York University's expansion plan Thursday, attending a court hearing where Greenwich Village groups asked a judge to stop the city-approved construction.
Lakshmi, a "Top Chef" host, actress and cookbook writer, was among more than 200 people to pack a Manhattan Supreme Court courtroom for three hours Thursday. She blanched when approached by reporters about her opposition to the expansion plan but wrote about it on Twitter.
"Sitting in court in support of #NYUfaculty. #SavetheVillage #SavetheParks," the Village resident wrote.
Lawyers for 11 groups who sued the city and NYU in September argued Thursday that the university illegally seized publicly owned parkland on the two large blocks bordered by LaGuardia Place, Mercer Street, West Houston Street and West Third Street.
"These were parks and the city treated them as such," lawyer Randy Mastro said, noting that spots including Mercer Playground are maintained by the city's Parks Department using city funds and have city Parks Department signs posted.
But NYU lawyer Alan Levine said the signage does not indicate that the land in question is officially parkland.
"Those signs aren't purporting to establish legal jurisdiction," he said, adding that the land is officially mapped as part of the street, which allows NYU to put up four buildings there.
Mastro shot back that legal precedent forbids the city and state from repurposing parkland, whether or not it is officially designated.
"A municipality cannot alienate dedicated parkland, either explicitly or implicitly," he said.
Actor and Village resident Matthew Broderick opposed the City Council-approved NYU expansion plan in February, saying outside court that the university threatened to rob the Village of its character.
Justice Donna Mills told both parties they have two weeks to submit additional arguments to the court before proceedings continue.
Mastro said he thinks his team can stop 20 years of construction in the Village.
"We are very hopeful that the judge will stop this project dead in its tracks," he said.