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Opponents of NYU Expansion Win Final Chance to Block Development Plan

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 24, 2015 11:19am | Updated on February 24, 2015 12:28pm
 Elected officials, community leaders, and NYU faculty gathered at a rally before the case went before an appellate court in September 2014.
NYU Expansion Fight
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — Opponents of New York University's massive expansion in Greenwich Village will get a final chance to try to block the school's plan after the state's highest court agreed on Tuesday to hear their case.

The New York State Court of Appeals granted the opponents the chance to appeal a lower court's previous ruling that allowed NYU's expansion to move forward.

NYU's 2031 plan, approved by the New York City Council in 2012, would build new buildings on two large "superblocks," to provide additional academic space and housing for university students and faculty.

Opponents of NYU's plan, led by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, have argued that the university does not have the right to develop some of the city-owned sites, because they have been used as park space for so many years that they ought to be protected. 

In January 2014, a state court blocked parts NYU's expansion plan, siding with the opponents who believe that NYU must undergo additional state review before using a playground, a dog run and a community garden while constructing the new buildings.

The dog run on Mercer Street is the only piece of land that would be developed; the others must be turned into public open spaces with playgrounds, seating, and gardens, per NYU's agreement with the city. Those open spaces will be designated officially and permanently as parkland once construction on the project is complete, and NYU will be obligated to fund and maintain them.

NYU and the city's Law Department contested the lower court's decision at the state's Appellate Division in September of 2014, and won their appeal in October, clearing the way for NYU's development to move forward.

The Court of Appeals is the final stop in the legal challenge to the NYU expansion. It was not immediately clear if the court had set a date to hear the case.

The NYU 2031 opponents — which include Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (FASP), the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, actor Mark Ruffalo and community groups — cheered the decision on Tuesday.

“We’re glad that the Court of Appeals agrees that this case is important," Andrew Ross, director of NYU's American Studies program, said in a statement. "These parks have been a vital part of the Greenwich Village community’s daily life for decades."

Ross, along with Ruffalo and FASP leader Mark Crispin Miller, suggested that if the NYU opponents win, the decision could help other city groups fighting to preserve community gardens that the city wants to develop into affordable housing.

"Without the Court of Appeals’ intervention, not only will they be given to a private corporation for its own financial gain, but such a thing could become a common and unremarkable occurrence throughout New York,” Ruffalo said in a statement.

A spokesman for NYU said the expansion plan is "indispensable to meeting NYU's pressing academic space needs."

"This project... was approved 44-1 by the City Council, and was strongly and unanimously upheld by the Appellate Division," NYU spokesman John Beckman said. "NYU continues to believe fully in this project and in the strength of our case, and we are optimistic about another positive outcome when the Court of Appeals ultimately rules."

Representatives for the city Law Department did not immediately comment.

In December, NYU announced the selection of two architecture firms to design the first building in the plan, at the current site of the Coles gym on Mercer Street.