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Disputed NYU Expansion Sites Now Permanent Parks To Be Renovated By NYU

By Danielle Tcholakian | November 18, 2015 7:21pm
 The redesign of LaGuardia Park (existing state inset) involves widening the pathways and repaving them with hexagonal tiles.
The redesign of LaGuardia Park (existing state inset) involves widening the pathways and repaving them with hexagonal tiles.
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NYU Silver School of Social Work

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Some of the swaths of land at the heart of the legal battle over New York University's expansion are now officially parkland, officials confirmed.

For more than a year, opponents of NYU's expansion argued that green spaces on Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place — Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens — while not officially mapped by the city as parks, were "implied parkland" and therefore could not be used as anything other than a park without permission from the state legislature.

The opponents ultimately lost their fight earlier this year when the Court of Appeals said they failed to prove that the owners of the land — in this case, the Department of Transportation — had done or said "decisive" or "unmistakable" things indicating an intent to make the strips permanent parks.

Regardless of the legal decision, some of the strips are, in fact, becoming permanent parks. Last month, DOT turned parcels that include Mercer Playground and LaGuardia Park over to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The transfer was part of the deal the City Council struck with NYU in 2012 authorizing the school's plan to build new academic space and other facilities on two "superblocks" south of Washington Square Park, bordered by LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose efforts facilitated the NYU deal, hailed the transfer, which occurred last month, as "a major victory for proponents of a greener Greenwich Village.”

Under the plan, NYU is required to renovate and maintain the Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place edges of the "north block," between West Third and Bleecker streets, an arrangement that NYU spokesman John Beckman said was "intended to benefit the local community and city."

The city's Public Design Commission approved a design in October for the LaGuardia Place stretch between West Third and Bleecker streets, which includes LaGuardia Park.

The design is the result of more than two years of work by Napach Design Group and Nina Kramer Landscape Architecture, with input from the Parks Department and an independent committee with representatives from Community Board 2, the Manhattan Borough President, Chin and NYU.

Napach previously designed performance space for the school at 35 West Fourth St., and Kramer designed the NYU Law School residence entry court along Mercer Street, a brownstone garden for NYU on Bethune Street, as well as landscaping for Tudor City and a redesign of Arthur Ashe Plaza in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The design for LaGuardia Place, which includes LaGuardia Park, keeps the existing trees and the statue of Fiorello LaGuardia, widens the existing pathways and repaves them with hexagonal tiles to match the ones in Adrienne's Garden, a playground that opened in 2013 and is nestled mid-block, and adds curved metal benches, also like the ones in Adrienne's Garden.

A design for Mercer Street, which includes the Mercer Playground, has not yet been presented to the Public Design Commission.

Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro praised Chin and community advocates for securing the parkland.

"It’s great to see Council Member Chin’s and community advocacy result in mapping these properties parkland," Castro said in a statement. "In conjunction with DOT and NYU, NYC Parks will further enhance the public realm by caring for this additional greenspace."

The renovation of the LaGuardia Place greenspace is expected to begin next month, NYU officials said.