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NYS Court Rules in Favor of NYU Expansion Plan

Sadly, on June 30, 2015, the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany ruled in favor of the City and NYU, upholding the legality of the City's approval of NYU's plan to add 2 million square feet of space in a giant mega-complex to be built between West 3rd and Houston Streets, Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place over the course of twenty years. This was authorized by the City in 2012 by removing neighborhood zoning open space preservation requirements, overturning urban renewal deed restrictions, and alienating public land used as parks and playgrounds. The plan was approved by former Mayor Bloomberg, then-Borough President Scott Stringer, and all but one member of the City Council (including local Councilmember Margaret Chin and then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn), and supported and defended in court by Mayor de Blasio when he took office.

While lower courts had ruled in favor of the lawsuit by GVSHP and our co-plaintiffs, saying that the City illegally gave public land to NYU, and while a bi-partisan coalition of State legislators, several former City Commissioners, and a broad range of civic, parks, neighborhood and preservation groups supported this suit, the highest court in New York State has now spoken. With this ruling, NYU can begin the project, the first phase of which will be construction of a gigantic, 1 million square foot, 300 ft. tall building on the west side of Mercer Street between Bleecker and Houston Streets, which will be the largest building ever constructed in Greenwich Village. Three more nearby buildings and a massive underground complex are set to follow.

The plan was opposed by virtually every neighborhood group and many of NYU's own faculty, staff, and students. GVSHP commissioned an independent report showing that NYU's expansion plan would be more expensive and environmentally damaging with fewer local economic benefits if constructed in the Village than if built in several other alternative locations we had studied including the Financial District, Downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City.

Read coverage of the decision in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, AM New York, and The Villager.

The plan will be tremendously damaging to the Village, and the court's ruling is particularly disturbing in its undermining of the Public Trust Doctrine, which protects land used as park space from alienation without State approval, as was done here. Worse, as repeatedly pointed out by GVSHP, approval and construction of this plan does nothing to prevent NYU from also expanding elsewhere in the Village, East Village, and NoHo, and in fact since the plan was approved the university has already pursued several new facilities along Broadway near Waverly Place.

On the positive side, due to all the hard work of so many people who joined in this fight, the original plan for a 400 ft. tall tower on Bleecker Street was eliminated, the final approved plan was about 20% smaller than originally proposed, and the height of several buildings were reduced. Other recent neighborhood victories, such as the designation of the South Village Historic District proposed and pursued by GVSHP, will help preserve large swaths of our neighborhood south of Washington Square and prevent several existing NYU buildings from ever being torn down and replaced with larger new construction as existing zoning allows.  This includes the Kevorkian Center and Vanderbilt Hall on Washington Square South at Sullivan Street, the latter of which could have been (and likely eventually would have been) replaced by a 300 ft. tall NYU facility.

As we move forward, GVSHP will work closely with our allies to ensure that NYU's plan does not extend beyond what was approved and agreed to, as so many of their past developments have.

GVSHP would like to thank all our fellow co-plaintiffs in this case, especially NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, and everyone who supported this effort and who wrote letters, attended hearings and rallies, and helped spread the word and solicit participation in this effort. While the outcome is profoundly disappointing in many ways, you helped make this plan less bad and less damaging than it would otherwise have been, and you showed that this neighborhood can always be counted upon to stand up and fight for what it believes in.

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