NYU Greenwich Village expansion gets planning approval, with some caveats

TRD New York /
Jun.June 06, 2012 01:30 PM

New York University’s modified expansion plan was approved today by the City Planning Commission with minor revisions, representatives for the commission told The Real Deal. The contentious plans will now go before the City Council, which will need to approve them within 60 days in order for the massive project to move forward.

“NYU is proposing to construct four new buildings — to include academic space, a new athletic facility, student dorms, NYU faculty housing — and approximately 4 acres of public parks and publicly-accessible open spaces,” Amanda Burden, director of the New York City Planning Department, said at the hearing today. “I am pleased to vote yes.”

NYU 2031, as the expansion is known, aims to add more than 2 million square feet to the university’s campus. The commission approved the expansion today with a few caveats: reductions in the heights for two buildings, lowering their height to that of neighboring buildings, and required setbacks for the bulkheads on two buildings. The school’s request for a zoning variance that would allow hotels in the area was denied, as was their suggestion of a commercial overlay, a zoning provision that allows one or two floors of retail in areas otherwise zoned strictly for residential building. The commission also removed a proposed temporary gym from the plan.

The final vote was 12-1, according to a spokesperson for the planning department. The one dissenting vote was cast by Commissioner Michelle de la Uz.

Last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced his support for the expansion, which has been scaled back multiple times, due to concerns from preservation and community groups. In April, NYU agreed to reduce the combined square footage of its planned four new buildings — On The Blocks Surrounded By Laguardia Place and Mercer, West Houston and West 3rd streets — by a total of 370,000 square feet.

Also today, the commission announced the creation of the Open Space Oversight Organization, a program which would help oversee the maintenance and management of the public space NYU will provide as part of the project, to “assure that it is maximally public,” Burden said.

She added that there may need to be future changes to NYU’s proposal, and said the commission reserves the right to modify the plans in the future, with community input.

“Future modifications may be appropriate, especially as the [public] space is not to be built until 15 years from now,” she said.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman, who has spoken out against NYU’s expansion, blasted the plans in a statement this morning. “It’s shocking that a body with ‘planning’ in its name would try to shoehorn an Empire State Building’s worth of construction into a few blocks in the Village, devouring open space in one of the most park-starved neighborhoods in New York City,” Berman said.

Other groups came out in support of the plan. Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, a non-profit coalition of local businesses, applauded the plan in a statement, but asked for further changes to NYU’s proposal.

“I applaud the City Planning Commission for recommending significant changes including reducing the size of several of the buildings, protecting open space and removing non-essential pieces of the proposal like the commercial overlay on the loft blocks and the hotel,” said Judy Paul, CEO of the Washington Square Hotel, in the statement from the coalition. The group called for further height reductions at a number of the buildings included in the proposal.

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