NYU seeks to shrink footprint of Washington Square project with parkland designation

NYU rendering

In an attempt to assuage community opposition, New York University will be asking the city to designate as parkland the green spaces at the edge of the Washington Square Superblocks, strips along LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street in Greenwich Village, east and west of the Washington Square Village, NYU officials said at a media briefing today.
In a statement the school later provided, NYU emphasizes that its revised proposals will allow the university to build almost entirely on its existing footprint in the neighborhood with no up-zoning and no displacement of tenants. The university’s ambitious city-wide expansion plan slated for completion in 2031 has prompted much community opposition particularly in Greenwich Village

Both blocks are part of NYU’s 2031 expansion plan.

The first phase is on the so-called “Silver Towers” block where the university now plans an 800,000-square-foot “zipper building,” on the site of the current Coles Sports and Recreation Center with retail, student and faculty housing and a moderately priced hotel aimed at NYU visitors. After withdrawing its application for a 40-story tower on that block, NYU has set a height limit of shorter than the highest building on that site, Silver Towers. The school is planning a second building on that block as an elementary school.

The second phase relates to the Washington Square Village block. There, two planned academic buildings, one 14 stories, the other eight, have been moved inward 15 feet off the street so they will not be located on the parkland. As NYU previously announced, the university also plans an interior courtyard, a new playground and a tricycle garden on that block.
NYU is noting the new designations on the maps that are part of the university’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application, which will be submitted to the Department of City Planning in a few days.

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Lynne Brown, senior vice president for public affairs at NYU, noted at today’s brieifing that it’s very difficult to remove a parkland designation once it is established by the city. The new designation would protect that part of the land from development, she said. It would then become the property of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The idea was for the university to “use this process to preserve the [parkland space] in perpetuity,” she said, adding, “It doesn’t have to be our way. We’re not allergic to changing our plans,” as long as the university can find ways to accommodate its needs while also incorporating community feedback.

It appears that the majority of New York City residents support the expansion plans, according to a new poll conducted in
April for the university by Global Strategy Group.

Overall, 70 percent of those polled said they supported NYU’s expansion plans citywide, and 62 percent of Manhattan voters said they approved of those plans, NYU announced at today’s briefing. As part of the survey, the company conducted focus groups and then a telephone poll with 600 voters from all boroughs.

Most voters — 55 percent — were not familiar with NYU’s expansion plans. Of those who were familiar with them, 22 percent had a more favorable impression of the university as a result, 27 percent a less favorable impression and for 49 percent there was no difference. Overall, 81 percent of voters had a strongly or somewhat favorable impression of NYU, while 79 percent had a favorable impression of Columbia University, which has faced its own challenges with expansion uptown.

When asked about specific neighborhoods where expansion would take place, 34 percent said they supported it in Greenwich Village, 23 percent said they somewhat supported it and 36 percent said they opposed it. For Washington Square, 34 percent strongly approved it, 23 percent somewhat approved it and 36 percent opposed it. For the site in Downtown Brooklyn at the site of Polytechnic Institute, 45 percent said they strongly supported expansion there. 

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