City Council backs controversial NYU growth plan

July 18, 2012 4:49:55 AM PDT
The Land Use Committee of the New York City Council voted 19-1 Tuesday to back a modified version of a plan to add four new buildings to New York University's Greenwich Village campus.

The expansion plan, which many Greenwich Village residents and NYU faculty members oppose, was reduced by about 20 percent to 1.9 million square feet since it was presented at a public hearing June 29.

Council member Margaret Chin, whose downtown Manhattan district includes NYU, said the scaled-down expansion balances the needs of NYU and the community.

"I wholeheartedly believe that this proposal will allow NYU's growth in the Village to occur at a sustainable pace, and that it will not overwhelm the wider Village community," she said.

NYU Senior Vice President Lynne Brown said the plan will help New York City "remain economically vibrant and the talent capital of the world."

But opponents shouted, "You killed the Village with your vote!" as the meeting wrapped up.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the modifications were minor.

"The changes that they made made it less bad, but not less bad enough to make it even remotely acceptable," Berman said.

The full City Council is expected to vote on July 25.

The new Greenwich Village buildings are the most contentious part of a plan to add 6 million square feet throughout the city by NYU's bicentennial year, 2031. New facilities are also planned for Manhattan's east side and for downtown Brooklyn.

University president John Sexton said at last month's hearing that "space translates into talent" and that NYU has half as much square footage per student as "peer schools" like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

The new buildings are to include classrooms, labs, performance spaces and a residence hall.

The buildings were slimmed down in the modified plan to provide better access to open space.

Rick Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the changes to buildings on Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place "will lead to greater public access to the adjacent open space next to these structures."

Faculty members opposed to the expansion plan said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall that NYU should renovate existing buildings rather than build new ones.

"NYU already by their own admission has plenty of space within a quarter-mile radius of Washington Square that could easily be adapted as labs and classrooms," said Patrick Deer, an associate professor of English.

Once largely a commuter school serving the New York area, NYU now attracts students from around the world. It is the nation's largest private university, with more than 50,000 students.

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