NYU 2031 Superblock Plan at City Council on June 29

The final Public Hearing on the NYU Superblock ULURP will be this Friday, June 29th at the New York City Council, at 9:30 am.  There is a planned a rally at City Hall that morning which is going to make it difficult to get in or be heard at this final and important hearing.

The debates have been hot, vitriolic and highly personal; the opportunities to insert rational compromise without ridicule extremely rare.  But, whatever your persuasion, this will be your last chance to affect a plan that will be approved, so we are urging you to write with constructive considerations for the City Council’s recommendation  (unless you are up to braving the crowd on June 29th at City Hall).  Here’s the target list:

City Councilmember Margaret Chin
165 Park Row, Suite 11
New York, NY 10038
fax: (212) 587-3138
email: chin@council.nyc.gov

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez
237 1st Avenue, #504
New York, NY 10003
fax: (212) 677-1990
email: rmendez@council.nyc.gov

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
224 West 30th Street, Suite 1206
New York, NY 10001
fax: (212) 564-7347
email: speakerquinn@council.nyc.ny.us

City Councilmember Mark S. Weprin
73-03 Bell Boulevard
Oakland Gardens, NY 11364 
Via e-mail to 
mweprin@council.nyc.gov

City Councilmember Leroy Comrie
113-43 Farmers Boulevard
St. Albans, NY 11412 
email: 
comrie@council.nyc.ny.us 

What’s Left on the Table

In our opinion, the “Just Say No” approach adopted by our Community Board was ill-advised and actually prevented discourse and constructive modification to an NYU plan that might have included more actual benefits to Greenwich Village AND its surrounding neighborhoods BEFORE submission to other agencies.

To date the most constructive recommendations have come from Borough President Stringer, which reduced density and led the way for more light and air for blocks surrounding the Super Blocks.  You can see Borough President Stringer’s recommendations here.

The City Planning Commission’s revisions cancelled many of those benefits, except for the elimination of a dormatory over the proposed Public School site at the southeast corner of LaGuardia and Bleecker.  Instead, what was proposed as a hotel at the southwest corner of Mercer and Houston will be used for housing and/or a dormitory.  You can see a summary of the City Planning Commission’s recommendations here.

See the current plan and review revisions to date, provided on the NYU site,  here…or the full Just Say No response from GVSHP, here

The elimination of the hotel is no more than a pyrrhic victory in the name of reducing high pedestrian traffic.  More thoughtful consideration might have revealed that the hotel’s use by adult populations as a guest facility and managed by a staff (preferably locally hired) charged with the orderly maintenance and care of grounds, facility and operation might have been less dense and disruptive and more encouraging of local retail and cultural trade appreciated by adult neighbors and merchants as well as guests. Remember any entertainment uses would still have to face public approval through licensing.

A similar short sightedness has occurred with the elimination of the C6 retail uses on the groundfloor in the area to the north of the Superblocks.  This area is already populated with grandfathered retail locations and any application for a BSA variance can overcome the zoning restriction on new ones.  Instead, what should have occurred was the addition of a Special Permit for the area, which would have allowed some limited retail uses and banned others altogether (like bars and restaurants or if one is still spooked by the Big Box Store phenominon, retail with footprints of 10,000 sq feet or more).

Still missing in this dialogue are constructive give-backs that NYU has the capacity to deliver with low financial penalty and high community benefit.  Such give-backs could include provision of local, storefront medical facilities like dental or vision or physical therapy clinics, or other non-emergency outpatient services tied into their full-service medical, dental and nursing schools and facilities.  Greenwich Village has lost a hospital and is steadily growing in need of local senior and child health oversight – especially east of Sixth Avenue.  Another give-back would be in mandatory provision for local free access to classrooms and facilities for area nonprofits – including practice or performance space for severally strained art-based nonprofits.  There are other possibilities, too, like affordable groundfloor leases for incubator businesses.

Community-Serving Stipulations:  We pose that in some cases the addition of true community-serving stipulations of mandatory long-term impact would do more to guarantee that NYU-owned property would be less exclusionary and more beneficial to the neighborhoods in which it lives, including  jobs,  than some reductions in height, or the inconvenience of prolonged construction or parking spaces or even more “green” enhancements.

Why offsite isn’t a real answer:  What would truly be regressive would be more pressure for NYU to acquire free-market properties.  Though we are supporting of all efforts to locate campuses throughout all of New York City and its Boroughs, the reality is that fully legal NYU pop-ups will occur in closer proximity to existing campus locations.  In many neighborhoods this could include dormitories in already more dense residential areas, classrooms, large retail-leased facilities.  There are a lot of neighborhoods and their infrastructures that would be no less inconvenienced or compromised than the Superblocks or their inhabitants, with less opportunity to shape a mutually compatible destiny…NoHo among them.

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