City Council Gives Preliminary Greenlight to New York University Expansion Plan

After a tense five years between Greenwich Village residents and NYU, it seems the battle over the university's 2031 expansion plan might be coming to an end.

Today, the City Council gave a preliminary thumbs up to the university's expansion plan, leading up to the decisive Council vote on the issue July 25.

It was a late start for one of the city's most hotly contested development issues -- the hearing began over two hours after its scheduled time.

"We're just dotting all of our 'i's' and crossing our 't's'," Mark Weprin, chair of subcommittee on zoning and franchises, said to the anxious crowd.

Council members have had an intense two weeks of discussion about the university's plan.

"It has been a lot of very late nights and early mornings," said Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the area of the proposed expansion.

Burning the midnight oil seems to have paid off for the university, as both the subcommittee of zoning and franchises -- as well as the committee on land use -- voted to approve the expansion plan (zoning and franchises voted 9-0; land use voted 19-1).

NYU's victory wasn't a complete cakewalk, however, as the school was asked to make several modifications to the plan they proposed at the 9-hour hearing held two weeks ago.

The new expansion plan contains three main revisions:

1) Reduction in building density-- NYU scaled down the density of several of its proposed buildings by 25 percent. The proposed "Zipper Building," which is to replace the current Coles Sports Center, has been reduced by 70,000 square feet.

2) Increase in open space -- this was a major source of contention for council members at the previous hearing. Under the new plan, NYU will create several more open spaces for public use and fund upkeep for existing spaces such as the Sasaki garden and parkland. The university also pledged to create a $150,000 endowment for grounds maintenance in addition to their upkeep costs.

3) Community consultation on NYU's open space -- NYU has pledged to create two committees that will serve to oversee the university's efforts towards making open space available to the general public and will also create a liason between the university and the community on construction progress. Each committee will be comprised of five members, chosen by the city council and with one NYU representative.

Chin supported the new plan and encouraged her fellow council members and Greenwich Village residents to get on board.

"Today I've heard NYU commit to major modification," Chin said. "To be honest, no one got everything they wanted but I hope this new plan will allow NYU to grow at a modest pace and keep the residents happy."

When Councilmembers cast their vote for the new plan, almost everyone cited Chin as their reason for giving the greenlight -- despite many lingering reservations.

Councilmember Charles Barron, never one to hold his tongue, was the only dissenting vote.

"This body cannot be a body that just asks 'can you keep a promise?'" Barron said. "These are neighborhoods, not university towns, and most of us voting on this issue don't even live in these areas. We're going to regret this vote if we don't send Community Board 2 back to the drawing board."

And Barron wasn't the only unhappy voice heard amongst the crowd. As the meeting came to a close, a disgruntled Greenwich Village resident shouted, "Shame on you Margaret Chin! You've destroyed the Village!"

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