NYU Expansion Proposal Scaled Back, Scott Stringer Says Compromise is Hard


No one’s going to get exactly what they want. But that’s the essence of compromise!

This was part of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s message today when he officially announced his support for a scaled-back version of the controversial 20-year expansion plan for New York University.

This latest news is part of an ongoing urban development saga where not-in-my-backyard advocates have clashed dramatically with a powerful university that hopes to grow in the Village, its homebase neighborhood. Elected officials like Stringer have been caught in the middle of the fight, forced to navigate competing interests of preservation, development, and education. For the borough president, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, taking a stance on NYU is more than an opportunity to influence a project that could fundamentally change the Village — it’s also a chance to start building a platform for his bid to replace Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Today, Stringer — whose advisory recommendations are part of the city’s lengthy review process for NYU’s rezoning — officially announced his support of a plan that would reduce the project’s density by 19%.

NYU, in securing Stringer’s endorsement, has agreed to trim the size of the expansion by 370,000 square feet. (The local community board, concerned with the project’s impact on a traditionally quieter, low-rise area, rejected the original plan, which includes new developments south of Washington Square Park on land owned by the university).

In a release sent out today, Stringer said that the latest version of the project will allow the important academic institution to grow while also respecting preservation interests in the neighborhood.

“This blueprint is the culmination of an unprecedented, five-year planning process launched by my office–a model for future growth that strikes a balance between a great university’s need to grow and the importance of preserving Greenwich Village’s distinctive, historic character. There was nothing easy about this: Everyone had to give up something. No one got everything they wanted,” he said in a statement.

Stringer’s press release notes that the plan would save playgrounds, preserve public-strips as park space, and also secure commitments for K-8 school space and the creation of 9,500 permanent jobs. The plan eliminates a temporary gym and proposed dormitories on the Bleecker Building. (You can read further details of his conditional approval here).

In his statement, NYU President John Sexton emphasized the need for the university to grow: “This is a good and important step, and a recognition that universities need to grow to maintain excellence and that strong universities are important to keeping our city strong.”

Stringer, whose office is traditionally seen as being relatively powerless, is likely to emphasize his role in negotiating university expansion compromises — and actually having a meaningful influence over the plans — when he runs for mayor. (His press release notes his work negotiating expansions at Columbia and Fordham).

The current mayor has been very supportive of NYU’s plans. When asked at a press conference on Monday if he thinks there’s a way that the scale of the plan can be reduced, Bloomberg cautioned against any major reduction.

“I certainly think there is a way [to reduce the scale]. I think you can also destroy NYU at the same time. The great thing about NYU is — it’s in the name — it is a city university in the city. It thrives because it’s part of the city. It thrives particularly because unlike other schools that have a campus that you can’t really enter, [NYU is] a school that takes advantage of the city and has the city within it. That’s the real difference,” he said.

“You don’t go to school where the campus is separated by a long distance, even if that distance is bridgeable with one stop on the subway,” he added, referring to some alternative proposals that NYU develop in other parts of the city to mitigate the impact on the Village. “The value of their houses, the quality of their life [of people in the neighborhood] is because of the proximity of NYU. In the real world today…to have a world class university, you’ve got to keep expanding…NYU is a good poster child for how you run a great school, and I think in the end playing politics with it just is not beneficial to anybody.”

The Voice spoke this morning with Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who has been an outspoken critic of NYU’s expansion, who said that the Stringer compromise is not much of a compromise at all.

“It’s completely insufficient. It doesn’t address the fundamental problems with the plan. It will still overwhelm the neighborhood,” said Berman, who wants the university to look at other parts of the city, and — along with many vocal protesters — had hoped Stringer would take a stronger stance against the current plans.

“It would turn a residential area into a 20-year construction zone,” he said. “Even in this very modestly reduced form, if this goes forward, it really dooms the Village.”

Berman also pointed out that it’s not just local neighborhood folks who oppose the plan — faculty are against it too.

The new plan still has to get a green light from the City Planning Commission and the full City Council.