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Update: City Planning Commission approves NYU expansion

June 8, 2012

The City Planning Commission voted 12 to 1 this week to approve New York University's expansion plans in Greenwich Village that would add about 2.5 million square feet of space to the university's superblocks south of Washington Square Park.

The controversial plans, which had been recently revised, must still be approved by the City Council.

The university's plan would build several large structures in space that had been left open for two very important "tower-in-a-park" projects: University Towers and Washington Square Village.

Filling in these spaces adds to the area's density and pedestrian traffic as well as obstructing some vistas and increasing traffic.

There are many non-university residential buildings near the planned new construction such as the apartment buildings are 25 West Houston Street, 250 Wooster Street, SoHo 25, Georgetown Plaza and One Fifth Avenue.

On February 28, 2012, Community Board 2 unanimously voted to oppose the plans, noting that the proposed new construction "would destroy the planning principles that justified formation and development of the superblocks at their present scale."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who approved the university's plans after winning some changes said after the planning commission's vote that he was "disappointed the commission did not ratify NYU's commitment to eliminate a portion of the 'zipper' building to protect light and air for neighboring residential buildings, nor did it remove one story of university uses bellowed the proposed public school to assist in reducing density-related impacts." "This makes no sense, especially in light of the fact that NYU agreed to these changes,"" he said.

The dissenting vote at the commission was cast by Commissioner Michelle de La Uz, the appointee of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin voted for the plan but said that she believed that the university's leaders were not good "stewards" and did not know exactly what they wanted the new space for.

The plan approved by the commission substantially lowered the height of the two "boomerang" buildings in between the large, colorful and handsome slabs of Washington Square Village but did not reduce their total mass. It also eliminated the proposed below-grade academic space beneath parkland and also a planned hotel in the large "zipper" building that is supposed to replace the Coles Gym just to the east of University Village.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation told the commission that the university's plan "would eliminate playgrounds, parks and dog runs in one of the most park-starved communities in New York City, add four massive buildings which would overshadow the remaining park space and surrounding buildings, and turn a residential neighborhood into a twenty-year construction zone."

"It's deeply disappointing but not terribly surprising that this City Planning Commission has rubber-stamped NYU's plan, given their record of approving virtually every big developer plan that's come before them," declared Andrew Berman, executive director of the society, which has argued that the university could allocate much of its expansion plans outside Greenwich Village.

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