New York University Expansion Plan Blocked by Judge

New York University was blocked by a state judge from beginning much of a 2 million-square-foot expansion in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.

State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Mills in Manhattan ruled yesterday that portions of the plan would interfere with public parks, a result which would require approval by the state legislature.

“The public trust doctrine applies to three of the four parcels of land involved,” Mills wrote, referring to the parks. If NYU is unable to obtain legislative approval, “it will, at the very least, have to develop alternative areas for construction staging that will not interfere with the use by the public,” the judge said.

NYU, one of the largest private, nonprofit universities in the U.S. by enrollment, says it needs more space to accommodate its growing student body. Neighborhood groups, arguing that the plan would overwhelm a cramped historic area, sued the city in September 2012 over its approval of the expansion.

“This is a huge victory for the Greenwich Village community, preserving this historic neighborhood and protecting its precious parkland,” said Randy Mastro, an attorney representing opponents of the project and a deputy mayor under former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Existing Gym

John Beckman, a spokesman for NYU, said the ruling still allows the university to start part of the project in which it would replace an existing gym with 980,000 square feet of new space.

Mastro called that notion “delusional,” saying the plan had been approved as a comprehensive project and would need to be resubmitted.

“Any such piecemeal approach would constitute a new project materially different from that previously approved by the city and requiring its own separate environmental review process,” he said. “So NYU has to go back to square one.”

Beckman said in a statement that the university disagrees with the assertion that the plan must be resubmitted and that the decision “reaffirms” the city’s approval of the plan.

New York officials are reviewing the decision, Christopher Reo, a lawyer for the city, said in a statement.

Sexton Plan

NYU’s intended expansion, known as the Sexton Plan after university president John Sexton, is a $6 billion project comprising almost 2 million square feet, according to a court filing on behalf of opponents. The expansion is opposed by dozens of university departments and divisions. Professors in the university’s largest school passed a vote of no-confidence in Sexton on March 16, saying he failed to consult with them on the plan.

At a hearing in the case in July, more than 100 people packed the courtroom including Padma Lakshmi, co-host of the television show “Top Chef,” who said in an interview afterward that she lives in the neighborhood and attended the hearing as a “concerned mother.”

The city’s law department said previously in a statement that the plan would bring a “pedestrian-friendly mix of public open spaces and academic, residential and retail use.”

‘Complex Ruling’

“This is a complex ruling, but the judgment is a very positive one for NYU,” Beckman said. After further analysis of the ruling, the university will “work with the city, as lead respondent, to determine our next legal steps,” he said.

As originally proposed, the project included 2.4 million gross square feet of development that would take place over about 20 years. A modified version approved by the New York City Council would total 1.9 million square feet of new buildings on two areas described as “superblocks,” according to the ruling.

One of the super blocks encompasses Mercer Playground and LaGuardia Park, both deemed public parks by the judge. The other, where the university’s Jerome S. Coles Sports & Recreation Center is located, has one park, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, and a membership-based dog run, which the judge found didn’t qualify as a public park.

The Zipper Building, composed of a base and multiple towers, will displace the dog run, according to the ruling.

The opponents of the plan, which also included State Assembly Member Deborah Glick, asserted five additional claims to block the project that were struck down by the judge. Among those were arguments that the proposal entailed the unlawful lifting of deed restrictions, failure to adhere to review standards, and violations of state and local environmental laws.

The case is Weinstein v. Harvey, 103844-2012, State Supreme Court of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Christie Smythe in state court in Manhattan at csmythe1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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