Hundreds of Greenwich Village residents, including actor Matthew Broderick, filled the New York City Council chambers today seeking to block a 2 million-square-foot expansion by New York University.
“They might need to expand, but they certainly don’t need to destroy the Village,” said Broderick, a longtime resident of the neighborhood who starred in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the Broadway musical “The Producers.”
The actor, who is married to actress Sarah Jessica Parker, was joined by hundreds of residents, including NYU faculty. They called for the council to stop the project, saying it was out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.
Broderick grew up in Greenwich Village and returned to live there after starting his acting career. The neighborhood, which surrounds Washington Square Park, is characterized by tree-lined streets and low-rise homes and shops. It’s been home to the artists Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollock, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Mark Twain, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, the writer-activist Jane Jacobs and punk rocker Joey Ramone.
“They have to find a way to not ruin the thing that makes people want to come here,” Broderick said.
NYU’s expansion is part of 6-million-square-foot, 20-year growth plan costing from $3 billion to $4 billion. It also includes a nursing school near the university’s hospital on the East Side and an applied-sciences school in downtown Brooklyn. The project must win zoning approval from the City Council to go forward. The Planning Commission passed the application to the council after approving it June 6.
NYU, which has more students than any private nonprofit university in the U.S., scaled down its original proposal by about 377,000 square feet in April. The change followed negotiations with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a Democrat who has expressed interest in running for mayor in 2013.
The deal with Stringer helped win Planning Commission approval, though it didn’t end opposition by neighbors. Local Community Board 2 rejected it unanimously.
“The fundamental reason for the board’s rejection of the plan is the firm belief that the bulk and density permitted by the plan would forever alter the character of this special neighborhood,” Brad Hoylman, chairman of the community board, told the Planning Commission in April.
NYU President John Sexton told City Council members the institution needed the added facilities to “decompress the student population and faculty,” which he said have grown over the past 30 years as the school emerged as an international research center.
One of the proposed structures, the 790,000-square-foot Zipper Building, would combine student and faculty housing, classrooms, a gymnasium and street-level retail space south of Washington Square.
“We understood that when we decided to do this building where we’re doing it, there would be faculty opposition because this is where they live,” Sexton said. Most faculty members agree that the university needs to expand, just not near where they live, Sexton told the council.
Among the project’s economic benefits, Sexton promised, would be 18,200 construction jobs, 2,600 long-term employment opportunities, $490 million in economic output and almost $27 million a year in taxes over 20 years.
Beyond those benefits, he said, “there is a clear consensus among our city’s leaders and leading thinkers about the important linkage between higher education and the economy, and between the economy and New York City’s future well-being.”
Sexton said that as a law school dean and university president, he has resided in Greenwich Village for 30 years, and viewed the university’s location as an asset that attracts top students and faculty.
The argument didn’t impress some council members.
“The amount of density that NYU has proposed is out of scale with the surrounding community,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood and described the plan as “unacceptable in its current form.”
Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, a Democrat from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, told Sexton “the proposal seems too dense, too big, tall, too much.” She told him she hopes the council can work with him to modify the project.
She noted the neighborhood’s character and told Sexton, “there is a sense that you are overwhelming it.”