New York Council Approves NYU Expansion

The New York City Council voted to allow New York University to add 1.9 million square feet to its Greenwich Village campus for classrooms, a gym and housing in the face of objections from residents and faculty who said it would change the character of the neighborhood.

Council members voted 44 to 1 to amend the area’s zoning and permit construction of four buildings after the university last week submitted a scaled-down plan with 20 percent less density than the 2.1 million-square-foot proposal the city Planning Commission approved in June.

The reduced plan won support last week from council member Margaret Chin, a Democrat who represents the area and had threatened to block the original proposal.

“It is important for New York City and the Village that NYU has the capacity to meet its growing academic needs,” Chin said today before casting her vote. “As this plan comes into being in the next 20 years, I’m confident that it will not overwhelm the wider Greenwich Village community.”

NYU, whose enrollment of 41,000 makes it the largest private, nonprofit university in the U.S., is seeking to accommodate plans to grow to 46,500 by 2031, President John Sexton told the council last month.

Greenwich Village, between Houston and 14th streets, has been home to artists, writers and musicians, including Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Bob Dylan. The actor Matthew Broderick joined hundreds of neighbors at council meeting last month to oppose the plan.

Question of Balance

“This plan appropriately balances the need of an important university to grow and expand, which is good for our city, with the historic neighborhood it’s in,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “The historic low-rise nature of Greenwich Village will be protected and NYU will be allowed to grow.”

The university’s expansion, combined with that of the city’s other private higher-education institutions, has been part of the New York’s economic growth over the past 10 years.

Private higher-education jobs have increased 22 percent, to 106,300 in April from 86,900 in April 2002, according to state Labor Department statistics. During the same period, Wall Street jobs remained unchanged, at about 169,000.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year awarded city-owned land and $100 million in infrastructure improvements to Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to create a $2 billion applied-sciences graduate school that will serve more than 2,000 students on Roosevelt Island in the East River.

Important Link

“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 as he presented the plan to council members in June.

The project’s economic benefits would include 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, Sexton promised.

NYU sought a zoning change to build four facilities for classrooms; residential units for faculty and students; an athletic facility; and stores. Lynne Brown, a university spokeswoman, said the university will maintain about 3 acres of publicly accessible open space.

The four buildings would be built on two Village “superblocks,” six blocks fused into two in the 1950s and 1960s. They run north and south between West Third and Houston streets, and east and west by Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place.

The 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 Planning Commission passed the application to the council after approving it June 6.

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