New York University moved closer to breaking ground on a major expansion in Manhattan’s historic Greenwich Village after the state’s top court rejected neighborhood groups seeking to scuttle it.
“It’s a sad day for those of us who care about our cherished public parklands,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer for the expansion’s opponents. “New York has taken a giant step backward in protecting these precious resources.”
The 20-year plan includes 1.9 million square feet of development. In its decision Thursday, the Court of Appeals in Albany left undisturbed a ruling that the plan doesn’t require consent from state legislators.
Any claim that the land was “permanent parkland” requiring legislative consent as opponents argued, was contradicted by “evidence that the city intended the uses to be temporary,” the court said.
NYU has spent the past few decades transforming itself from a commuter school to an international research university. It seeks more space near its Washington Square campus to accommodate a student body that grew by more than 25 percent since 1990.
The effort hasn’t been without casualties. In addition to three years of court fights, NYU President John Sexton’s endorsement of the contentious plan angered faculty and local residents, leading to his decision to resign next year.
Tenants, faculty and local groups filed two lawsuits over the proposal in 2012, when the city council approved it, saying it would cost as much as $6 billion and overwhelm an already crowded neighborhood filled with students, residents and tourists.
NYU spokesman John Beckman said the school will begin intensive planning for the project.
While he declined to offer an estimate, he disputed the opponents’ $6 billion price tag, saying NYU will spend significantly less as it adds four buildings on land it already owns.
NYU still faces potential litigation by residents of nearby high-rise buildings who sought to appeal the dismissal of their own suit. A lower court judge said they needed to pursue their claims through a state housing agency.
Lawrence Goldberg, an attorney for those residents, said his clients will review today’s decision before deciding what to do next.
New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who has led the litigation against NYU, urged Mayor Bill De Blasio to revisit the plan before the city issues permits.
“NYU is illegally using land that has indeed been parkland for decades, and which belongs to New York City taxpayers,” Glick said.
Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, praised Tuesday’s ruling, saying it ensures local agencies retain flexibility to create temporary public green space without losing the ability to reassign use.
The cases are Glick v. Harvey, 103844-2012, and WSV Green Neighbors v. New York University, 15550-2012, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).