Local businesses, including swank Blue Hill’s Dan Barber, come out against N.Y.U. expansion plan

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A rendering of NYU's plan. (NYU 2013)
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Nancy Scola

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A group of 37 Greenwich Village businesses and neighborhood groups announced today that they were forming a new group to oppose New York University's current plans for expanding in the neighborhood.

Small but famous neighborhood institutions like the restaurant Blue Hill New York, Cafe Wha? and Bleecker Bob's are among the local businesses and block associations on the roster of Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, which objects, the group said today, to the NYU2031 plan's "Midtown-like" scope.

Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of the swank foodie haven Blue Hill, is quoted in the release objecting to the plan.

"Blue Hill has been in the neighborhood for over 10 years," he is quoted as saying. "N.Y.U. is an important part of the community but I'm afraid their proposal, without adjustments, will be damaging to the Village."

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The group was started by Judy Paul, proprietor of the Washington Square Hotel on Waverly Place and a member of Community Board 2.

"NYU is probably going to expand," she is quoted as saying in today's press release announcing the formation of the group. "My family has been in business here for 40 years, and we recognize that their current plans would devastate the community. We hope that NYU will, in good faith, negotiate with us and the community to find a common-sense solution that expands opportunities for local businesses, creates quality, accessible open space and adds infrastructure improvements that ensure our neighborhood is not overwhelmed."

N.Y.U. plans to add more than two million square feet of space, partially in the form of several towers south of Washington Square Park, a plan that neighborhood groups like the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation had been fighting for months, culminating in a vote against the proposal by Paul's community board last month.

But the board has only an advisory role in the process; now, it gets evaluated by the Borough President's Office and the City Planning Commission for recommendations that will be submitted to the City Council, which votes on the plan this summer.

Besides the towers, the group objects to N.Y.U.'s idea to add considerable below-ground space, which helps the school meet zoning requirements while, arguably, still increasing the number of people sharing the Village.

The group is also calling for the university to make plans to protect and improve open public spaces, upgrade the subways stations serving the area, and pay for a new school in the neighborhood, "which already has too few seats for the kids who already live here."

Moreover, the locals are expressing concerns about the additional commerical space slated to be added to the Village under the university's plan. Mapping the businesses and groups participating in this new effort shows clustering on the west, and to a lesser extent, south sides of Washington Square Park, where Village streets are at their quaintest.

The group says it is open to working with the school and local officials to to allow the school to "meet its need for growth in the future while still respecting the existing scale of Greenwich Village."

They back a position statement by the Municipal Art Society detailing alternative growth plans for N.Y.U.

"MAS believes that significant reductions in density, changes in the proposed open space design, and additional disclosure from NYU on many elements of the project including the school are essential if the NYU project is to provide equal benefits to the community and the university," M.A.S. president Vin Cipolla is quoted as saying in the release.

In the development of its NYU 2031 plan, the school has been eager to join its fate with that of its lower Manhattan setting. "The University's story is intertwined with the city's story from the beginning," reads school's expansion plan. "Its identity and community are inextricably bound to its home in Greenwich Village."

The school has also argued that the N.Y.U. community is a direct economic boon to the surrounding neighborhood. Using national averages, the school's 2031 plan states that the discretionary spending of university undergraduates comes to $750 per month, or $14.9 million in the aggregate, though they point out it's unclear how much of that is spent in Greenwich Village itself.

Here's a graphic used by N.Y.U. to demonstrate the impact of student and faculty spending in the neighborhood:

In the works for six years, the plan is now in the approval process; but Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood are not the only latecomers opposing the plan.

A group called New York University Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, named for school President John Sexton, recently formed and has lodged objections to the plan.

Below, the full press release:

VILLAGE BUSINESSES, NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS, RESIDENTS FORM NEW COALITION TO CALL FOR RESPONSIBLE PLANNING

Group Calls for NYU to Listen to Community Concerns and Scale Back Proposal

New York—Local businesses and neighborhood groups in Greenwich Village today announced that they had formed Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood, a coalition advocating for a responsible rezoning. Recognizing NYU’s right to expand, the coalition is calling for common-sense solution that expands opportunities for local businesses, creates quality, accessible open space,reduces density and adds infrastructure improvements that ensure that our neighborhood is not overwhelmed. 

  Hailing the Manhattan Community Board 2 resolution, the Municipal Art Society’s position paper, and the American Planning Association’s New York Metro Chapter statements as roadmaps for ways in which NYU could amend its proposal, the coalition—which includes a diverse group of businesses, restaurants, and groups including the Washington Square Hotel, Blue Hill, and the Waverly Place Association —has launched a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/VillagersFSN), and announced a grassroots effort to engage more local businesses, organizations and stakeholders in the NYU rezoning discussion, advocating for a scaled-down, reasonable expansion. 

  “NYU is probably going to expand.  My family has been in business here for 40 years, and we recognize that their current plans would devastate the community.  We hope that NYU will, in good faith, negotiate with us and the community to find a common-sense solution that expands opportunities for local businesses, creates quality, accessible open space and adds infrastructure improvements that ensure our neighborhood is not overwhelmed,” said Judy Paul, CEO of the Washington Square Hotel, which has been operating in Greenwich Village since 1902.  

In launching, the coalition put forward several ways in which NYU could make its proposal more in keeping with Greenwich Village’s historic character:

  • Reduce the density and height of the buildings;
  • Reduce the use of below-grade space for academic purposes;
  • Protect and improve public open spaces; and
  • Provide infrastructure improvements, like improving the subway stations and paying for a new school for our neighborhood – which already has too few seats for the kids who already live here.

“NYU is proposing between 49,000 and 94,000 square feet of commercial space,” said Barry Chatlawi, owner of Fashion Shoppe Express. “This is completely unnecessary. We already have enough vacant commercial space throughout the neighborhood.”

“Blue Hill has been in the neighborhood for over 10 years.  NYU is an important part of the community,” said Dan Barber of Blue Hill New York, “but I'm afraid their proposal, without adjustments, will be damaging to the Village.”  

“We have been in the neighborhood for over twenty years making folks laugh,” said Noam Dworman, owner of the Comedy Cellar. “But the character of the neighborhood is no laughing matter. NYU should limit its expansion in keeping with what makes this neighborhood so great.”

“NYU is an important is asset to community and should be able to expand its campus. But they shouldn’t do it in a way that overwhelms the community and gets rid of open space,” said Rani Marom, owner of the Café Wha?

“As property and business owners in the Village; the current NYU expansion plans are completely out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.” said Vicki Sando, owner of Marumi Restaurant. “We look forward to partnering with other likeminded neighborhood folk to have a voice in this process.”

"We recognize the value of coordination and communication in the planning process,” said Donald Burns, AICP, President of the American Planning Association-NY Metro Chapter. “We appreciate NYU's efforts at outreach in the past and Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood’s invitation to continue the dialogue.  Our members are eager to help facilitate this process to help end up with a mutually supported plan.”

“NYU has helped advance numerous fields of study and is a vital economic engine in New York City; however their growth in Greenwich Village must be compatiblewith the existing built form, respecting the limitations of the neighborhood and its infrastructure. As we describe in careful detail in our testimony, MAS believes that significant reductions in density, changes in the proposed open space design, and additional disclosure from NYU on many elements of the project including the school are essential if the NYU project is to provideequal benefits to the community and the university,” said Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society of New York a leading planning, design, and preservation advocacy non-profit founded in 1893. 

Background  

The NYU 2031 expansion plans date back to 2006. The comprehensive plan, NYU 2031 includes building another 2.4 million square feet between Houston Street and West 3rd Street and LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street.

On February 23, after numerous community residents raised concerns about the proposal, Community Board 2 voted to unanimously to oppose the NYU 2031 expansion plan, the largest ULURP application it’s ever considered.  

Greenwich Village already has one of the lowest percentages of open space in Manhattan.  NYU’s proposal would reconfigure approximately four acres of publically accessible space on the superblocks.  Mercer-Houston Dog Run, LaGuardia Garden, and Mercer Playground would be adversely affected.  

In addition, the subways at West Fourth Street and Broadway-Lafayette are two of the busiest subway stations in the City.   

Founding members of the Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood coalition include:

  • Washington Square Hotel
  • North Square Restaurant
  • Blue Hill New York
  • Waverly Place Association
  • 32 Washington Square West
  • Zinc Bar
  • Enrica Lossi Shoes
  • Mind Boggler, Inc.
  • Sushi Yawa
  • Fashion Shoppe Express
  • T-S Hardware
  • Kinway Shoes
  • Cutting Edge Body Arts
  • L'Impasse Boutique
  • Furry Paws VII
  • Cafe Wha?
  • The Groove
  • The Olive Tree
  • Comedy Cellar
  • The Fat Black Pussy Cat
  • Village Underground
  • Ilana Fine Jewelry
  • DoggyStyle, nyc
  • 546 LaGuardia Place
  • Marumi
  • The Little Lebowski
  • Ponte Vecchio Restaurant
  • Tudor Rose Antiques
  • Economy Foam & Futons
  • Jubilee New York
  • Tatyana’s Cleaners
  • Mercer Street Books
  • La Lanterna di Vittorio
  • Village Postal Center
  • Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies
  • New University Stationary
  • Hamlet's Vintage