Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The NYU expansion plan provokes debate, as well as support for expansion in Downtown Brooklyn; NYU urged to set up a community advisory committee

There's another big land use plan/dispute out there: the expansion of New York University, with the main controversy regarding its plans for Greenwich Village, where 2.5 million square feet (of 6 million total in the city) are projected by 2031.

The Leonard Lopate Show yesterday featured a mostly critical (with no NYU rep) assessment of the plan. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman on March 25 gave it a thumbs up-and-down treatment.

Here are some critical views from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (which thinks NYU should build a satellite campus elsewhere in the city), Mark Crispin Miller, and NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, and coverage in Capital New York.

The MAS angle

On the Lopate Show, two critics, NYU faculty member Miller and Community Board 2 Chairman Brad Hoylman were joined by Municipal Art Society President Vin Cipolla, whose organization takes a mixed view on the expansion.

(MAS is sponsoring a panel discussion tonight on the expansion plan, from 6-7:30 pm at Scholastic Auditorium, 557 Broadway at Prince Street. Miller will be at McNally Jackson Books tomorrow.)

Lopate twice mentioned the MAS's criticisms of the Atlantic Yards plan, as if not recognizing that the organization is no longer in the fray, as I commented.

But there is a lesson for the area, as Prospect Heights activist Danae Oratowski commented:
Residents of Greenwich Village who are concerned about the impact of years of construction on their quality of life need only look at the experience of Brooklynites who live around the Atlantic Yards project. Dust, noise late into the night, and compromised air quality are regularly documented by the community on www.atlanticyardswatch.org a website started by residents.

Last year, community groups sued the State of New York and Forest City Ratner, arguing that the extension of the build-out from ten years to twenty five was never studied in an EIS. The plaintiff won their case last summer; the defendants have appealed and decision is expected this spring.
MAS testimony: Neighborhood Context
Principle: NYU must plan for growth in order to meet the challenges of a 21st century university, however new buildings should be designed in such a way as to be compatible with the existing built form, respecting the limitations of the neighborhood, its infrastructure and the existing community.
...MAS suggests that NYU reduce the proposed density by focusing more development outside of the core, in places where greater density would be desirable such as Downtown Brooklyn. The building stock in Downtown Brooklyn is far more compatible with what NYU is proposing to develop in Greenwich Village and is an area where the thoughtful integration of new academic buildings could dramatically improve the streetscape and increase the energy and vitality of that neighborhood.
NYU’s Polytechnic campus is currently located in Downtown Brooklyn and the University is in negotiation for the former NYC Transit Headquarters located at 370 Jay Street
How, per chance, did NYU get its Downtown Brooklyn campus? Through a merger/absorption of Polytechnic University in MetroTech that received little attention.

MAS testimony: Public Space
Principle: NYU should support and encourage community engagement and investment in public open spaces and seek to improve circulation through the superblocks as much as is feasible.
MAS believes that as a general rule, the City should only de-map portions of the public streets that improve circulation or provide an important community benefit.
Principle: Spaces should be designed in such a way as to welcome all members of the public, whether or not they are affiliated with the university.
...This interior space, controlled by NYU, will be open to the public, however “publicly-accessible” but privately owned open space often fails to be a meaningful public amenity due to physical barriers, inadequate programming and restricted hours of operation. 
MAS testimony: Public Process
Principle: NYU should fully disclose and explain their commitment to providing community amenities.
The City’s zoning regulations were designed to help regulate density in order to properly plan for community facilities such as public schools, so that the city’s infrastructure does not become overwhelmed by added density. In recent years deals have been struck to compensate for added density. The provision of schools is used as a trade-off or is mitigation for greater density. MAS believes that going forward schools should not be a part of a developer’s deal with the City; rather school sites should be carefully selected and located where there is the greatest need for such facilities.
The AY parallel

MAS suggests:
NYU should set-up a community advisory committee to serve as information channel for progress on the project and any significant changes that occur throughout the 20-year buildout.
NYU is a private university, but it needs a rezoning. Forest City Ratner not only got an override of zoning, it got significant subsidies and tax breaks. There's no community advisory committee in Brooklyn. And there's surely not, as MAS once suggested, a new governance entity.

MAS Position Statement on NYU 2031_2 28 12

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