The New York City Planning Commission has approved a modified version of New York University’s Washington Square expansion plan. The university’s 2031 Core Campus plan, which was approved on June 6, calls for four new buildings and about 4 acres of public parks and publicly accessible open spaces. Public hearings and a city council vote on the plan are expected this summer.
The modified plan includes reductions in the heights of the Mercer and Bleecker buildings; requires setbacks for the bulkheads on the Mercer and LaGuardia buildings; and denies the university’s request to use a proposed 26-story "zipper" building as a hotel.
The plan's approval follows heated debate in the community over issues including its size and its potential effects on residents' quality of life. The university’s original plan included the addition of 2-million sq ft of space, which was revised downward, to 337,000 sq ft, in April amid opposition from residents, Community Board No. 2 and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
In a statement after the June 6 vote, Stringer praised some of the commission's decisions, including elimination of the proposed hotel use and the removal of a dormitory on top of the school on Bleecker St. But Stringer also said he is disappointed that the commission "did not ratify NYU’s commitment to eliminate a portion of the zipper building to protect light and air for neighboring residential buildings, nor did it remove one story of university uses below the proposed public school to assist in reducing density-related impacts. This makes no sense, especially in light of fact that NYU agreed to these changes." He said he expects the city council "to correct these mistakes."
Amanda Burden, chair of the commission and director of the Dept. of City Planning, said in a June 6 statement that the commission has heard more than 10 hours of public testimony including both support for the university’s need to grow as well as community concerns. "Our challenge has been to determine how best to accommodate NYU’s physical space needs while at the same time addressing the land use impacts and implications of the proposal," she said.
Other features of the modified plan include: removing commercial overlay for the blocks east of Washington Square; shrinking the dimensions of the Mercer building light well; creating an Open Space Oversight Organization to ensure that the open space remains public; eliminating below-grade academic space beneath the parkland strips to retain existing mature trees in the area; and removing a temporary gym, which will eliminate construction on the university’s North Block until Phase 2 of the project.