Controversial NYU expansion plan halted by NY State Supreme Court decision

New York City Judge Donna M. Mills blocked NYU’s expansion plan, NYU 2031 on Jan. 7. The decision came after a history of controversy for the plan, ...

Jan 25, 2014

New York City Judge Donna M. Mills blocked NYU’s expansion plan, NYU 2031 on Jan. 7. The decision came after a history of controversy for the plan, which has drawn criticism from faculty and the surrounding community.
NYU 2031, or “NYU in NYC” as it is otherwise known, is a plan to increase the university’s academic and residential space with completion scheduled for 2031, NYU’s 200th anniversary year.
The plan has been developed primarily in response to the rapidly growing student body, which is beginning to place pressure on university facilities. The student body has grown by 24.5% between 1990 and 2005 and is projected to continue to grow at 0.5% annually. Despite this growth, NYU’s physical space has remained the same.
According to NYU’s plan, “NYU 2031 calls for  NYU  to maximize its existing footprint by building within the core,” the area in and surrounding Greenwich Village. However, half of the new space created as part of NYU 2031 will be outside of the Greenwich Village core. The total development intends to expand NYU’s physical space by 1.9 million gross square feet, or 176,516 square meters. This is not limited to housing and classrooms, however; the plan would increase commercial space, allow for a public elementary school and create new parkland.
The issue of green space, or parkland, was what stopped NYU from proceeding in January. As part of the plan, NYU would use incidental parkland, including a dog run and a children’s park on Mercer St, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens on LaGuardia Place as staging grounds for construction. Eventually, some of the parkland would be moved to another site within the same block. What was unclear though, was whether these spaces were parkland by law, since they were actually zoned as streets, a residual marking from the failed Lower Manhattan Expressway designed by Robert Moses in the 1960s. These strips of land were used as parks by local residents and were opened formally by the Parks and Recreation Department of New York. For this reason, the judge ruled that NYU would have to get permission from the State Legislature of New York to proceed, calling the areas of land “parkland by implication.”
It is unclear where this leaves NYU and its 2031 plan. There have been different responses from the judge, the surrounding community and NYU itself. In the ruling, the judge noted that this decision would mean NYU would have to seek the permission of the state legislature to “substantially interfere with the parcels of land which are now used as parks, either by using them as construction staging areas, or by altering them by incorporating them into larger areas of public spaces." The judge did, however, leave open the possibility of NYU continuing with its expansion of the Coles Gymnasium as this would not interfere with the parkland in question.
NYU said in a statement that this ruling would allow the university to continue with its planned expansion, since using the parks as a staging area was only one option.
However, the community groups which were the plaintiffs in this lawsuit stated that the ruling would prohibit NYU from progressing any further with the plan. They said the whole plan would have to be resubmitted through the planning process with the City and then the State Legislature.
This decision is one outcome of a series of controversies which have dogged the NYU 2031 plan. Both faculty and community groups have opposed the planned expansion for a number of reasons. One issue which has affected the relationship between NYU and the surrounding community is the possible rezoning of the areas in which development was to occur. Current zoning legislation would not allow some of the development that NYU is proposing. As part of the city’s approval, under former Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, the blocks between Houston St. and West 3rd Street, La Guardia Place and Mercer Street were rezoned to allow greater development.
To the 35 community groups opposing the plan, collectively called the Community Action Alliance on NYU 2031, the plan is seen as over-building and in conflict with the spirit of zoning regulations which regulate neighborhood development to a certain density. To this coalition, Greenwich Village is characterised by its low-scale development, in contrast to surrounding areas of Manhattan. These groups have encouraged development to occur in the Financial District.
While faculty groups, and specifically Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, echo the concerns of community groups, a larger concern they raise is the lack of consultation between administration and faculty. While the 2031 plan was approved by administration and then submitted for approval, the faculty were included only afterward in the University Space Priorities Working Group that advised upon the plan. The group is expected to request greater space and approve the 2031 plan.
This lack of consultation between administration and faculty is understood by many faculty as part of a wider issue with Sexton’s presidency. As a result, numerous votes of no confidence for Sexton’s leadership were held in 2013 involving some of largest departments at NYU. For example, in March, the Faculty of Arts and Science specified a faculty exclusion from this project as one of the reasons propelling its vote.
Similar to faculty, students have also raised concerns with the plan. One issue has been a lack of student involvement. Victor Lin, an NYUNY student said, “Our opinions are more of an afterthought than an actual voice to be considered.”
Kyleigh Johnson, another NYUNY student, noted that there was minimal communication about the plan at all. Johnson said, “I haven't even received emails about [NYU 2031 proposals] or information sessions.”
Issues of funding have also created opposition to the NYU 2031 plan. Though faculty salaries have stagnated, rising tuition costs and concurrently rising administrative salaries have led many denounce NYU 2031 as an overextension of the university’s finances. For students, it is another example of the corporatization of the university. NYU has stated that the expansion will not be a will not stretch the university’s finances.
Connor Pearce is opinion editor. Email him at
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