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BREAKING: NYU Drops 40-Story Tower, But Here Comes Plan B!

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NYU has routinely defeated those who have opposed the school's expansion efforts over the years, but a 93-year-old man has just derailed the Purple People Eaters' plan to build the tallest tower in Greenwich Village. The school announced that it is withdrawing its proposal to build a 38-story hotel/residential tower on the superblock containing Silver Towers, the landmarked complex designed by I.M. Pei. It was only Monday when we discussed the possibility of Pei opposing the new "Pinwheel Tower" and what that would do to NYU's plan, which needs Landmarks Preservation Commission approval.

According to an NYU statement, Pei has informed the school that he's not on board with the glassy new building. That all but guarantees that the LPC, which would be facing immense community opposition to the building, wouldn't be very gung-ho, either. So it's victory for preservationists in the first big battle regarding the NYU 2031 plan, but here's the thing: Plan B ain't going to please too many folks, either.

NYU says it plans to move ahead with a new as-of-right building on the site of the Morton Williams supermarket at Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place, just behind the trio of Silver Towers buildings. When NYU was trying to win support for its 38-story building, it basically used the as-of-right Morton Williams killer (which is shorter but fatter) as a threat, i.e., if you don't let us build this big pretty thing, look what we'll do! Now they're doing it.

Here's NYU's statement on the matter:

NYU today announced that it will begin work on its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application seeking approvals to build on the blocks near Washington Square Park that are already owned by the University. The University will withdraw its application for a fourth tower in the landmarked section of the southern superblock; its ULURP application will instead include a building on the site currently occupied by the Morton Williams supermarket.

“From the beginning, we sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei’s vision. Some people disagreed with our proposed approach; others agreed. We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself, who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke with him directly in 2008,” said Lynne Brown, NYU’s Senior Vice President. “Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided –that the Morton Williams site is ‘preferable’ -- is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our ULURP proposal.”

NYU bought the Morton Williams supermarket site on the University Village block in 2001, and intended to build there. But as the plan evolved, it was decided that the preferable option would be to obtain permission from the LPC to build a fourth tower on the Silver Towers site.

The fundamental underpinning of the NYU 2031 strategy has been to plan for the University’s future academic needs in a comprehensive plan for physical space that is city-wide in scope, transparent, thoughtful and predictable. While a full half of projected growth is slated to go outside of the Greenwich Village area, the planning also calls for seeking approvals to build on property NYU owns around the Washington Square area.

A full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) will be needed for the approval of the entire NYU proposal as it pertains to the Washington Square area. NYU is expected to file a standardized Land Use Review Application with the Department of City Planning under the ULURP in fall 2011. Not to be outdone, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation's Andrew Berman just put out his own statement condemning, well, everything:"I am deeply gratified that in the face of overwhelming opposition, including from architect I.M. Pei, NYU has chosen to withdraw its plans for landmarks approval for a 400 ft. tall tower in the Silver Towers complex. However, NYU's insistence on moving ahead with seeking public approvals for its alternative plans for a development on the adjacent non-landmarked supermarket site, as well as the remainder of its massive NYU 2031 expansion plan to add 2 million square feet of space around Washington Square Park, shows that the university still does not get it. NYU should be looking to places like the Financial District to absorb its massive planned growth -- where it would be contextual and welcomed by leaders of that community. We will continue to strongly oppose NYU's massive overdevelopment plans in our neighborhood."

So the battle for Greenwich Village is now out of the Landmarks Commission's hands, but it's by no means over. UPDATE: The Villager has a story up explaining that Pei's practice partner (say that three times fast!) Henry Cobb sent a letter to the LPC last week saying Pei was strongly opposed to the proposed tower and preferred that NYU build on the Morton Williams site. The new building will be 17-20 stories and 200 feet tall, with roughly the same 225,000 square feet of bulk as the canceled plan.
· NYU Expansion coverage [Curbed]