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Judge Halts NYU Expansion, Says State Approval Is Needed

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In an unexpected ruling yesterday, state judge Donna M. Mills blocked part of New York University's 1.9 million square foot expansion plans, ruling that the university needs state approval for the pieces that would impact public parks. Mills wrote in her decision that the Bloomberg administration turned over three public parks to NYU "without approval by the New York State Legislature in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine." The ruling had anti-NYU Villagers dancing in the streets applauding the death of the megaproject, but is the celebrating premature? NYU also touted the the ruling as a victory (finally! a ruling both sides can agree on!), releasing a statement from spokesman John Beckman that says, "This is a complex ruling, but the judgment is a very positive one for NYU. [...] The decision reaffirms the ULURP approval by the City Council." NYU also highlights the fact that the judge threw out five of the six claims brought by the opponents.

So why are both sides happy? NYU insists that the ruling will allow them to move forward with the project's largest building, the 1-million-square-foot Zipper Building, which is planned for construction atop the university's gym. The building runs along Mercer Street, stretching the entire block between Houston and Bleecker Streets. NYU officials told the Times that construction of the building, which may rise 26-stories, could begin in 18 months. Beckman said that NYU's next legal steps are unknown, but they are reviewing the decision to "determine the precise impact of the ruling on our ability to implement other elements of the plan."

But an attorney for the opponents told the Times it "it was 'delusional' for anyone to argue that one portion of what had been a comprehensive project could move forward alone." He said that the ruling sends NYU back to square one because a "piecemeal approach would constitute a new project materially different from that previously approved by the city and requiring its own separate environmental review and approval process." In the NYU statement, however, Beckman said just the opposite. "The court did not vacate the City Council's ULURP approval."

City Council approved the plans 44 to 1 in July 2012. The 20-year plan calls for the construction of new dorms, classroom space, and offices on two blocks south of Washington Square Park. Part of the new construction would destroy three parcels that judge Mills determined to be parkland: LaGuardia Park, Mercer Playground, and LaGuardia Corner Gardens. The Villager explains that land has never been formally transferred to the parks department, but the sites have been used as open space for decades—and they sport official Parks Department signage.

While the parkland ruling seriously impedes the construction of three planned buildings, the judge threw out the following claims (as detailed by the Villager): "that N.Y.U. and the city failed to examine feasible alternatives to 2031; that the university's plan violates the Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation Law; that there was insufficient environmental review; that the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) was faulty; and that there were violations of the Open Meetings Law by N.Y.U. and elected officials during the plan's review process."

Either way, the battle for Greenwich Village is clearly not over. It probably won't ever be over.
· Judge Blocks Part of N.Y.U.'s Plan for Four Towers in Greenwich Village [NYT]
· Judge says city broke the law by approving N.Y.U. superblocks plan [Villager]
· Judge halts part of NYU's expansion plan [Crain's]
· All NYU Expansion coverage [Curbed]