Volume 20, Number 51 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MAY 2 - 8, 2008

Computer renderings of the “zipper” redevelopment concept for N.Y.U.’s current Coles gym site on Mercer St. between Houston and Bleecker Sts.

Renderings of a fourth, larger tower for the Silver Towers superblock as conceived by N.Y.U.’s outside planning consultants.

Planners give their final ideas for N.Y.U.’s growth

By Albert Amateau and Lincoln Anderson

At the fifth open house presentation on April 23 of the long-range plans for New York University’s development in the Village and beyond, the reaction of visitors varied from relief to anxiety.

It was a relief for some residents of Washington Square Village that N.Y.U. now favors a plan that would keep the current residential buildings along W. Third and Bleecker Sts., but the proposal to replace the complex’s center courtyard with a one-or-two-story building with a public green space on top provoked concern.

“I’m glad they’re not going to demolish Washington Square Village, but they do plan to take away some of the apartments on the first and second floors facing the courtyard,” said Sandra Schicktman, a Washington Square Village resident. “I live on the first floor facing the courtyard and I what to know what will happen. I want to have the same rooms I have now,” she said.

David Reck, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Zoning and Housing Committee, said that it was “a bad idea” to build in the Washington Square Village courtyard. “I can’t believe they’re thinking about that,” he said. “It’s the last option they should consider.”

But Reck said the presentation last week marked a positive turning point in the university’s engagement with the community.

“Of course it needs more effort. They [N.Y.U.] have a lot to overcome,” he said.

Reck, however, was concerned about the N.Y.U. proposal to transfer development rights from its Morton Williams supermarket site at the corner of LaGuardia Pl. and Bleecker St. to the Silver Towers site to accommodate a fourth high-rise tower in the complex. The plan envisions the eventual demolition of the supermarket and its replacement by a public open space.

“The supermarket is a vital amenity in the neighborhood,” Reck said.

The new open space on the former supermarket site would accommodate uses displaced by N.Y.U.’s redevelopment of the superblocks, such as the Mercer St. dog run and any community gardens affected, according to N.Y.U.

The proposed fourth tower for the Silver Towers complex was also a sore point with Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He pointed out that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering the Silver superblock, with its three towers designed by I.M. Pei, for designation as a city landmark.

“The fourth tower is completely inappropriate; it will never be approved,” Berman predicted. “The whole idea of landmarking the I.M. Pei towers is that they’re in a wonderful space,” he added.

N.Y.U. owns the two superblocks on which Washington Square Village and the Silver Towers, along with 505 LaGuardia Pl. — a non-N.Y.U. residence — are located.

Barbara Quart, a Washington Place resident, was incensed about one option in the plan to limit auto traffic on Washington Pl. between Broadway and Washington Square Park.

“We fought against a proposal to pedestrianize the street in 1992 when they tried it for a while and it was a disaster,” Quart said. “The traffic-free idea is really an N.Y.U. idea to take possession of the street and the park,” Quart said.

Martin Tessler, a former Community Board 2 member and a Washington Pl. resident, was worried that greening Washington Pl. would create a public mall with adverse impacts on residents of the three blocks.

“What’s going to happen between now and 2031?” asked Tessler, adding, “N.Y.U. has to come to grips with the issue of phasing all this development.”

The NYU Plans 2031 were developed over the past nine months with a team of planning and architecture consultants, including SMWM of San Francisco, Grimshaw Architects, Toshiko Mori Architect and Olin Partnership.

The plans are based on the assumption the university will need 6 million square feet of new space in the next 23 years. Up to 3.6 million square feet can be fit into the university’s core Village campus area centered on Washington Square Park, the planners concluded. Other potential growth areas include the hospital corridor along First Ave. between 24th and 34th Sts.; Downtown Brooklyn around Polytechnic University campus, which N.Y.U. is in the process of acquiring, and Governors Island.

In addition, the city’s Economic Development Corporation had been “pushing” N.Y.U. to look at expanding in Long Island City, according to Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. associate vice president for government and community relations. However, she said, the university doesn’t feel Long Island City is developed enough residentially as of now to be a fitting expansion area for N.Y.U.

At the same time, the university and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Community Task Force on N.Y.U. Development agreed on a set of planning principles for development in the larger area between 18th and Canal Sts. and from between First Ave. on the east and a rough line on the west along West St. and Greenwich Sts. and Eighth Ave., which N.Y.U. terms “the neighborhood.”

The Coles Sports Center between Greene and Mercer Sts. from Houston to Bleecker Sts. also would be the site of new development, with retail space on the now stark Houston St. frontage in a new zigzagging structure with stepped-back heights. The lower floors could be for academic use with residential or office space on the higher-up, smaller floors. The planners refer to the new structure’s facade as being shaped like “a zipper.”

The plan for the fourth tower in the Silver complex just west of Coles would be taller than the existing buildings and would be aligned so that, like the other three, it would not obstruct views from apartments in existing buildings in the complex. About 125,000 square feet of air rights would be transferred from the Morton Williams site — which N.Y.U. purchased several years ago for more than $20 million — and shifted just to the east for the new tower, which would be a total of 200,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet in size. Because of its smaller floor plates, the new building would be more suited to some sort of N.Y.U. residential use, according to university officials.

The Washington Square Village courtyard redevelopment is proposed as a plinth and tower concept, with the new one-or-two-story plinth and underground space in the courtyard for academic use, a three-story pavilion on the LaGuardia Pl. side and a high-rise academic tower on Mercer St. side. The park on top of the plinth would be publicly accessible from ramps from LaGuardia Pl. and Mercer St., according to the plan.

Demolishing the current Washington Square Village complex right now, or even within the 2031 timeframe, doesn’t make sense on several levels, according to N.Y.U. officials. Ideally, the site would be razed to create space for new academic facilities and a large public open green space, but this would require relocating all the complex’s residents. Such a scheme realistically probably could not be undertaken until at least 2051 or 2081, university officials said.

Hurley added that a recent presentation to Washington Square Village tenants about the demolition option “didn’t go over well.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on Silver Towers could be held in June. By the autumn of this year the university expects to make a final decision on the options it intends to pursue.

“The designs are intended to be flexible, to create a framework for future development, but not to be proscriptive about the exact shape or program for that development,” said the statement the university issued with the plans last week. “The needs of N.Y.U. will change over the next 25 years in ways no plan can entirely foresee,” the statement cautioned.

For example, the N.Y.U. officials said, the university doesn’t even know if it wants or needs a new residential tower on the Silver Towers superblock. And financial factors will also govern what N.Y.U. can build.

The plans must go through an approval process that includes Community Board 2, the City Planning Commission, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the City Council, as well as the Landmarks Commission.





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