This article was originally published by the invaluabe NYU Local and is reprinted here with permission.
NYU’s expansion plans hit a snag today after State Supreme Court Justice in Manhattan Donna Mills ruled that the city illegally approved construction within public parklands without New York State’s approval. Mills dismissed five other claims against NYU’s pending construction on the two superblocks housing the Washington Square Village, Silver Towers, and Coles Sports Center.
The city’s approval of NYU’s proposal violated the Public Trust Doctrine and therefore allocated three strips of public parkland for non-park uses without proper approval. Now the university must seek the State Legislature’s approval before using these small parklands for the project.
“So NYU has to go back to square one,” said Randy Mastro, lawyer for NYU’s opposition. “Its massive expansion project is now dead, absent State Legislature approval, and that is never going to happen. End of story.”
“This is a complex ruling, but the judgment is a very positive one for NYU,” said NYU Vice President of Public Affairs John Beckman. “Five of the six petitioners’ claims were dismissed, the judge reaffirmed the City’s approval of the project, and most importantly the judge’s ruling allows us to move forward with our first planned project—the facility to provide new academic space on the site of our current gym.”
Justice Mills did not designate the Mercer-Houston Dog Run, running adjacent to Coles, as parkland. Therefore, the university may still be able to follow through with plans to build the Zipper Building, a large structure consisting of many towers.
Yet Mastro disagreed that the university could move forward with any portion of the construction plan. “It is delusional for anyone to spin that parts of this comprehensive project, which was approved as a whole and reviewed for environmental impacts on that basis, could still now somehow go forward without starting from scratch,” said Mastro. “Any such 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.”
“But the petitioners and their lawyers are wrong in the claims they are now making that this ruling would stop us from building on the gym site, or that the proposals must be resubmitted to the City Council through another ULURP,” said Beckman. “The court did not vacate the City Council’s ULURP approval and specifically rejected petitioners’ claim that the street adjoining the gym site is a park.”