Testimony of Zella Jones
Member of the Community Task Force on NYU Development
Before the New York City Planning Commission
For the Public Hearing on the New York University Core Project
April 25, 2012
Dear Chairwoman Burden and Members of the Commission:
In 2004 I began the arduous process of advocating for a plan for NYU development. Ad hoc acquisitions, random BSA applications, occasional Landmarks Certificates of Appropriateness, and seemingly spontaneous large-scale sproutings of as-of-right projects were clearly not working to the Community's advantage, nor, truthfully, were they enabling much vision from NYU. And, except for an extraordinary amount of animosity on both sides, not much of long-term value was growing, either.
Finally, in 2006 with even more strong-arming and the invaluable muscle of Borough President Stringer and his office, we formed the Community Task Force on NYU Development and an actual planning process began. Thirty five organizations and elected officials engaged; NYU put together a planning team; we agreed on a protocol and eventually a loose set of guiding principles. I launched and maintained a website - communitynyc.org. We had more than 200 people on a list-serve and 800 people a month checking our web-pages. There were projections, there were rejections, there were arguments, there were self-interests, political interests, practical and impractical interests ... but we kept on talking.
What is before you is not perfect. Had the Task Force been able to assist during the considerations of the Super Block ULURP perhaps more neutral territory and expertise would have advanced substantive compromise, even visionary benefits. But, I am here today, with essentially one message: Don't just say no I Having a plan, making it stick, integrating the Community within NYU and NYU within the Community is the goal here. We do need them and they do need us.
I have attached some bullet points to explain why and some others that suggest ways in which common interests and needs could effectuate an integration of lasting precedence for this, and maybe even other institutional projects the City will consider over the next 20 years.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Member Community Task Force on NYU Development
Why just saying NO is not the right answer:
- Unconditional denial of the NYU plan especially for use on land they already own, will discourage any serious opportunity for a public planning process by NYU—or any other institution—in the future. This is a very dangerous precedent. Dealing with expansion on a lot by lot basis prevents a neighborhood or the City from evaluating such expansion(s) on a long-term basis and may even advance other institutional developer strategies for bending the rules of Eminent Domain.
- Unconditional denial will reduce prospects for growing vital middle-income employment and residencies. Colleges and Universities provide proportionately large numbers of decent skilled middle income jobs: teachers/professors, technicians, security, grounds-keeping/maintenance, scientific researchers, hospital/medical, administrative. (See Crains NY Business top employers and growth).
- Unconditional denial assumes a benefit to contiguous neighborhoods and loning envelopes. This is a fallacy. In NoHo, for instance, dormitories and undergraduate classrooms are not allowed, but BSA variances could break the zoning precedence and already built environment. Increasing the prospect of more dormitories or large classroom facilities in the truly crowded residential areas of the East Village on an ad hoc basis is certainly not a desired result, either.
- Would livability improve if as a result of halted growth on their own property, NYU sold off parcels in order to afford development elsewhere? It is hard to imagine that Related, Trump, Rudin or any other major developer would not resort to maximum allowable development with little obligated concern for near-term quality of life or affordability and certainly not to any significant social service component within the Superblocks. Nor would the development process be more delicate or scheduled.
- Unconditional denial threatens 1055 of this community's dominance in creative and social service profession drivers, a historically important cultural and cross cultural component of village and East Village character: Tisch School of the Arts, The Wagner School, Steinhardt School of Culture Education and Human Development, The Gallatin School, The Institute of Fine Arts, The Stern School of Business, even the School of Continuing Education. As we lose traditional commercial and nonprofit presence in our communities and our existing retail profiles change (currently contributing to Food and Beverage oversaturation), it is more important than ever that we continue to attract students, faculty, international presence and conversations on these topics to fill this void and encourage local entrepreneurism and experimentation in their practice. See Crains NY Business, April 22, 2012.
Suggested factors that could be built into this plan:
- Addressing the needs of an aging population and a simultaneous increase in families with children within the community affected by this ULURP plan. With the demise of St. Vincent's what a true shame not to find a way to integrate NYU's considerable and world-famous medical services/clinics into this scenario—walk-in clinics in ground-floor retail spaces as a worthy trade-off for .X FAR of dormitory use, for instance.
- Families east of Sixth Avenue DO need a Public School. The proximity of voluntary resources of NYU and its intern students—whose services are already utilized extensively by the NYC Public School system—provides an exceptional opportunity for incentivized collaboration and sharing of University resources.
- The current open space In the Core is NOT—for the large part—accessible by the community at large. The sidewalks on Mercer, Bleecker, West 3" and 4th Sts. are a/ready congested with student AND local pedestrian traffic ... and on 4th St., vendors. This is a true chance for the Village to integrate daily life and access across and within NYU's core campus area or to regulate street vending in open and closed space alike. Don't ban a plan, modify it and make whole-community access a mandatory condition for this or any other large-scale plan.
- Yes 15-20 years of construction is disruptive, but the issue that should be addressed is how to manage this well; perhaps as a model for future large-scale development in any community. Perhaps a continuing CB2/NYU Development oversight committee with emphasis on ecological impacts like continuous air and sound monitoring for instance, live on-line scheduling and updates, green planning committees, etc. is worth mandating in the UlURP. let's define sale and sensitive construction rather than ignore that it is an inevitable and hazardous component of congested City life.