NYU has filed suit against New York City because of a provision in the recently passed NoHo/SoHo rezoning that violates the New York State constitution.

“NYU today filed suit against New York City because of a provision in the recently passed NoHo/SoHo rezoning that violates the New York State constitution.

“Without notice or public debate, and in the last hours of a year-long rezoning approval process, a provision was inserted during the City Council’s review of the rezoning resolution that specifically banned college and university uses within the newly rezoned area—an area that already contains or is in the vicinity of existing facilities of several universities.

“This kind of zoning exclusion is prohibited by a well-established precept in New York State law known as the Cornell Doctrine, in which the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has repeatedly held that the total exclusion of educational or religious institutions from residential districts such as this is unconstitutional.

“I want to be clear about a couple of matters.

“First, NYU has no plans or intentions for new facilities such as dormitories or classrooms in the re-zoned areas. But NYC zoning laws typically stay in place for decades until updated, and it is impossible to predict how things will change and what circumstances New York City, NYU, or other nearby colleges or universities may confront over that long period.  So, it’s the responsibility of the current NYU leadership to ensure that universities’ rights under the law are not violated by an unconstitutional provision of the rezoning.

“Second, NYU is not challenging the entire rezoning; we are only asking the court to invalidate section 143-11(a)—the unconstitutional provision affecting universities that was included at the last minute by the City Council.”

BACKGROUND BRIEFING FAQ

  • What are the key elements of the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning? The drive for the SoHo/NoHo rezoning was a recognition that the character of the area, which was previously zoned for manufacturing, had changed drastically, and that a rezoning would better reflect its vibrant mixed-use character and permit important municipal priorities, such as affordable housing, to move forward. The formal rezoning process began in the fall of 2020 (when Mayor DeBlasio proposed a “Special SoHo-NoHo Mixed Use District” that would be submitted to the City’s multi-step legislative public hearings and review process); the City Council voted to approve the rezoning on December 15, 2021
  • Why is NYU suing? The recent NoHo/SoHo rezoning, which was passed in December, contains a provision—section 143-11(a)—that excludes college and university uses within the rezoned area. That provision violates the “Cornell Doctrine”; similar provisions involving other schools in New York State have been found in violation of state law by the State’s highest court and voided.  Proceeding with a suit is the only way for NYU to preserve its rights—and the rights of other educational institutions—under the law.
  • Is NYU suing to overturn the entire NoHo/SoHo Rezoning Plan? No. NYU only objects to section 143-11(a), which excludes college and university uses. NYU does not object to any other provision or component of the rezoning.
  • What is the Cornell Doctrine? The Cornell Doctrine is a well-established principle in New York State law that holds that a blanket exclusion of school or church uses from one of a locality’s residential districts violates the New York State Constitution. The name comes from the original 1986 case that articulated the precedent, Cornell University v. Bagnardi.
  • Does NYU have plans for new classrooms or dormitories in the rezoned area? No. But rezonings tend to be long-lasting (e.g.: the current rezoning was an attempt to update zoning rules that had been in place since the 1960s and 1970s); it is impossible to predict what changes may happen in the city, in the neighborhood, or to the University in the decades to come; and it’s important that the University’s future leaders not be bound by an unconstitutional provision of this rezoning.

 

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