N.Y.U. plan foes say run is a park, doggone it, as appeals are filed
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | In the ongoing legal slugfest over N.Y.U.’s superblocks plan — which has been left reeling on the ropes after a judge’s ruling — last Friday, a coalition of opponents threw another punch, filing a “cross-appeal” in state Appellate Court.
In January, Justice Donna Mills ruled in State Supreme Court that the city had violated state law by allowing New York University to take over three public parks for construction-related purposes during the school’s 20-year South Village expansion project.
The park strips are located on N.Y.U.’s two jumbo-sized blocks between Houston and W. Third Sts.
N.Y.U. and the de Blasio administration filed notices of appeal after Mills’s ruling, and N.Y.U. filed its appeal several weeks ago. The city filed its appeal in May.
The coalition includes more than 20 community members and groups. Their legal brief maintains that the lower court “got it right” in finding that the three city-owned parcels — Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens — are public parks, since the city treated them as such and the public has used them as parks for decades.
The coalition is now asking the Appellate Court to require the city and N.Y.U. to “halt the project, re-examine the building plans and city approvals that were based on the illegal alienation of public parkland, and conduct a proper environmental review that takes the protected status of these parks into account.”
Mills ruled that the state Legislature must first “alienate” the park strips — removing their park status — before they can be used as construction staging areas.
The coalition is also asking the Appellate Court to rule that the Mercer-Houston Dog Run is parkland, too. Mills stated that this open-space strip is not a public park, partly because it charges a nominal membership fee and N.Y.U. maintains it.
However, the opponents will argue that the city “openly intended the [dog run] land to be used by the public for recreation, and it has been used in exactly that way for over 40 years.”
If N.Y.U. is to get its paws, so to speak, on the dog run, to use its footprint for its new “Zipper Building,” then this strip, again, must first be alienated by the state Legislature, the coalition says.
The university’s “N.Y.U. 2031” project called for 2 million square feet of development on the two university-owned superblocks, which N.Y.U. considers part of its “campus core” area. N.Y.U. maintains it can still at least build the “Zipper” — including about half of that space — based on Mills’s ruling.
Responding to the coalition’s cross-appeal, N.Y.U. stressed that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP — the city’s official approval process — for the full, four-building project remains valid. However, Mills’s ruling effectively blocks construction of at least two, and possibly three, of those planned buildings.
In a statement, the university said, “N.Y.U.’s core plan that provides for the university’s academic space needs was overwhelmingly approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council in 2012 as part of the city’s ULURP process. That process included an extensive environmental review. Justice Mills, in her decision, upheld the ULURP process and the environmental review… . The status of the Department of Transportation strips — whether or not they are determined to be ‘implied parkland’ — has no impact on the validity of these ULURP approvals.
“Similarly, Justice Mills ruled that the strip of land that includes the Mercer dog run was not ‘implied parkland,’ so there are no legal impediments to construction on the site of the current Coles gym… .
“As for the…other three D.O.T. strips,” N.Y.U.’s statement continued, “the university respectfully disagrees with Justice Mills’s decision that these strips are ‘implied parkland’ and has asked the Appellate Division to overturn this part of the justice’s decision. … We believe the city should make land available for recreational and other uses without having to permanently dedicate it as parkland. …”
In its own brief to the Appellate Division, N.Y.U. said, “The lower court failed to appreciate the legal significance of the fact that these [D.O.T.] parcels are mapped as streets… . New York City streets are held in trust for the public, and cannot be permanently dedicated for another use — whether as parkland or anything else — without a public review process and legislative action.”
Oral argument is expected in September.