Broderick at Court Hearing: ‘N.Y.U Has Just Taken More and More’

IMAG0739Samantha Balaban

Opponents of N.Y.U.’s expansion in Greenwich Village, including actor Matthew Broderick, scored a small victory in a packed courtroom today.

As you’ll recall, 11 groups — including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the East Village Community Coalition, and N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan — are fighting the City Planning Commission’s and the City Council’s decision to approve N.Y.U.’s plan to build just under 1.9 million square feet across two blocks. Opponents argue, in a suit filed in September, that the city violated a law preventing the transferal of parkland without prior approval from the state legislature.

Today, Randy Mastro, counsel for the petitioners, argued that the city improperly transferred four parcels of land to N.Y.U. The parcels include Mercer Playground, Mercer-Houston Dog Run, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens.

According to a letter submitted to the court by Mr. Mastro (reproduced below), the city is withholding evidence that it has long treated the property as parkland, even if the land was never officially mapped as such and never formally transferred to the Parks Department.

The plaintiffs in the case want the city to produce documents regarding the matter before a hearing in April that will determine the merits of the lawsuit. The judge granted them permission to argue for discovery in mid-March.

According to Mr. Mastro, Henry Stern, a former parks commissioner, has submitted an affidavit stating that “all four of these Superblocks sites have been dedicated as public parks, either expressly or impliedly,” and that they would have been mapped as such in the 1990s if not for “N.Y.U.’s obstructionist tactics and steadfast opposition.”

DogsAgainstExpansionNatalie Rinn Dogs have been a common sight at protests.

The city argued against the petitioners’ request for discovery. “There is no basis for seeking discovery,” said a lawyer for the city who argued that the tracts were mapped as streets, though he also admitted “there is no dispute that there are some recreational uses for these tracts.” The plaintiffs submitted photographs of signs indicating that the city treats the land as park space.

The lawsuit alleges that “the Public Trust Doctrine, a common-law protection for public park land, forbids N.Y.U.’s plan unless the State Legislature formally alienates the affected park land by, among other steps, enacting legislation and creating substitute park land. Yet the City Respondents authorized N.Y.U.’s plan without any such prior State authorization, in violation of this legal requirement.”

Mark Crispin Miller, an N.Y.U. professor and a spokesperson for N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, said the ruling today was a win for opponents of the expansion plan. He estimated that about 10 faculty members were at the hearing to show their support for the case.

Local residents also filled the courtroom, many wearing stickers that supported their cause. Paul and Marianne Edwards have been living together at 88 Bleecker Street for over 35 years. Their third-floor apartment currently has a beautiful view of the sunset that is threatened by the N.Y.U. 2031 plan, they said.

When they first moved in, “We thought we were moving into a residential neighborhood,” said Mr. Edwards, who was the third generation of his family to graduate from N.Y.U. “This is still a very family-oriented neighborhood,” he said. “But how could you bring your kid up in a construction site?”

After the hearing actor Matthew Broderick, who spoke out against the plan before the City Council approved it in June, reiterated his opposition to it. “I grew up on Washington Square,” he said. “N.Y.U. has just taken more and more.”

Mr. Broderick attended the hearing with the playwright Kenneth Lonergan, who lives in Greenwich Village in a building his grandmother bought in 1947. “N.Y.U. doesn’t own Greenwich Village,” Mr. Lonergan said, “but the part that they do own they’re destroying.”

Below, find a copy of the lawsuit as well as the documents Mr. Mastro submitted in support of the argument that the city treated the plots as parkland.

Update | 7:08 p.m. New York University has issued the following statement: “Nothing changes as a result of today’s hearing. The decision to sign the order to show cause was merely a procedural move. As the case proceeds, the well-documented history of this site will demonstrate that the properties in question have long been recognized as Department of Transportation strips, not parkland. The court proceeding today was an attempt to delay the scheduled judicial process and it did not succeed.”