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NYU Battle Over Park Space Heats Up

NYU Battle Over Park Space


The battle between NYU and WSV Green Neighbors has entered a new phase. The group members say New York University is infringing on rights they guaranteed in rent stabilization law, which they claim guarantees them exclusive access to park space. The school announced plans to build two new buildings near the Washington Square Village Park, eliminating part of it, as well as increasing public access to other recreational areas WSV Green Neighbors say is exclusive.

After a state Supreme Court judge dismissed their case against NYU, the members of WSV Green Neighbors filed an appeal, according to court documents dated March 26.

Phil Lentz, director of public affairs for New York University, said to his knowledge none of the plaintiffs are affiliated with the school. None of the residents on that block are undergraduates. Some faculty, staff and graduate students do live there, though.

According to the ruling the court has “concurrent jurisdiction,” but Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, Justice Ellen M. Coin is calling for the matter to be brought before Division of Housing and Community Renewal, better suited to handle the matter.

Lawrence B. Goldberg, attorney for WSV Green Neighbors, said the matter is justiciable and he is not happy the case was dismissed. He said the judge has jurisdiction, as indicated in the ruling, and should have taken it. Dismissing the case, he said, indicated Coin was seemingly “not interested in it.”

The ruling also indicates a court-issued injunction would be premature considering this portion of the University’s expansion is so far down the road.

“Considering that NYU’s construction project is currently in its infancy, with architectural and engineering plans not even drafted, much less finalized, this legal controversy has not yet fully matured and is subject to long-term gestational development and a long array of changes that may be made to the underlying plans,” the dismissal states.

Lentz said the expansion plan calls for pertinent construction to begin in 2022.

According to documents filed with the court, the plaintiffs are claiming the park is a “recreational service space exclusively for their use” and take issue with NYU officials for announcing their intention to post signs increasing public awareness of the parks.

NYU representatives contend that since they took ownership of the parks they have been open to the public.

The defendants offer counter claims and testimony from a resident in 2010 who said she was asked to leave because she was a non-resident as well as rules and regulations codifying the private use of Sasaki Garden, a part of the disputed area.

NYU attorneys claim the school has never made a practice of ejecting non-residents and non-residents can apply for a key to one of the playgrounds if they meet certain criteria. The judge’s ruling also states one of the plaintiffs testified to the City Council that the park is used by yoga practitioners, tourists and others.

NYU representatives also said as a result of their expansion plan, a net gain of more than 10,000 square feet of open space will be realized, even though the park space in question would be infringed upon. They said moving other driveways and construction will lead to the additional green space.

NYU is represented by Cooley LLP. The case is listed as number 155507/2012 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a broader challenge to rent control laws, which some say is an infringement on property owner’s rights. Other governments with rent stabilization or control laws include the California cities of Berkeley and Los Angeles, among others and Washington D.C.

Dan Sabbatino is an award winning journalist whose accolades include a New York Press Association award for a series of articles he wrote dealing with a small upstate town’s battle over a the implications of letting a “big-box” retailer locate within its borders. He has worked as a reporter and editor since 2007 primarily covering state and local politics for a number of Capital Region publications including The Legislative Gazette, where he currently serves as assistant editor.

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