NYU sues New York City over neighborhood rezoning

NYU filed a lawsuit arguing that a provision in the city’s approved rezoning bill violates the New York state constitution.


Kiran Komanduri

181 Mercer Street, NYU’s flagship expansion project under construction, is slated for completion later this year. (Photo by Kiran Komanduri)

Aneesh Kumar, Staff Writer

NYU filed a lawsuit against New York City on April 13 in response to a provision in the rezoning plan for the SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods. The university argues the provision violates the New York state constitution.

The provision, part of the plan passed by the New York City Council on Dec. 14 last year, prevents colleges and universities from owning or leasing campus facilities other than residence halls and Greek life housing in the area.

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the provision was passed without allowing for the university to weigh in on its inclusion.

“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,” Beckman said. “Proceeding with a suit is the only way for NYU to preserve its rights — and the rights of other educational institutions — under the law.”

City Council members Carlina Rivera and Margart Chin added the last-minute provision to the rezoning plan a day before it was passed by the City Council in a 43-5 vote. The plan aims to create more affordable housing in the area through the addition of rent-regulated units and the removal of residential constraints on properties. The plan also seeks to provide more support for artists to afford to live in SoHo and NoHo.

A New York City Law Department spokesperson told WSN that the department has not yet seen the lawsuit, but will carefully review it when it is received.

According to Beckman, NYU is not planning to add classrooms or dormitories in the rezoning area. However, the university does not want the provision to restrict the possibility of these additions in the future. The plan was modified by city officials to exclude NYU’s 181 Mercer Street building from the rezoning boundaries, allowing the building to open when construction is completed in spring 2023.

“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,” Beckman wrote.

The Coalition for Fairness in SoHo and NoHo — a group of residents whose aim is to protect other individuals and families’ rights to keep their homes — also filed a lawsuit against the rezoning plan on Feb. 10. The coalition claims that the plan will encourage the further development of commercial buildings and, contrary to its stated intention, limit affordable housing in SoHo and NoHo.

“The rezoning failed to take into account the prohibitive, confiscatory costs involved in converting non-conforming manufacturing uses to residential use,” Jack Lester, the lawyer representing the coalition, said. “It creates such a burden on the thousands of residents that it translates into a taking of their property without just compensation, which government, of course, cannot do.”

The Coalition for Fairness lawsuit argues that the rezoning restrictions — which allow for only artists certified by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs to live in designated housing in the area — forces non-certified artists and some family members to either pay a conversion fee of $100 per square foot or move out of the area. The lawsuit, which will go to court on June 3, also claims that the rezoning violates the United States and New York state constitutions.

Andrew Berman, the executive director of nonprofit Village Preservation, said that NYU’s openness to future expansion can overwhelm neighborhoods beyond Greenwich Village, where its Washington Square campus is located.

“Both the city and the University said they had no interest in facilitating NYU expansion in the rezoning area throughout the process during which this was considered,” Berman wrote. “The lawsuit directly belies those claims.”

Contact Aneesh Kumar at [email protected].