NYU Sues to Overturn Provision in SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown Upzoning that Prohibited University Facilities

Photo, right: David Brand/City Limits

Yesterday, NYU filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the provision in the recently enacted SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown Upzoning + Displacement plan that prohibits university facility expansion in the area. NYU wants an equal opportunity to displace local residents and businesses and build oversized facilities, much as the rezoning allows developers of luxury condos, high-end offices and hotels, and big-box chain stores to do. NYU is only seeking to undo this provision, rather than the entire rezoning, because the zoning that existed previously also prohibited university facilities and NYU expansion. 

The provision prohibiting university facility expansion in the zoning was added by the City Council in response to an overwhelming outcry led by Village Preservation against the rezoning plan’s allowance for NYU and other private schools to build and locate here unimpeded. We argued both that such expansion in this area was undesirable and would damage neighborhood character, and that it ran counter to the purported purpose of the rezoning to encourage affordable housing development, since private universities are exempt from the “affordable housing” provisions (which are actually quite leaky to begin with), and would compete with other uses which could produce affordable housing (especially as NYU would be allowed to develop at a greater density in many cases than other uses that could produce affordable housing). NYU specifically cited Village Preservation’s advocacy as a reason for this provision having been added. The City Council’s approval of the rezoning plan was led by Councilmembers Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, and Carlina Rivera.

NYU argues that established case law prohibits the city from excluding university uses from this zoning area once they rezoned to allow residential use. We already know this rezoning plan was corrupt, based on false premises and data, and designed to do harm to long-time residents of this neighborhood, especially those with lower incomes or fewer resources. As the city responds to this lawsuit, we’ll see if this provision was a mere fig leaf to feign some concern for community character and a focus on affordable housing which was intended to be later removed by an NYU lawsuit, or if this provision added as a result of community pressure was genuine and sound. We are committed to fighting to ensure it stands.

April 15, 2022