As expected, Padma Lakshmi was among those who packed into a courtroom today to hear arguments against NYU’s Greenwich Village expansion plan. This was the first public hearing in a battle for the soul of the neighborhood that has become almost as heated as the hellish temperatures outside Manhattan State Supreme.
“NYU is just a monster of greed,” Anne Pettibone, a long-time Greenwich Village resident and an outspoken opponent of the plan, told B+B. “The taking of parkland is just despicable. I hope the city realizes that they can’t just give away public land to NYU for for-profit development, especially because it’s supposed to be a not-for-profit university.”
Among the other spectators — many of whom wore stickers reading “Wrong for NYC, Wrong for the Village, Wrong for NYU” — was “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi, who showed up clad in a breezy, white summer dress. “I’m just a concerned mother, Village resident,” she told the New York Post. “There’s not a lot of places to play downtown.”
The hearing was a result of a suit filed by NYU faculty and neighborhood groups in September against New York City. The plaintiffs contested that, in approving NYU’s $6 billion plan to expand over 2 million square feet in the superblocks located south of Washington Square Park, the city had overlooked a number of land-use violations, including destruction of public parkland. Opponents see the so-called Sexton Plan (a reference to NYU’s bear-hugging president John Sexton) as the final nail in the coffin of Greenwich Village’s transformation into a glorified college campus.
Today’s hearing centered on the issue of whether or not land within the superblocks slated for development falls under the designation of public parkland. After an hour and a half delay, the proceedings got underway, with both sides forced to cut short their oral arguments due to time constraints.
The legal team for the petitioners, helmed by former deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, set about to argue that four parks within the area were in fact dedicated parkland. Mastro, whose white mustache and short curly beard evoked a summer-ready Santa Claus, began his argument by claiming that the expansion was “disproportionate to the surroundings and out of sync with the area,” and would “cause one of the city’s crown jewels to be lost forever.”
Yet despite the big feelings at stake, the argument itself centered — as most legal arguments do — on procedural nitty-gritty. Mastro invoked the theory of “implied dedication” to argue that the four parks had been used as parks by the public for decade. Meanwhile, the defense argued that the parkland in question had in fact been mapped as streets, not parks, and belonged to the Department of Transportation.
No verdict was reached, with judge Donna Mills asking both sides to submit further written arguments in two weeks.
For both sides, stakes and expectations are high. But for some, even a star-filled hearing like today’s was bound to disappoint. “I was hoping for SJP,” said one young onlooker, surveying Lakshmi with disappointment. “Oh well.”