By Danielle Tcholakian
EAST VILLAGE — New York University should go back to the drawing board after a State Supreme Court decision blocked most of the school's controversial expansion plan, elected officials and preservationists urged at a meeting Friday.
The community leaders — joined by actor John Leguizamo — gathered at the 11th Street headquarters of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to strategize in the wake of the court ruling, aiming to prevent NYU from appealing it.
Their goal is to extend "an olive branch" to NYU, and convince the university to scrap its plans to build towers on former park space, said Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the pro bono lawyer representing the residents.
"Absent a settlement, the war in the courts will continue and fester," Walden said.
The decision handed down by Judge Donna Mills on Jan. 7 found that the city wrongly gave away public parkland to the school. Her ruling allows NYU to move forward with one of the four buildings in its $6 billion expansion plan, but said NYU must get approval from the State Legislature for the remaining three.
Opponents of the plan declared the decision a major victory, saying it requires NYU to fully rethink its proposal and start over on getting public approvals.
"NYU must go back to square one and present a different plan that does not include these open space elements," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case against NYU. "They must go back and start from the beginning."
NYU officials have previously said the school will appeal Mills' decision while also moving forward with the parts of the original plan that are still allowed under the ruling.
In response to the press conference, NYU spokesman John Beckman released a four-paragraph statement saying the university's plans have broad support and will move ahead.
"The reality is that NYU's plan won the support of the city's editorial boards, was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, and was upheld by the courts in almost every respect," Beckman said in the statement.
"The reality is that this is a good plan: it allows NYU to put needed academic facilities on blocks long dominated by large towers, on property NYU has owned for decades, and in ways that create beautiful new green spaces for the public; it creates thousands of new jobs; and it helps NYU maintain its edge as a top university."
At the press conference, Leguizamo, introduced by Walden as "a Villager first, actor second," pleaded with the school to scrap its plans and start from scratch.
"Please go back to the drawing board," Leguizamo said, noting that he had come "not as an actor with the No. 1 movie in the country," but as a concerned Village resident. "That's all I ask you, is please go back to the drawing board."
Berman, an outspoken critic of the expansion plan known as NYU 2031, emphasized that the group was not against the school itself.
"From the beginning, we have not had any objection to NYU growing," he said. "The question is how they should do it."