- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - New York University says it’s optimistic the state’s highest court will rule in favor of a Greenwich Village expansion plan that opponents contend will squander city parkland.

The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case Tuesday.

Lawyers for NYU, New York City and a coalition of groups that oppose the $6 billion plan battled over the question of whether a handful of strips of land that are part of the project are actually city parks protected from development.

The expansion would add 1.9 million square feet of campus space containing four buildings, to be constructed over several decades.

“NYU is optimistic about a positive ruling … and continues to believe fully in the project to add new facilities near its campus core,” the university said in a statement. “The plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, will provide much-needed academic space that is vitally important to sustaining NYU’s academic excellence and … attracting top scholars and students from around the world.”

Caitlin Halligan, a lawyer for the opponents of the expansion plan, told the court Tuesday that a sign posted on a playground that would be affected by the expansion plan states the property has been formally transferred to the city Parks Department.

But city lawyer Michael J. Pastor said the transfer was meant to be temporary.

In its statement, NYU said it was hopeful the court “will find that the record makes amply clear that the city repeatedly reaffirmed its intentions” to keep the city-owned strips of land as streets, not parkland.

A coalition of community groups, NYU faculty members and local elected officials filed suit against the university in 2012, saying the expansion would destroy the character of the neighborhood.

State Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills gave the opponents a boost last year when she ruled that NYU needed to get permission from the state Legislature to use the parcels of land that had been maintained as parkland.

The Appellate Division in Manhattan reversed that ruling, and the expansion foes then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

NYU said it hoped the court will “recognize the damaging public policy implications of reversing the Appellate Division,” which would put at risk the future of temporary green and recreational spaces throughout the state.

The judges did not indicate when they might rule.

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