Fordham Expansion

In 2005, Fordham University announced plans to expand its Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan to serve over 10,000 students. The University’s student population has outgrown this campus, which was originally built to accommodate 3,500 students but managed to serve 8,000 students in the 2007 academic year.

The campus currently includes most of the superblock between 60th and 62nd Streets and Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, which was given to the University by the City for $2.5 million through a Robert Moses urban renewal program. Fordham has pursued new development of the space since their urban renewal agreement with the City ended in 2006. The University hopes to begin the proposed 25 years of construction by the end of 2009.

The original expansion plan called for just over 2.3 million square feet of new development. Fordham plans to build several new high-rise dormitories and a new law school, as well as new classroom space that would expand academic space by 1.1 million square feet.

Under the proposal, much of the development will occur on the perimeter of the site. Father McShane, Fordham’s president, told the New York Times that construction around the perimeter is needed to “maintain at the center of campus the green space that has been so much a community resource for the last 40 years.”

The Department of City Planning (DCP) issued a Notice of Completion for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in November of 2008, beginning the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) of the project.

Local residents and several local politicians expressed concern about the height, bulk, and proximity of the development to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Community Board 7 stated that they believe the plan as envisioned would create a negative “fortress-like” feeling.

The plans would not require any zoning changes and Fordham insists that they will neither extend beyond their current footprint nor displace any local businesses or residents. However, the large size of the planned buildings and concomitant parking spaces necessitate city approvals of special permits to waive setback, height, minimum distance, and accessory parking restrictions.

On January 21, 2009, Community Board 7 voted to disapprove of Fordham’s application for special permits. The disapproval of the CB is only advisory, as the final decisions are made by City Council and the Department of City Planning. A community group, Fordham Neighbors United, hired an attorney, lobbyists, and public relations representatives to oppose the plans, arguing that the proposed development imposes unacceptable levels of density.

The University disagreed, suggesting that the desperately needed expansion of academic and dormitory space will fit the existing density of the neighborhood. As the ULURP process continued, Fordham, working with community groups and the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, agreed to downsize some of their expansion plans cutting nearly 206,000 square feet of space and eliminating some parking.

Fordham’s expansion plan also involves selling or leasing two corner parcels along Amsterdam Avenue for the construction of two luxury residential buildings – 47 and 57 stories tall. Opening these lots to private developers would help finance the proposed development of Fordham’s educational facilities and boost the school’s relatively small endowment.

Community Board 7 and Fordham Neighbors United object to Fordham’s plans to sell off these parcels, citing that the land obtained through eminent domain for the purpose of educational use should not be transferred to private luxury development. Fordham’s attorneys claim that the University’s obligation to educational use of the land expired in 2006 with the expiration of the urban renewal agreement.

In March 2009, Douglaston Development withdrew plans to build one of the new apartment towers. The school expects to engage new developers once the economy improves. As the plans developed, the school has committed to remain open to community dialogue, and the local City Councilwoman, Gale Brewer (D-District 6), expects continued debate about the proposed private buildings.

On April 22, 2009, the City Planning Commission voted to approve Fordham’s Expansion plans. While the cutbacks that Fordham made during the ULURP process were significant, some in the community are still concerned with the scale and size of Fordham’s plans. A deal was reached between the local Council Member Gale Brewer and Fordham, leading to its passage by the City Council at the end of June 2009.

Construction of the expansion is expected to be completed in phases over the next 25 years.

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