Neighbors say shining school building is not a bright idea


By Julie Shapiro

When Tribeca residents call the New York Law School a brightly shining beacon of secondary education, they are not exaggerating — nor are they being complimentary.

Since this spring, the law school’s new building at W. Broadway and Leonard St. has emitted a continuous fluorescent glow, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The bright light is disrupting the school’s neighbors at 6 Varick St., who say their street views are ruined and the incessant illumination is a waste of electricity.

“It’s like this spaceship has landed,” said Patty Aakre, who has lived at 6 Varick since 1978, “when it was really dark here.”

Aakre, 56, said the law school has been a good neighbor until now, but the five-story all-glass building that opened in August does not fit into the neighborhood. The lights flooding the corridors, stairs and elevator banks first came on last spring, around the time the building was finished, and they’ve rarely gone off since then.

“It’s very intrusive,” said Andy Ostroy, 50, who has lived at 6 Varick for 17 years. “It’s just ridiculously bright. It’s all you see when you’re facing it.”

Before the law school building went up, residents of 6 Varick said they enjoyed their nighttime views of Tribeca and rarely closed their blinds. But G. Meadows, 37, said the glare fills her bedroom and even her curtains don’t block it entirely.

“One of the reasons I moved down here in the first place was because it was dark at night, and quiet,” said Meadows, who has lived at 6 Varick for over 11 years. “It’s just plain offensive.”

The manager of 6 Varick sent a letter in early September to Richard Matasar, the law school’s dean, asking for some mitigation measures. Suggestions from residents include dimming the lights late at night and turning some of them off, and installing shades.

Matasar replied in the middle of September that he would work with a consultant to try to reduce the brightness after 10 p.m., but he said the school is open 24 hours a day and the lighting is a matter of safety for the students. This week, in response to a reporter’s inquires, the school released a statement nearly identical to the letter, saying the lighting consultant and architect had not submitted their report yet.

“We value our relationship with our neighbors, but have a primary responsibility to our students to develop them into responsible professionals,” the law school said in the statement. “This includes a healthy commitment to hard (and even very late night) work.”

Several residents who are familiar with the painstaking process of getting new buildings approved in Tribeca’s historic districts wondered how the bulky glass building ever got built in the first place. But the New York Law School lot actually sits just outside of Tribeca’s historic districts, so the city Landmarks Preservation Commission did not review the design or lighting plan.

Elizabeth Berridge, who moved into 6 Varick in March with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, said the lights are more than a quality-of-life problem, and she and her neighbors are concerned about more than the value of their apartments.

Especially with all the talk about the importance of being green, lights that shine perpetually as bright as the sun “are just a colossal waste of energy,” she said.