Happy New Year to all. As ever, we hope it will be a good one.
We started out the year here by getting the court’s answer to the question, “if it looks like a park, acts like a park and is used like a park, is it really a park?” The answer was a resounding yes, and with that, on January 7th, the court struck down as illegal the giveaway of parcels of parkland in Greenwich Village to NYU as part of the university’s plan to implement the ludicrous, overblown, unneeded and unwanted 2031 expansion plan.
The struggle against NYU’s plan has been ongoing, and the lawsuit, filed last year by our client, NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan and other individuals and groups, hoped to stop it from squashing what’s left of the Village.
NYU’s attempt to push through their own super-sized expansion plan during the Bloomberg years, was indicative of a larger problem, one that has effected neighborhoods in all boroughs. During Bloomberg’s time in office, developers had, more or less, free reign in NYC, and there was not one development plan that the administration didn’t wholeheartedly back. And there appeared nothing that the administration wouldn’t do to make sure big developments happened, no matter what the community or anyone else had to say.
This latest attempt to take away parkland from the people of NYC – a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine – isn’t the first. In 2011, the City, along with the State and Federal government, tried to take away park space in Brooklyn – the Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park – and give it to an arts organization for private development. In that case, the court ruled in a similar way; the Warehouse had actually been included on the park’s map, but the government entities declared that it was a mistake. Fortunately, that paper thin excuse didn’t get by the court. In the end, the Tobacco Warehouse was given over to private development, but, as required by the law, the park had to go through what’s called an “alienation” process. A new, equivalent parcel of land had to be found and given to the park to make up for giving the Tobacco Warehouse to a private arts organization and, at the end of the day, approval to remove the Warehouse has to be approved by the state legislature. Although many people are still unhappy that the Tobacco Warehouse will no longer be part of the public park, at least, because of the lawsuit, the park will now be given an equivalent amount of land nearby.
These are just two cases that we know of (because we had/have clients in both suits), and there may be even more.
It’s a sad day when the dwindling resources of the public at large are no longer protected and can be snatched away at any time. The corporatization of everything continues, and, in these cases and so many others, is aided and abetted by those in public office.
However, the firm decision of the court in both instances has been extremely hopeful. While we still don’t know what will happen with the NYU expansion plan, at least three strips of parkland there have been saved from the bulldozers.
We hope the court’s decisions will set a new standard for the protection of public space in our City.