Plans to expand the American Museum of Natural History, at Central Park West & 79th St, were halted due to a court order. An Upper West Side community group won a temporary restraining order, preventing the museum from starting work on the expansion, and from removing vegetation from the site. The group, entitled Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, opposes the transfer of the neighboring parkland to the museum. “If we hadn’t taken this case and the museum had been able to take this parkland unopposed, it would have basically meant that the entire park would be set aside for the museum and that would have been the end of the park,” said Michael Hiller, an attorney representing the community in the lawsuit. “We’re trying to prevent that, and winning this temporary restraining order is an important first step.”
The museum has plans to undergo a $383 million expansion, entitled the Gilder Center. The proposed five-story, 230,000-square-foot learning and exhibition space, along Columbus Avenue, would take over a quarter of an acre from Theodore Roosevelt Park.
As reported by Crain’s NY, the court order, decided by NYS Supreme Court justice Lynn Kotler, last Monday, put a hold on construction at the museum until December 11, 2018. Later in the week, on Friday November 2nd, the restriction was reviewed by an Appellate Court judge, who considerably limited the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) imposed, allowing work to proceed as of Monday, November 5th.
The city’s Law Department maintains that a lease drawn up in 1876 between the city and the museum and approved by the state Legislature at the time, allows for the transfer of the parkland to the museum without the public review, known as Ulurp, which would usually be the prerequisite for conveyance of city property.
Opponents to the museum expansion are pursuing a permanent injunction which would block the project and force it to go through a city land-use review process. If that were to happen, the City Council would then have the ability to veto the project. Currently, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal is supportive of the museum’s expansion plan, but that may change if many of her constituents show their disapproval.
On Friday November 2nd, David Paget, an attorney representing the Museum of Natural History, issued the following statement: “Today the American Museum of Natural History won a significant victory that will allow work to proceed immediately on the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. Interior work and other necessary exterior work will begin Monday. For the time being, the Museum will not proceed with the removal of 7 trees pending determination of the overall merits of the case, on which we fully expect to prevail. We further expect the Gilder Center will move ahead as proposed, because both the authoritative legal precedent (from the highest court of New York State, as well as other court decisions) and the civic purposes of the project are clear. The City and the Museum have relied on and acted consistently in accordance with the more than 140-year-old New York State legislation, authorizing use of the Park for the Museum, and lease, and a full, transparent, and open engagement with the public, including hundreds of meetings, public hearings, and town halls. This project continues the Museum’s steadfast commitment to improve Theodore Roosevelt Park and the surrounding neighborhood, while also advancing its scientific and educational mission.”
By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
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