After a zig zag pattern of “good” decision, followed by “bad” decision in the legal fight to hold back New York University from its seemingly endless desire to expand further and further into the Village, the groups and individuals battling the University (and the City) have received positive news: the New York State Court of Appeals will hear their case. The suit seeks review over NYU’s plan, particularly in the realm of public parks and the precedent that would be set, and asks the Court of Appeals to review the previous decisions. It may take up to 11 months for this to be heard in court – but heard it will be.
Excerpted from the press release issued by the petitioners/opponents of the University expansion plan (my formatting):
New York State Court of Appeals Agrees to Hear Case Against NYU Expansion Plan
In the latest installment of the ongoing struggle against NYU’s huge expansion plan, the State’s highest court, the New York State Court of Appeals, has agreed to hear a case that was filed by petitioners in mid-November regarding public parkland. The lawsuit has passed through two lower courts, with differing results. Those following the dispute, especially park advocates, are awaiting a verdict that could have massive ramifications on the way that the City and the State deal with public parks in the future.
On October 14th, the Appellate Division’s First Department overturned a lower court’s decision that would have spared three parks—Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Park and LaGuardia Corner Gardens—from destruction under NYU’s current expansion plan. According to the lower court’s ruling, all three strips are public parks, and therefore entitled to protection, since the public has been using them as parks for many years, making them “implied” parkland, with the City funding, labeling and maintaining them as parks.
NYU and the City counter-argued that those parks aren’t really parks, since they were never “mapped” as parks (a bureaucratic technicality), and are nominally overseen by the City’s Department of Transportation. The First Department’s decision [which overturned the more positive decision of the lower court] would allow NYU to raze those treasured parks to make way for its vast expansion plan, and set a precedent that could potentially threaten countless public parks throughout the City and the State. …
What the Court of Appeals is Being Asked to Consider
The petitioners are asking the Court of Appeals to consider two issues:
(1) that the First Department’s decision actually conflicts with prior appellate court decisions, and prior decisions by the Court of Appeals itself, about this kind of “implied” parkland, and,
(2) that the First Department’s decision, if left intact, will have the effect of abolishing implied dedication—a consequence with widespread negative effects, not just in New York City, but throughout the State.
Public Trust Doctrine
Parks and open spaces are protected by the Public Trust Doctrine, which maintains that the government holds the titles to certain waters and lands in trust for the people.
In New York State, if an entity wishes to develop or remove a parcel of parkland from public ownership and use, it must follow a legal process called “alienation,” which, among other conditions, requires approval from the state Legislature. This was not done [here] in the case of the parks that NYU wants to destroy for its ill-advised expansion plan. The First Department’s decision flies in the face of this doctrine and of its own decisions, and would imperil all kinds of public and green spaces throughout the state; it would leave ordinary New Yorkers with no protection against the removal and abuse of open spaces and parks for development. …
Importance of Protection of Green Spaces
Professor Mark Crispin Miller, President of NYUFASP, said, “Green spaces like these parks play an imperative role in keeping New York livable. We hope that the Court of Appeals overturns the First Department’s decision before it can do irreparable harm to the Public Trust Doctrine. Without the legal protection that provides, we could lose countless other City and State parks to greedy speculators like NYU.”
“These public parks have been a vital part of the Village for decades, and they have benefitted the public in numerous ways. Without the Court of Appeals’ intervention, not only will they be given to a private corporation for its own financial gain, but such a thing could become a common and unremarkable occurrence throughout New York,” said actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo.
Petitioners vs. NYU/NYC
Petitioners involved in the lawsuit include: NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Historic Districts Council, Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association, East Village Community Coalition, Friends of Petrosino Square, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., Lower Manhattan Neighbors’ Organization, SoHo Alliance, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, NoHo Neighborhood Association, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and 10 other individuals. They are being represented by law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher on a pro bono basis.
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