City Club Legal Challenge to Hudson River Park Trust / Barry Diller “Pier 55” Island Plans

Madelyn Wills, Hudson River Park Trust president, before CB2 earlier this month
Madelyn Wills, Hudson River Park Trust President, before CB2 earlier this month

Earlier this month a significant lawsuit was filed by the NYC-based City Club and two individuals, Tom Fox, the head of the predecessor organization to the current Hudson River Park Trust and Rob Buchanan, a professor of environmental studies at the New School, around the elaborate plans for Pier 55, the Barry Diller / Diane von Furstenberg-fueled and funded project, citing secrecy of the plans which were kept from the public and inadequate environmental review (seriously? driving 547 pilings through the river bottom to bedrock?). I started to post about this at the time the lawsuit was announced; it is important to take a moment to understand the specifics.

You have to wonder about Community Board 2’s role in approving these plans and its Parks Committee’s lack of concern over handing public space to private entities, yet again, and about being left in the dark about the plans vs. demanding public input in a true public process, yet again. (See Washington Square Park & private conservancy.) The we-know-best attitude which fosters the secrecy continues to bother me. This is not how our public spaces should be operated – yet they continue to be.

From Gothamist, Billionaire Barry Diller’s Hudson River Dream Park Faces A Legal Challenge:

A group has filed a lawsuit to block the construction of Barry Diller’s $150 million park on the Hudson River.

The plan for Pier 55 and its 20-year lease were approved in February. Pier55 Inc., headed by Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenburg, would kick in $113 million to sink 300 columns into the Hudson and whimsically suspend the 2.4 acres above the water, while taxpayers would cover the difference. Of course there would be concerts and performances. Venice, Italy was invoked. And so the Hudson River Park Trust, led by Michael Bloomberg’s girlfriend [Diana Taylor], gave the green light.

But the City Club, a good government group, argues in the lawsuit that by approving the secretive project (Diller began pitching designs for the park in early 2012, but the public wasn’t informed until November of last year), the Hudson River Park Trust failed to provide adequate opportunity for public comment, rushed through environmental reviews, and “violated the public trust doctrine by alienating public parkland to Pier55, Inc., a private entity.”

Pier55, Inc. retains tremendous discretion over the use of the new structure, including the power to charge whatever they may want to charge for tickets to 49% of events held in the structures two event spaces,” the lawsuit argues. “The lease… also potentially allows for private memberships to the ‘island’ for permitted events and shows that the new structure is in fact a semi-private event space.”

In addition to the environmental impact of driving hundreds of columns into the Hudson River and the shading the park will create, the lawsuit states that “the Pier 55 Project area will be home to a floating barge, adding to the overshadowed area, and adding moorings and other disturbings (this is slated to be an “actor’s barge,” which will be the size of some mansions).

The City Club, which is also suing to prevent the construction of a mega mall next to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (that suit was recently argued on appeal), is asking a judge to prevent Pier55’s construction until the trust complies with state regulations.

diagram-pier-55-hudson-river-park-2From the New York Times story, Civic Group Sues to Halt Hudson River Park Backed by Barry Diller:

The project won the support of Community Board 2, which includes that neighborhood, but was criticized by many environmentalists wary of building a platform the size of a Home Depot over the Hudson.

The suit argues that the trust failed to conduct a required environmental review, relying instead on an older analysis that did not envision Pier 55, the demolition of Pier 54 or development along the river since then.

This enabled the trust to conclude, the lawsuit says, that building an island and walkways and driving 547 pilings through the river bottom to bedrock was “free of potential environmental impacts.”

“We want to stop it at this time to allow for further public consideration,” said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club.

Two activists joined the City Club in bringing the action: Tom Fox, the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the trust’s predecessor, and Rob Buchanan, who teaches journalism and environmental studies at the New School.

Madelyn Wils, chief executive of the trust, did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

The Pier 55 project surfaced last November when Mr. Diller and the trust talked about it publicly. He hired an architect for the pier and recruited a high-powered group to oversee events, including Scott Rudin, the film and theater producer; George C. Wolfe, the former artistic director of the Public Theater; and Stephen Daldry, the British film and theater director and producer.

But the trust had been negotiating with Mr. Diller for more than a year. State Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, a Democrat whose district includes part of the Hudson River Park, said she had been left in dark about the trust’s plans when she agreed to legislation in 2013 allowing construction outside the historical footprint of Pier 54.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Environmental Conservation still need to approve the project.


And DNAinfo uploaded and posted the legal documents here.

You can read the Hudson River Park Trust bylaws and mission statement.

Photos 1, 3 & 4 from this month’s Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting at which Madelyn Wils and the architect showed renderings to the committee: Cathryn

Image #2: by Luxigon via Architectural Digest

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