NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver Takes Play out of Adrian Benepe Handbook at Fort Greene Park Leading to Lawsuit

Community Push Back Against Redesign, Claim of Dying Trees; Similar to Washington Square Park Contentious Redesign Plan

There are similarities ten years on between what is going on now with De Blasio Parks Department’s unwelcome plans for Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park and what went on at Washington Square with the park’s redesign under the Bloomberg Administration. Don’t we have a “new” Parks Commissioner who stressed he wanted “public engagement?”

Mitchell Silver: “Our goal is to be more transparent and more accountable.”

At a forum at Pratt Institute, “Planning for Parks,” held in November 2014 shortly after Mitchell Silver was appointed New York City Parks Commissioner by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the new commissioner remarked, “our goal is to be more transparent and more accountable.”

The emphasis of Silver’s talk that night was very much community involvement and engagement. Yet many current staff remain from the Michael Bloomberg Administration (such as Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro and his Chief of Staff Steve Simon); they learned from former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe who, at the behest of his boss, often disrespected communities. So, we have a bit of a contradiction here.

Presently, at Fort Greene Park, there is a battle against Commissioner Silver’s plans, with push-back by neighbors and park users. Since they have not been listened to or heard, they have now filed a lawsuit.

Activist: “Basically cutting down healthy trees for the purpose of a redesign”

The play by Commissioner Silver’s agency to insist that trees are dead or dying as a reason to remove them is straight out of the Bloomberg Administration Playbook.

There were lawsuits at Washington Square Park to stop the contentious redesign. At least one lawsuit aimed to save healthy, living trees from the planned construction; it did not prevail. Many, many trees have died, including 14 trees around the fountain, repeatedly planted and replanted, a true political folly, these replaced 40 year old healthy trees chopped down to move the fountain 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

Adrian Benepe, as Parks Commissioner, told this blogger that trees scheduled to be axed at WSP were “dead” or “dying” when that was not true. Those living trees were just in the way of their elaborate plans.

From the Brooklyn Paper:

A group of Fort Greeners is taking the Department of Parks and Recreation to court after officials fibbed about the health of dozens of trees they want to chop down in Fort Greene Park to make way for their controversial makeover of a swath of the green space.

“We found so much misinformation coming from the Parks Department,” said Sandy Reiburn, a member of anti-redesign group Friends of Fort Greene Park, which filed the lawsuit last month. “It is basically cutting down healthy trees for the purpose of a redesign — what other funny business is going on?”

Last year, agency leaders claimed the trees in question wouldn’t survive for much longer while trying to gain support for their plan to refashion a corner of the meadow near Myrtle Avenue and Saint Edwards Street, prompting Reiburn and a fellow friend of the park to request a report by city-hired arborists on the status of the plants — which the locals said showed the trees were perfectly healthy after they received the study via a Freedom of Information Law request.

And after uncovering that untruth, the friends of the park began to wonder what the agency withheld from another redesign-related report on the park’s history and current condition, which arrived heavily redacted after the group submitted another foil request for that document, according to their lawyer.

“Nothing makes anyone more curious than being told that you can’t see something,” said Michael Gruen. “It’s a good report, very thorough and objective — I’m talking what we can see of it — and it is hard to imagine on what basis they removed large sections.”

Gruen on April 20 submitted an Article 78 appeal — a legal motion that challenges decisions made by city or state agencies — to a Supreme Court judge in Manhattan, demanding officials fork over the entire contents of the redacted report that landscape architects prepared in 2015 as the Parks Department planned the makeover of Fort Greene Park, which calls for axing the mostly healthy trees and leveling some decades-old hilly mounds in order to install an open pedestrian plaza leading from the street to the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Shortly after I started WSP Blog, I interviewed Adrian Benepe at a ceremony at Riverside Park:

Part I: My Conversation with NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe. Part I: On Cutting Down Trees May 1, 2008

Part II: My Conversation with NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe. Part II: When city officials spread “wrong information” May 2, 2008

On Fort Greene Park:

Is Fort Greene Park at Risk of Being Washington ‘Squared’ With Proposed Redesign? May 26, 2017

Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park — Home to Two Stanford White-designed structures June 10, 2009

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