Court dismisses late challenge to Museum’s renovation plans

Opponents filed claim 31 months too late. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which leases the land in Central Park from Parks under an 1871 directive of the state legislature, proposed to renovate the museum in 2000 and presented a detailed plan to Parks and Landmarks. The plan called for a new loading dock, the addition of public cafeterias and new auditoriums. Parks Commissioner Henry Stern signed off on the plan in December 2002, noting that the proposal would not expand the museum beyond its existing footprint, and Landmarks approved in early 2001. Due to September 11th, the Museum scaled back its plans, reducing the proposed addition from 200,000 to 40,000 sq.ft. and abandoning the loading dock plan.

After the Museum started work, the Metropolitan Museum Historic District Coalition, a group of Upper East Side residents concerned about the renovation’s potential traffic, pollution and safety problems, sent a letter to the Museum and the City, complaining that the Museum’s renovation work violated a long-standing commitment against expansion onto additional Parks land. The Museum responded by letter in July of 2003.

MMHDC then filed an article 78 petition, in November 2003 against the Museum and the City, arguing that the renovation plans necessitated environmental review and requesting, under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, that the Museum produce documents. The lower court dismissed the claim as time-barred because it was not filed within four months of Parks approval in 2000. Further, the court found that no legal issues remained since the Museum had completed most of the renovation. The Museum was not a government agency subject to state FOIL requests.

On appeal, MMHDC argued that the July 2003 letter from the Museum, instead of Parks 2000 approval, should start the four-month clock. The First Department affirmed the lower court, finding that the four-month clock began with Parks’ approval. Additionally, since the Museum is privately-funded, no City employees sit on its board, and its budget is not subject to City review or approval, it is not an agency subject to freedom of information requests.

In re Metropolitan Museum Historic District Coalition v.De Montebello, 2005 NY Slip Op 04344, May 31, 2005 (1st Dep’t) (Attorneys: Michael S. Hiller, for MMHDC; Michael B. Gerrard, Richard Webster, for the Met; Michael A. Cardozo, Ralph Janzen, Kristen M. Helmers, for City).

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