NYU’s Plan Partially Enjoined

NYU superblock development as originally proposed. Image credit: NYU.

NYU superblock development as originally proposed. Image credit: NYU.

State Supreme Court declares project sites to be dedicated park land; enjoins construction. On July 25, 2012, New York City Council voted to approve the NYU Expansion project (See previous CityLand coverage here). Petitioners, including State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and more than 20 other individuals and organizations that reside or are located in the vicinity of the NYU Expansion, filed an article 78 petition challenging Council’s approval. In a 77-page opinion, State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Mills on January 7, 2014 ruled in favor of the petitioners on their claim that the approval violated the public trust doctrine.

Judge Mills ruled that the strips along Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place targeted for NYU expansion were dedicated park land requiring state legislative approval for non-park purposes. Because NYU had not received such approval, Judge Mills enjoined construction of the NYU expansion projects at these locations unless and until the State Legislature authorizes the use of sites for NYU purposes. The three affected parcels are Mercer Playground, a hard surface playground along Mercer Street between West Third Street and Bleecker Street; LaGuardia Park, the landscaped strip along LaGuardia Place from West Third Street to Bleecker Street which is the location of  a statue of Fiorello LaGuardia; and LaGuardia Corner Gardens, a communal garden located along LaGuardia Place at Bleecker Street.

Respondents include Rose Harvey, as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, as well as New York City, several New York City agencies and officials, the New York City Council, and New York State agencies and authorities and their respective commissioners and officials.

The court ruled that, regardless of how public land is mapped by the City, land may become dedicated park land protected by the State Constitution through use and practice.  None of the three contested plots had been mapped as parks. Each was located on land that had come into public ownership in the 1950’s as part of Robert Moses’ plans for highways and urban renewal. Currently, the land was technically under the management of the Department of Transportation, although DOT had long ago abandoned use of the properties for transportation purposes. The Court held that the properties over the years had become protected park land though park-type uses and by virtue of public and private investment in park facilities.

The petitioners, represented by Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro, had asserted five other claims, each of which the court rejected. Judge Mills denied that deed restrictions had unlawfully been altered, or that the City failed to meet its obligations under the State Environmental Review Act, ULURP or the State’s Open Meetings Law.

In an official statement released by NYU, spokesman John Beckman said the judgment is “a very positive one for NYU…and allows us to move forward with our first planned project-the facility to provide new academic space on the site of our current gym.”  NYU believes that since five of the six claims were dismissed the remainder of the expansion can continue.  The petitioners however disagree and assert that the entire land use process for the whole project must begin again.

In the Matter of Deborah Glick v. Rose Harvey, et al., 13844-2012 (N.Y. January 7, 2014)(Attorneys: Gibson Dunn & Grutcher, LLP for Plaintiff; NYS Attorney General for Defendant; NYS Dormitory Authority Pro Se for Defendant; Corporation Counsel for Defendant; NYC Council General Council OFC for Defendant; New York City Department of Parks, Pro Se, for the Defendant; New York City Department of Transportation for Defendant; New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development for Defendant).

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