Museum plan in ‘limb-o’ over tree impact

A design rendering of the American Museum of Natural History’s Gilder Center project, center, which would sit on part of Theodore Roosevelt Park.

BY GABE HERMAN | On Dec. 10, a State Supreme Court justice ruled that the American Museum of Natural History could proceed with building its planned new $383 million Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation on parts of adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park. But on Dec. 19, an Appellate Court issued a temporary-stay order against construction in the park until an appeal on the case is heard.

The local organization fighting to preserve the green space, Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, called the decision “an incredible development” in announcing it on its Web site.

“Our legal fight would have been dead in the water, but in a mere matter of hours, our position is stronger than ever,” the statement said.

“We regard the order as incredibly significant,” said Community United lawyer Michael Hiller. “This is a recognition by the court that the interests of preserving the green space far outweigh any effort by the museum to act quickly to start doing more work in the park.”

The Gilder Center would use one-quarter acre of the park, which totals 17.5 acres. The museum currently occupies 7.7 acres within the park. Some of the dispute has involved trees that would be lost due to the construction work for the project.

The museum sent a statement to Manhattan Express in response to the temporary-stay order:

“The Museum is confident that Judge Kotler’s December 10, 2018, clear decision on the merits, which dismissed the entire case, will be affirmed on appeal, the museum said. “Yesterday’s interim stay order is essentially confined to seven trees. The Museum will continue to focus on the numerous aspects of the project that are already moving forward and on its commitment to bringing to New Yorkers and visitors from around the world the expanded educational and scientific resources made possible by the Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation.”

The area of Theodore Roosevelt Park, seen in a fall photo, where the American Museum of Natural History seeks to expand.

Hiller called the museum’s notion of the order being basically confined to seven trees “a crock.”

“That’s ridiculous spin. They can’t do any harm to the green space,” asserted William Raudenbush, chairperson of Community United. “It’s par for the course that they trivialize seven 50-plus-year-old trees as being something so casual.

“It’s very unfortunate to be facing a cultural institution to begin with,” he added, “but at this phase, you kind of have to look at them as a developer.”

Community United wants the museum’s proposed project to go through the official city review process known as Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

The city claims the park was given to it in an 1876 statute, according to Community United attorney Hiller. But he said that statute only involved contracts with the park to build, and didn’t concern ownership of the whole park. Hiller said that a few years later, the city wanted to build and went to the state Legislature to ask for permission, and that only in this latest project is the city now claiming full park ownership. The city supports the Gilder project.

Raudenbush told Manhattan Express, “We’re not asking for the moon. We’re asking for them to go through the proper processes as enshrined in the law.”

Hiller said there is no date set yet for the appeal, but added, “At our suggestion, the court will likely set an expedited schedule.”

“If we don’t have this protection, they could do whatever they want,” he added. “They have refused to provide a master plan for the future, which as neighbors, leaves a lot of doubt and a lot of paranoia about how they plan on impacting the neighborhood. And it doesn’t seem to me like they’re considering us at all.”

2 Responses to Museum plan in ‘limb-o’ over tree impact

  1. So lets get this straight: The deliberate denuding of our invaluable urban forest of its large irreplaceable trees remains in progress across this City occurring one tree at a time, unsuspectedly to even of the best of the wise and educated. Whether in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx ongoing deliberate losses of large public trees continues to reduce vital canopy at a time that it is most needed (and where $millions has been spent on new trees to expand canopy). And here in Manhattan, that contains the least and most vulnerable of that large public tree population (found in parks as tree refuges) with their beneficial pollutant-capturing canopy sees to have them cut and removed- all for the advancement of science education by the AMNH. Why then are these denizens assessed as disposable?

  2. NYC's sentient urban tree population is under attack – from Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park with a NYC Parks & Recreations' uninspired and destructive design which will remove 49 healthy mature trees for the sake of design and against the community's will to this cavalier piece of institutional destruction of an invaluable and community-valued resource.

    While the City touts its supposed initiatives and efforts to mitigate Climate Change impacts with one side of its mouth, the other side is busy supporting wanton destruction of existing urban green space, especially green space that is populated by mature urban trees. It must be understood that ONLY mature shade trees deliver the Ecosystem Services (ES) benefits that are critical to the City's residents. Mature urban trees are the most cost-effective mechanism for delivering those essential, life-supporting benefits. HOW DARE THE CITY FACILITATE AMNH'S DESTRUCTION OF TAXPAYER-PAID RESOURCES THAT BENEFIT ALL OF OUR WELL-BEING?!!! In this day and age, when we absolutely know that Climate Change is already today's reality, a City that conducts forked tongue business and facilitates the reduction of essential ES benefits needs to be stopped in its tracks. NO MORE CITY-INSPIRED DESTRUCTION OF URBAN TREES AND PARKS.

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