Henry J. Stern, the longest-serving Parks Commissioner in New York City history, aside from Robert Moses, says forcefully that NYU and the city lied--the city illegally gave public parks to the university. The full press release is below. Show up at court tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb 26 at 11:15 AM, 111 Centre Street between Franklin and White, Room 574, and tell Justice Donna Mills "no" to the NYU expansion plan.
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For Immediate Release: February 22, 2013
NYU Expansion Plan Case:
Stern to City, NYU: A Park is a Park is Always a Park
Former Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern Testifies: City Illegally Gave Parks to NYU;
Assemblymember Deborah Glick Confirms: Giveaway of Parks Without Legislative Approval is Illegal
Today, Petitioners in the ongoing Article 78 lawsuit against various City and State agencies for their unlawful approval of NYU’s 2031 expansion plan will appear before Justice Judy Mills (State Supreme Court, NY County) to ask for a hearing and expedited discovery on their “parkland alienation” claim. They offered conclusive and explosive testimony that bolsters their case that NYU illegally took over, with the City's approval, protected parkland, filing sworn testimony from former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
The case contests the City Planning Commission's and the City Council's decision to approve a massive building plan by NYU, which would radically impact a crown jewel of New York City: turning the heart of Greenwich Village into a jam-packed construction site for over 20 years. Various groups, including a substantial number of NYU's own faculty, including NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP), the Historic Districts Council, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, filed suit because the approved construction plan, among many other illegalities, gave NYU rights over public parkland, in violation of state law, which requires, under the Public Trust Doctrine, that parkland cannot be given away without the approval of the State Legislature.
Here, there is no doubt that NYU failed to obtain legislative approval before applying for permission to take over the parks within the construction zone.
NYU and the City's Law department have claimed that, despite the decades-old use of some properties on the proposed construction site by the public as parkland, the sites were not, in fact, dedicated parks.
Henry J. Stern, the beloved and long-term Commissioner for the Parks Department, filed a blistering affidavit, which puts the lie to NYU's and the Bloomberg Administration's claims.
Mr. Stern’s affidavit refutes these absurd contentions made by NYU and the City, confirming that four separate properties were, in fact, dedicated parkland. In blunt terms, former Commissioner Stern said, “In my opinion, all four of these sites have been dedicated as public parks, either expressly or impliedly, and therefore cannot be alienated by the City without the State Legislature’s prior approval under the Public Trust Doctrine. It was always the City’s intent in continuously making these sites available to the public for recreational use over many years to treat them as dedicated parkland.”
In addition, Stern testified that the only reason the four parks in the construction zone – Mercer Playground (whose dedication he presided over in 1999), LaGuardia Corner Gardens, LaGuardia Park and Mercer-Houston Dog Run – were never “officially” mapped was because NYU itself obstructed the Park Department's efforts to map sites as parkland. Stern calls NYU the “800-pound gorilla…solely responsible for blocking the formal mapping of these sites as parks.”
Stern also attests that there is no formal process for mapping parks, and that many parks are never formally mapped because it’s a bureaucratic process that has no bearing on the status of the land as parkland. Legally, the fact that all four parks have been used as parks continuously, in some instances for decades, is all that’s needed. “These sites exemplify the concept of impliedly dedicated parkland and therefore must be afforded the protections of the Public Trust Doctrine. To fail to do so exalts a quid pro quo, plutocratic form of government, and blatantly disregards the values that state law embodies of accountability and transparency,” says Stern.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick also wrote an affidavit supporting the contention that the City’s approval of the NYU expansion plan amounted to an illegal giveaway of public parkland. “The issue of parkland alienation is central to this case. Greenwich Village possesses among the least amount of open space in New York City, the dearth of which is so acute, that every strip of open space-down to the smallest traffic island- is closely guarded." She further swears that NYU and the City "chose here... to bypass the State Legislature and purport to act on it own authority. In doing so, it has violated State law embodying the Public Trust Doctrine.”
NYUFASP member and 1st Vice Chair of CB2 Manhattan, Bo Riccobono, said that it is well known that many parks in the City are technically owned by the Department of Transportation (DOT). “What matters is their use, not how they're mapped. That the City, and NYU, would claim that that those park strips on the superblocks aren't parks is really staggering. As Henry Stern has shown, it's an outright lie," said Riccobono.
The Petitioners' attorneys, former Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro and Jim Walden, both partners of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, summarized today's filing as follows: "NYU's massive expansion, rubber-stamped by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, alienates dedicated public parkland in violation of state law. For that reason alone, NYU's approved plan simply cannot go forward. We applaud Henry Stern and Deborah Glick for setting the record straight and taking such a strong stand against this blatant illegality."