Former Chief of Parks Backs NYU Plan Foes* [Wall Street Journal]
Former City Parks Commissioner Signs On To Lawsuit Opposing NYU Expansion [NY1]
Former NYC Parks Commissioner Says City Illegally Gave Parkland To NYU [NYU Local]
NYU & Bloomberg in Cahoots [Jeremiah's Vanishing New York]
* The entire WSJ article is included below.
Former Chief Of Parks Backs NYU Plan Foes
By TED MANN
A former New York City parks commissioner said the city had long treated four parcels of land in Greenwich Village as public parks and had repeatedly sought to dedicate them as such, a claim opponents of New York University's planned expansion said could block the project.
Henry Stern, who led the Parks Department for 15 years under mayors Ed Koch and Rudolph Giuliani, said in an affidavit filed Friday that the city had for decades "either expressly or impliedly" dedicated the four sections on the superblocks between Houston and West Third streets as public parks. Mr. Stern's affidavit was part of a legal effort to block the NYU expansion.
The tracts of land—LaGuardia Park, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Mercer Playground and the Mercer-Houston dog run—would be taken for either the permanent or temporary use of NYU in the construction of its planned 1 million-square-foot development. The City Council voted to approve the expansion plan in July, over the opposition of some neighborhood groups and members of the university's faculty.
In a motion scheduled to be argued Tuesday, the plaintiffs argue the council exceeded its powers to grant control over the parcels to a private developer because the sites had been used as parks, which would have required the city to first get approval from the state Legislature.
NYU has previously rejected that argument. It has noted that the four pieces of land were technically controlled by the Department of Transportation, not Parks, and hadn't been formally declared public parks.
That, Mr. Stern charged in an affidavit, is a distinction without a difference.
"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," Mr. Stern's affidavit says.
There was an "implied dedication" of the land for park use, by virtue of its being open to the public for years for that purpose, Mr. Stern said.
A spokesman for NYU dismissed the filing as a last-ditch attempt to derail the expansion plan, which has won support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"The 40-year, well-documented history of this site unambiguously demonstrates the city's position on these properties," wrote Philip Lentz, the university's director of public affairs, in an email message.
"The hail-Mary pass—which is what the petitioners offered today through this action—is an attempt to circumvent or entirely avoid the scheduled judicial process so the Courts would not have time to review the record. The move only further demonstrates that their case is without merit."
A spokeswoman for the city declined to comment on the suit.
In a brief seeking access to city records to support Mr. Stern's claims, attorney Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor under Mr. Giuliani, included photographs of some of the parcels and noted that some had signs provided by the Parks Department.
The department contributed to maintenance and design of some of the parcels, and Mr. Stern recalled helping speak at the dedication of the Mercer Playground, at which a Parks Department flag was raised, he said in the affidavit.
The only thing that stopped the city from officially adding the parcels to its portfolio of parks during Mr. Stern's 15-year tenure, he asserted, was the objection of NYU itself.
"The only reason these sites have not been formally mapped as parkland is because of NYU's obstructionist tactics and steadfast opposition over many years," Mr. Stern said.
Write to Ted Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org