The City Club has joined with Friends of Fort Greene Park, the Sierra Club, and Brooklyn neighbors in filing a petition with the New York State Supreme Court to stop the redesign of the historic park and demand that an Environmental Impact Study be done.
As part of the Parks Without Borders program the NYC Parks Department re-boot includes reconstructing of the park paths, staircases, entrances, drainage, and grading at Fort Greene Park and the oval plaza, lower plaza and sidewalk along Myrtle Avenue and staircases at St. Edwards Street and Willoughby Street and at DeKalb Avenue and Washington Park. The work will include pavement, drainage and handrail reconstruction, and new plantings, water features, lighting, seating, barbecues, and adult fitness equipment. via NYC Parks.
The work was classified as a Type II project, which allowed them to forego an environmental study. According to the petition filed “… Type II actions are those actions that are specifically listed in the regulations, and that are of such minor impact, that no further action under SEQRA needs to be undertaken. For example, maintenance or repair involving no substantial changes in an existing structure or facility would be considered a Type II action.”
But this belies the actual scope of the work proposed that would demolish landscape architect A E Bye’s cobblestone and grass mounds to create a wide tree-lined cement boulevard. And then, there are the trees. 52 mature trees to be removed at the corner. Additionally, 31 trees would be removed for a drainage project near the park. There are other trees at risk from extreme pruning and lengthy construction. “The department states that in keeping with their tree restitution plan, 80 trees would be planted in and around Fort Greene Park.” via The Architect’s Newspaper
The City Club first worked with the Friends of Fort Greene Park when a FOIL request to obtain a copy of the Parks Department report including the quantity, quality and reason for tree removal. That report was heavily redacted and it was necessary to go to court to obtain an un-redacted version.
The report revealed discrepancies between initial reporting of invasive trees and those deemed in ill health and contradictions between Park’s own recommendations and the proposed design.
While no one disputes Fort Greene Park needs restoration, turning softscapes into hardscapes does seem counterintuitive for the Parks Department, especially these days.
The hearing in the NYS Supreme Court for this petition will be September 10, 2019.
NYC ‘Parks Without Borders’ program draws controversy
By KENDRA HURLEY October 15, 2019
A group of Brooklyn activists have been telling the media, elected officials, and most recently a Manhattan judge that their borough’s beloved Fort Greene Park… read article from City & State New York
Parks Department Drops Appeal. What’s Next?
On December 23, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in our favor that the Parks Department had failed to comply with State and City environmental rules when Parks determined that its extensive redesign of Fort Greene Park would definitely not cause any environmental damage and no environmental impact statement was required.
Not so, according to the Court, which noted such intended actions as cutting down 83 mature trees (about one-third of the Park’s total), expanding paved areas, and dramatically altering the bucolic character of the Park as designed by Olmsted and Vaux. The Parks Department would have to reconsider its excessively superficial determination.
The Department promptly announced that it intended to appeal, thereby preserving the right to actually do so by filing full-scale factual and legal arguments. It had six months to do that. But shortly before the deadline, the Department recently notified the Appellate Division that it was withdrawing its appeal.
That is certainly good news for the Petitioners – who include many concerned neighbors, the Friends of Fort Greene Park, and the City Club of New York – and for the public in general. But it does not absolutely stop the Parks Department from proceeding with some form of modified project.
The Parks Department’s major defense had been that the plan amounted to nothing more than run-of-the-mill maintenance of the Park. In some ways, that argument was ludicrous. As the Court recognized, removing 83 trees is not ordinary maintenance; expanding the adult fitness and barbecue areas is not ordinary maintenance; adding (as opposed to replacing) new features and equipment is not ordinary maintenance. And clearly the Court did not mean that the non-maintenance items it mentioned were a complete list.
The Department has not announced any new plans. But it has also not amended the description of its intent to carry out the full project as it has long appeared on its web-site.
Several neighbors have requested further clarification from Parks and are pressing Parks to expedite its response.
Supporters of the Park are grateful to the Sierra Club for serving as lead Petitioner in the litigation, and underwriting its costs, and to Richard Lippes, Petitioners’ attorney, whose expertise and hard work have brought us to the point we are now at.