Court order limits AMNH expansion work

A local group challenging the American Museum of Natural History's Gilder Center expansion project has appealed a lower court's decision to dismiss its lawsuit. Rendering: AMNH
Museum barred from removing canopy trees in Theodore Roosevelt Park during appeal of Gilder Center lawsuit
By Michael Garofalo

Weeks after a judge dismissed an Upper West Side group's lawsuit challenging the American Museum of Natural History's planned Gilder Center expansion, a higher court has ordered that the museum limit work on the project pending the outcome of the group's appeal.

Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, the group that filed the lawsuit, argues that the city acted incorrectly in authorizing the museum to build the 190,000-square-foot expansion, part of which would occupy what is now public land within Theodore Roosevelt Park.

In a Dec. 10 ruling, Justice Lynn R. Kotler of the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled in the museum's favor, dismissing the lawsuit. Community United appealed to the Supreme Court's Appellate Division a week later.

A Dec. 18 order issued by Justice Judith J. Gische of the Appellate Division's First Department prevents the museum from removing seven canopy trees in Theodore Roosevelt Park to make way for the expansion, pending Community United's appeal. The order allows the museum to proceed with certain other planned work at the site not involving tree removal — including installing construction trailers, relocating some park benches and beginning demolition work on existing museum buildings, among other actions — “to the extent that the green space in the park will not be adversely affected.”

Museum officials had notified the public days earlier that work to remove the trees would soon begin.

Bill Raudenbush, the chairman of Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, hailed the order as “a momentous victory” in an email to supporters, writing, “it clearly signals court's belief that our case warrants a more thorough and comprehensive consideration of the many legal arguments previously overlooked or misunderstood by the lower court's ruling.”

In an emailed statement, a museum spokesperson wrote, “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. 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 statement continued.

The Gilder Center expansion, which museum officials aim to complete by 2021, would add new classroom and exhibition space on the west side of the museum, and would also create a new entrance facing Columbus Avenue near West 79th Street.