Michael Hiller, attorney for Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, spoke at the protest on Saturday, Oct. 2. Photo: Richard Barr
On Saturday, Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, which is contesting the planned expansion of the American Museum of Natural History into the park surrounding it, held a rally on the steps of the museum. At the event, supporters were updated on the status of the group’s challenge to the museum’s plans. Although AMNH received initial City approval to build its planned new science center out into a quarter acre of Theodore Roosevelt Park, cutting down seven large canopy trees in the process, Community United filed a lawsuit in the State’s Appellate Division, which then issued a temporary restraining order preventing the project from moving forward while arguments are prepared to litigate the appeal.
Michael Hiller, Community United’s lawyer, said that if the City wants to give away public land it has to either go through the uniform land use review process (ULURP) or seek approval from the State Legislature, and it did neither. Hiller said that the City instead falsely maintained that an 1876 statute gave AMNH the rights to the entire park, when in fact it was for only one building, and that each time the Museum wanted to expand since then it went to the State for approval until now, when it claimed it didn’t have to do so.
Hiller also said that an environmental review showed there were contaminants below the ground which would, if planned excavation took place, threaten the neighborhood. He said that the appeal papers are ready and he hoped the court will grant an expedited appeal process which will allow for arguments to be presented in May, unless the restraining order is vacated before then.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who joined Community United recently, was a featured speaker at the rally. She said that she has been living in the neighborhood of the Park since the mid-1970s. She first thought that there was no chance the Park would be impacted by Museum expansion, and that green space and public parks are critical for the Upper West Side. She said she loves the museum but that this is about the park for her, and for conserving and saving our trees. “If the museum wants to build a science center for the education of young students,” King said, “why don’t they build it in a more underserved area, like the Bronx, for example?”
Community United leader Bill Raudenbush closed the rally, saying that it is improper to build in a public park when viable alternatives exist, and that the project was presented with no master plan. “Democracy dies in the shadows,” Raudenbush said. “We need transparency, not backroom deals.”