Lawsuit filed to block AMNH expansion

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Local group claims Gilder Center project “would cause catastrophic environmental damage”


  • The American Museum of Natural History’s proposed Gilder Center expansion would occupy a quarter-acre of what is now Theodore Roosevelt Park. Rendering: AMNH

By Michael Garofalo

The next chapter in the long-running conflict between the American Museum of Natural History and opponents of the museum’s Gilder Center expansion plan will take place in court.

A lawsuit filed by a local group that opposes the museum’s plan to build the 200,000-foot center, part of which would occupy what is now a quarter-acre open space in Theodore Roosevelt Park, claims that if completed, the project would “not only result in the loss of public parkland comprising cherished greenspaces in Theodore Roosevelt Park, but worse, [...] would cause catastrophic environmental damage to the area, posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to residents of, and visitors to, the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

The American Museum of Natural History received approval for the $340 million project from the Parks Department in December 2017, following a lengthy environmental review process. Plans call for the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation to be built on the west side of the museum, facing Columbus Avenue near West 79th Street. Museum officials say the center will include new classrooms and exhibition spaces and improve visitor circulation within the museum complex.

Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, the group that filed the lawsuit, argues that the project should have been subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure because it would occupy city-owned parkland outside of the portion of Theodore Roosevelt Park that Community United claims the museum is authorized to use. In its statement of findings on the project, the Park Department found that an 1876 state statute set aside the entire site of Theodore Roosevelt Park for the museum, and “no further legislative action or disposition of property is required for the Gilder Center project.”

Community United claims that in granting its approval, the Parks Department failed to adequately consider adverse impacts that could occur as a result of the project, including construction noise, impacts to transit and pedestrian safety as a result of a new museum entrance facing Columbus Avenue, and the potential release of hazardous materials during construction. The suit argues that the Parks Department “irrationally fails to recognize the significant adverse impacts of the Project, or where it does recognize such adverse impacts, arbitrarily accepts grossly inadequate and incomplete mitigation measures.”

The lawsuit names the city, the museum, the Parks Department and Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver as respondents.

Museum officials aim to complete the Gilder Center by 2021. Community United seeks a court order preventing the museum from undertaking work on the project while legal proceedings are ongoing.

“At a time when science literacy has never been more important the Gilder Center will provide significant new capacity to enhance the public understanding of science,” a spokesperson for the museum wrote in an emailed statement. “We don’t have a specific comment on the lawsuit since we don’t comment on pending legal cases.”

A Parks spokesperson directed inquiries to the city’s Law Department. “The city stands by its approval of the Museum’s expansion plans and its environmental review,” Law Department Press Secretary Nick Paolucci wrote in an emailed statement. “We’ll review the legal papers.”

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