Bark wars: Residents sue city again for Fort Greene Park revamp

Bark wars: Residents sue city again for Fort Greene Park revamp
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Call it double jeopar-tree!

A group of Fort Greene residents is suing the city for a second time over its plans to redevelop the entrance to the neighborhood’s eponymous park at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street.

Friends of the Fort Greene Park teamed up with the national environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club to sue the Parks Department this month for allegedly avoiding the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which would have spotlighted the green space’s importance to the community, according to a high-profile lawyer for their case.

“We believe the Parks Department tried to avoid doing an environmental impact statement that would shine a light on the history, tradition, and enjoyment of the park and the surrounding community that would be lost,” said Sierra Club’s attorney Richard Lippes, who has fought for decades against improper developments upstate and across the country.

Lippes argues that the Parks Department misclassified the project to reconstruct the park’s entrance as not having significant environmental impacts and thus exempting the scheme from the environmental review, according to court documents.

But the plaintiffs — which also include the preservationist group The City Club of New York and eight residents — argue that the $10.5 million project would have environmental consequences, due to the department’s plans to chop down 58 mature trees to make way for a revamped grand corner entrance with a plaza and paved walkway to the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.

The recent lawsuit marks the second time the Fort Greene group has taken legal action against the agency, previously suing the Parks Department after the release of a heavily redacted report detailing the project under freedom of information legislation.

About a quarter of the 150-page report was censored, with entire pages blacked out, according to the Fort Greene group’s attorney Michael Gruen.

A court ruled that the agency had to release the full report but department officials appealed the decision at an April 4 hearing before the state’s Court of Appeals, arguing that because they hired an outside consultant, Manhattan-based Nancy Owens, allowed them to withhold certain information from the public.

The agency’s decision to classify the project as not needing a review relied solely on the consultation by Nancy Owens, Gruen found in the heavily-censored report, which he said makes it even more urgent to release those details.

“They’re making a very important decision with an environmental impact and that’s the one that they won’t allow us to see,” said Gruen, who also heads up the City Club of New York.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department told this paper that the agency does not agree with the court’s ruling to release the uncensored files and that it will continue to defend the city’s approval of the project in court.

“We believe that the ruling is legally incorrect and we are appealing,” said Maeri Ferguson. “The City stands by its approvals for the project and will defend them in court.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.