The city’s Law Department plans to appeal a state judge’s ruling ordering the Parks Department to prove that their controversial plans to revamp parts of Fort Greene Park don’t require a state environmental review, according to officials.
City legal eagles filed a notice of appeal on Feb. 13 against state Supreme Court Judge Julio Rodriguez III’s January order for the agency to produce evidence that their $10.5 million park overhaul — which includes felling 83 trees — wouldn’t have a significant impact on the neighborhood’s namesake lawn, siding with local environmental advocates.
According to their lawyer, the city opted to engage in further legal battles as a ploy to avoid taking a closer look at the park project itself.
“We would have hoped the city would have gone ahead and done an appropriate environmental review, but they chose to exercise their right to have the judge’s order reviewed,” said Richard Lippes.
Now that the city has indicated their intent to contest the ruling, they have six months to file their appeal, which would bring Rodriguez’s order before a group of judges at the state’s Appellate Court to review the decision, delaying any movement on the park even further, according to Lippes.
A group of residents under the moniker Friends of Fort Greene Park sued the Parks Department in April, arguing they were trying to bypass the State Environmental Quality Review Act for their plans by classifying the project as routine maintenance and accessibility upgrades, and one local advocate said the city should just go back to the drawing board and get the community more involved in the design.
“Had the agency worked with the residents we would have had a much better outcome by now and we hope the parks can reconsider and begin a more cooperative process with the residents,” said Fort Greene resident Ling Hsu.
The scheme called for the elimination of 83 trees, 52 to make way for a grand paved plaza at the Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street corner of the park, and another 31 to accommodate a redesign of the area near Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park.
The upgrades also include an expanded adult fitness area, a new basketball court, and tentative plans to replace the old sidewalk at St. Edwards Street, and the judge specifically noted in his decision that the Department failed to explain why those aspects were only minor maintenance and repairs.
The Fort Greene residents group previously successfully sued the agency, when a judge ruled that the Department had lied about the health of dozens of the trees to advance their plan.