State parks officials lied to their federal counterparts in order to turn the landmarked Tobacco Warehouse into a privatized development project without any public oversight, a bombshell lawsuit alleges — and on Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the National Park Service to court for an expedited hearing in the case.
Last week, Brooklyn Heights groups sued the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, claiming that the agency worked with Brooklyn Bridge Park officials to rezone the warehouse so that it was no longer part of the federally protected parkland of Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park. The Civil War-era relic was handed over in November to the St. Ann’s Warehouse theater company, which has a $15-million plan for a performance hall and plaza.
The action was filed by members of the Brooklyn Heights and Fulton Ferry Landing associations and the New York Landmarks Conservancy to stop the transfer of the Tobacco Warehouse to St. Ann’s Warehouse. Federal Judge Eric Vitaliano agreed with the plaintiffs on the need to act quickly, ordering a hearing for next Thursday.
The state allegedly launched a covert plan in 2009 to remove the Tobacco Warehouse from the park completely — all it needed to do was tell its counterpart, the National Park Service, that nobody used the site and that it was better suited as a private amenity even though the warehouse actually has a long history of community support, funding and repair.
In turn, the National Park Service — which oversees all re-designation of state parkland — skirted its review duties by approving the state’s proposal without questioning what it was being told, the suit alleges.
In reclassifying the warehouse as non-parkland, “[the state] was pursuing a secret agenda on behalf of private, commercial interests,” the suit charges.
Foes of the deal were miffed by the alleged “subterfuge.”
“The Tobacco Warehouse is a big part of [the park’s] potential, and a unique community amenity — the process for determining its use must adhere to these principles,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), who slammed the park’s transparency last year. “If true, the issues being raised today are disturbing and call the process into further question; they must be dealt with swiftly.”
Both state and park officials didn’t return calls by press time.