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Court blocks demolition of East River Park pending lawsuit appeal

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Hold your horses — and your chainsaws!

The Appellate Division on Thursday granted a temporary restraining order on demolition work in East River Park that will remain in effect through at least next Mon, Nov. 8.

Justice Judith J. Gische, one of the five judges on the Appellate Division panel, wrote, “The application for a TRO [temporary restraining order] staying construction pending determination of the underlying motion is granted. The motion is marked expedited.”

The justice’s disposition granting the temporary restraining order.

Gische ordered that the city file its response papers by noon on Fri., Nov. 5. The plaintiffs must, in turn, file their reply by Mon., Nov. 8, at 10 a.m.

Arthur Schwartz and his new co-counsel on the case, former Councilmember and judge Kathryn Freed, are representing scores of local plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency project, which would destroy the existing East River Park in order to raise and rebuild it above the floodplain.

“Getting the stay is a great sign,” Schwartz said. “The city said that serious work in the park would start on Thanksgiving, and Judge Gische was concerned. The city lawyer said that our case was frivolous. The judge didn’t think so, or we would have lost.”

Schwartz and Freed are arguing an appeal on the lawsuit, which lost in court more than a year ago. Their argument is that the only reason E.S.C.R. is being done is to turn the park into a massive levee to protect the surrounding community from coastal flooding, and that, thus, it’s not really a park project per se. As a result, the opponents say, the state Legislature must first conduct an “alienation” vote — which has not been done yet — in order to formally allow East River Park to be removed from park use during the construction work.

In fact, city officials brag that the $1.3 billion, five-year-long E.S.C.R. plan will be the most ambitious urban coastal-resiliency project in the entire world — as in, much more than a typical park renovation job.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and state Senator Brad Hoylman have previously said they strongly feel the resiliency project should have an alienation vote in Albany, but reportedly it’s up to the city to call for one.

Work officially started on E.S.C.R. on Mon., Nov. 1, as hard hats began sawing down the fencing around the park’s tennis courts north of the Williamsburg Bridge. Park activists, including City Council candidate Allie Ryan, rushed to the tennis courts early Monday morning to do civil disobedience, and Ryan and another protester were arrested.

A community advisory on the E.S.C.R. project says that “phased work operations” — including “closures within the park and pedestrian detours to accomodate equipment transport and construction fencing” — started Nov. 1.

6 Comments

  1. Judith Mendez-Maldonado Judith Mendez-Maldonado November 4, 2021

    Wow, what a wonderful piece of news. I am so happy.

    • Ariana Ariana November 5, 2021

      Great news but I do have a question about the price tag. It was announced in 2018 as a $1.45
      billion project, whose budget seems to creep up not down. Why is it now being reported as a $1.3 billion project?

  2. David R. Marcus David R. Marcus November 5, 2021

    Hopefully justice will be served, the community voices will be heard and the beloved East River Park will be saved from destruction by the self-interested forces and local politicians (as in Carlina Rivera, for starters) who signed on to this ill-advised plan and seek to trash the more sensible plan supported by the vast majority of those that are most affected.

    Way to go, Arthur and Kathryn!

  3. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street November 5, 2021

    Hope springs eternal! For once may the Voice of the People triumph!

  4. Maya de Silva Chafe Maya de Silva Chafe November 7, 2021

    This is wonderful news! I am so afraid that our beloved park will be razed by the time I return from a short stay in california w/ my aged mother!
    A few things Ms. Rivera said to me personally when I confronted her, complaining that her vote to destroy the East River Park was a betrayal of US: the LES, which SHE represents:
    1- “Oh, the trees, the trees, why does everyone care so much about the trees? Half of those would be destroyed under the plan that includes a berm anyway!”
    2- Historic buildings: “Oh, the Historical Society only just now came to me with their protests about trying to save those historic buildings!” I say: Well, Carlina, shouldn’t you have thought about that yourself?
    3 – “The main reason that I (Ms. Rivera) voted for the project to proceed as the City has planned is because of the Con Edison power lines that run under the frontage road/bike path alongside the FDR Driver. Even Con Edison isn’t exactly sure where all of those lines run, and we would have to wait for them to get their facts straight and that would delay the project for an unacceptably long time. Also the pile-driving along the FDR would disturb the NYCHA residents too much and force the FDR to close a lane.”
    My response to #3 is 1- The plan that doesn’t disturb the frontage road leaves easy access to the power lines yes. But the plan with the berm would also leave access, it just wouldn’t be quite so easy. God forbid that the power TO WALL STREET is threatened in any way!
    My second response to #3 is: Why are we putting cars over trees and people AGAIN??? Hasn’t global warming, due to too much petroleum use, taught us anything?
    My third response to #3 is: With implementation of the city’s “Preferred Plan” the NYCHA residents will have to put up with much more than a few weeks of pile driving. Try 5 years of dust, noise (and emotional distress!) from sawing down trees, shoveling in dirt (from god knows where), etc, etc. Like, if their plan is somehow magically noiseless and sanitary? Signed – A Longtime EV Resident

  5. LES4ever LES4ever November 11, 2021

    The cluelessness of the good intentions here is heartbreaking.

    The longer we drag our feet, the more likely we are to lose the park — and all those trees you purport to love — to another storm. If you’re concerned about trees, try to remember how many were lost to Hurricane Sandy.

    And if you’re unhappy with the current plan, maybe you should have come to the eight years of community planning meetings preceding all this, and voiced an opinion.

    If you live in the East Village and you’re troubled by the inconvenience of a temporary loss of recreational opportunities, please consider those of us on the Lower East Side who are actually trying to protect our homes.

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