AMNH expansion lawsuit dismissed

The American Museum of Natural History’s Gilder Center expansion will occupy a quarter-acre of what is now Theodore Roosevelt Park. Rendering: AMNH
Court ruling clears path for museum to move forward with $383 million Gilder Center project

By Michael Garofalo

The American Museum of Natural History moved a step closer to making its long-planned Gilder Center expansion a reality on Dec. 10 after the Supreme Court of the State of New York dismissed a case brought by a local group opposed to the project.

Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, the Upper West Side group that filed the lawsuit, argued that the city’s Parks Department acted incorrectly in granting the museum authorization to build upon a quarter-acre of what is now public land within Theodore Roosevelt Park.

Justice Lynn R. Kotler ruled in the museum’s favor, dismissing the lawsuit and rejecting each of the arguments put forward by Community United. The court found that an 1876 state statute “expressly authorizes the Parks Department to enter into a lease with the Museum for the then-existing and as-of-yet constructed buildings within the Park.” The court ruled that the lease between the Parks Department and the museum “grants the Museum the right to construct an appropriate building anywhere within the Park.”

The court also found that project met environmental review requirements regarding efforts to mitigate the impact of hazardous materials that could potentially be released during construction. Community United argued that the project’s environmental review was inadequate and that the Gilder Center, if completed, “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.”

Additionally, the court found that proposed measures to mitigate the impact of noise and construction activity “are rational and otherwise sufficient.”

In an emailed statement, a museum spokesperson wrote, “We applaud Judge Kotler’s decision today affirming that the Museum may proceed with construction of the Gilder Center and that all appropriate procedures in preparation for the project were followed. The expansion will significantly enhance Museum education programs, visitors’ experience, and scientific work. We have also made a significant contribution to the ongoing maintenance and care of the park and will of course work closely with our partners to minimize any disruption throughout the construction project. We are very excited about moving forward and bringing this important project to fruition.”

Bill Raudenbush, who serves as chairman of Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, said, “We are disappointed with the judge’s decision, as ultimately this means that the AMNH as it stands is entitled to build on the entirety of the park moving forward. We skeptically and eagerly await the AMNH’s promises of little disruptions to the neighborhood both during and after this project and hope they can live up to their promises, but are also evaluating all of our options including an appeal. We hope our elected officials renew our calls for a master plan from the museum as we firmly believe it would go a long way to assuaging concerns about whether or not they are ultimately being a good neighbor with their development ambitions.”

The court’s decision paves the way for the museum to move forward with the 190,000-square-foot addition, which will include new classroom and exhibition spaces and create a new entrance to the museum facing Columbus Avenue near West 79th Street. Museum officials hope to complete the project by 2021.