Volume 75, Number 36 | January 25 - 31, 200

Lawyer sues for Art Commission vote on fountain to be annulled

By Lincoln Anderson

Ronald Podolsky — the attorney representing a group of plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit last May against the Washington Square Park renovation — on Jan. 23 filed another lawsuit on his own behalf seeking to annul the Art Commission’s approval of the plan to move the Washington Square Park fountain and two statues. The lawsuit asks for the Art Commission to hold a new hearing and that the public be given ample time and opportunity to learn about the designs beforehand, and that a temporary injunction barring work on the project — slated to start this spring or summer — be granted.

Podolsky filed the lawsuit — known as an Article 78, a challenge to a decision by a city agency — in New York State Supreme Court. The suit is filed against Mayor Bloomberg; Joyce Frank Menschel, the Art Commission’s president; and Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks commissioner.

Podolsky argues that he made Freedom of Information Law requests to Parks and the Art Commission on Dec. 20 asking to see the latest designs for the renovation project, but was not notified that he could see these designs until the Friday before the Art Commission’s Mon. Jan. 9 hearing.

Podolsky’s lawsuit notes that a main exhibit in his case is a Scoopy’s Notebook item in The Villager in which Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson, told the newspaper he would not be providing the new designs to anyone before the commission’s hearing, not even The New York Times. “This is in comportment with the fact that your Petitioner [Podolsky] and others, including experts, were purposely not given an opportunity to timely review the filing in order to give intelligent comment thereon,” the lawsuit states. Meanwhile, the suit continues, at the hearing, new information was revealed, such as that the fountain will spew “a copious discharge of water…[that] will obviously deprive the fountain of its theater-in-the-round aspect recognized throughout the world [and] would deprive the children who…waded in the fountain during summer days this refreshing asset.”

Parks has said it released the latest designs when it did because they weren’t complete until then. However, the plan that was released did not include many changes to phases two and three of the renovation that had been agreed to with Councilmember Alan Gerson.

Johnston said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

The first lawsuit filed in May by Emergency Coalition Organization to Save Washington Square Park was withdrawn and is expected to be refiled after an environmental impact study is done for the project, said Sharon Woolums, an ECO member. That suit cited the project’s impact on the park in terms of its effects on the Colonial-era burial ground beneath it, its historic theater in the round and its ecosystem and wildlife, including squirrels.

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