Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

In Washington Square Park, toasting their recent court victory, from left: attorney Arlene Boop, plaintiff Jonathan Greenberg, attorney Carolyn Goodwin, plaintiff Fusun Ateser of Disabled in Action, attorney Daniel Alterman and plaintiff Luther Harris, Washington Square historian and author.

Fountain fight goes on; City says ruling doesn’t hold water

By Albert Amateau

The city on Tuesday decided to appeal a State Supreme Court ruling that the Department of Parks and Recreation would have to resubmit plans for the redesign of the Washington Square Park fountain and fountain plaza to Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Chris Reo, senior Law Department counsel who defended the city against the lawsuit to block the park redesign filed by four residents of the Washington Square neighborhood, said the ruling last week by Justice Emily Jane Goodman ignored two years of public outreach and input on the design, which had been approved twice by the community board and received final approval by Landmarks and the Art Commission.

“Washington Square Park is a unique and important public space that badly needs restoration,” said Reo, adding that Justice Goodman’s ruling would hinder the restoration and force the spending of “hundreds of thousands” of taxpayer dollars because of rising construction costs.

But the plaintiffs who filed the suit contended that while the park needs restoration, it does not need the expensive redesign proposed by the Parks Department. The proposed redesign of the fountain — moving it 24 feet to the east to align it with Fifth Ave. through the Washington Square Arch, installing water jets and reducing the size of the fountain plaza and raising it to grade level — provoked considerable opposition from Village residents.

Justice Goodman said her decision focused on whether two major elements of the plan — the placement and capacity of the fountain water jets and the size of the fountain plaza — were clearly revealed to both the community board and the Landmarks Commission.

Goodman ruled that those two elements were not adequately revealed to C.B. 2 and Landmarks, preventing the two agencies and the city Art Commission from exercising their oversight functions. Goodman enjoined the renovation of the fountain and the fountain plaza pending further review of those plans by C.B.2 and Landmarks.

“There is no question that the Washington Square Park fountain has played a significant role in the recent cultural and political history of New York City and of the park, which itself is a historic district,” Goodman said. The fountain and fountain plaza, she noted, have been traditional gathering places for cultural and political activity. City agencies that review plans to renovate and change the fountain and the fountain plaza must take that history into account, but that cannot happen if the agencies do not have complete knowledge of plans, she said.

The city contended that a reduction in the size of the plaza was obvious in schematic designs submitted by Parks to the community board. But Goodman said, “The decrease and certainly the amount of the decrease is far from obvious from the diagrams submitted to the court.”

Goodman also said she was not satisfied that drawings showing jets of water in the fountain provided sufficient information to adequately evaluate the plan.

The suit, by Jonathan Greenberg, Luther Harris, Rebecca Pearlman and Fusun Ateser, also said the plan to raise the fountain plaza to grade level was not adequately presented to the community board and to Landmarks. But Goodman found the department did not mislead either the board or Landmarks concerning the need to raise the plaza to grade.

Arlene Boop, the attorney who argued the case against the Parks Department’s fountain redesign, said she thought the city’s decision to appeal rather than resubmit the two aspects of the redesign to C.B. 2 and Landmarks for another review was unwise.

“It was a political decision not in accord with the principles of openness and transparency,’ she said. “Even if the city takes the position that they did everything right, they could take the plans to the community board and Landmarks and let the public into the process,” she said.

The city has 30 days to perfect its appeal. An expedited appeal could bring the case to the Appellate Division in October.

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