Volume 77 / Number 48 - April 30 - May 6, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

City must show restraint on pavilion, trees, W.C.

By Albert Amateau

The city can now go ahead with the renovation of Union Square’s north-end plaza, but work on the pavilion where the city plans to put a seasonal restaurant is still on hold, according to a ruling on Monday by State Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon.

Last week, NYC Park Advocates, a group opposed to the city’s long-delayed plan to renovate the north plaza and the pavilion, sued the city and the Union Square Partnership and won a temporary restraining order stopping the project.

After oral arguments by city attorneys and NYC Park Advocates, Justice Solomon modified the restraining order to allow the city to obtain permits and proceed renovating the north-end plaza and expanding the existing playground.

But under the modified order, the city cannot remove any trees or perform work on the pavilion, the below-grade basement or on a planned, adjacent restroom building until the issues are settled.

“Stopping the work on the pavilion and the new comfort station is what we really want,” said Geoffrey Croft, president and founder of NYC Park Advocates, regarding Monday’s ruling.

The advocates are opposed to the plan to lease a renovated pavilion to a private concessionaire for a restaurant to be open from April to October. The suit says the pavilion restaurant raises the legal issue of “park alienation,” converting public parkland for private use, which must be approved by the State Legislature.

The city argues that a lease concession to a private operator does not raise the alienation issue.

Chris Reo, the city attorney defending the project, said, “We are pleased the court permitted the city to proceed with some of the work for this important rehabilitation project. While a limited temporary restraining order remains in effect, we are confident in the city’s legal position and hopeful that upon reviewing the papers, the court will agree that this project should proceed.”

The city’s response to the lawsuit says the Parks Department intends to put a seasonal concession in the restored pavilion, which could be used for other things the rest of the year. The restaurant concession would be subject to a public request for proposals, or R.F.P., process and, possibly, a hearing before the City Council’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee.

However, the plan to triple the size of the current playground and locate it in a sunken area around the pavilion has raised objections by the advocates group because of the playground areas’ configuration.

In addition to the city, the suit names the Union Square Partnership, the business improvement district that funded the renovation design, as well as Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and the city’s Department of Buildings.

Joining NYC Parks Advocates are the Union Square Community Coalition; former Councilmember Carol Greitzer; Louise Dankberg, Democratic district leader, and Edith Shanker and Margaret Gonzalez, identified as a grandparent and a parent, respectively, who take children to the playground.

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