"Judge Halts Washington Sq. Park Redesign" NY Times 7/27/6
Judge Halts Washington Sq. Park Redesign
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: July 27, 2006
A State Supreme Court judge has halted the city’s plan to redesign Washington Square Park, saying the Bloomberg administration violated the City Charter by failing to notify the public about all of the proposed changes.
The ruling, handed down on Tuesday by Justice Emily Jane Goodman, bars the Department of Parks and Recreation from beginning a $16 million renovation until the redesign plan goes through the entire approval process again, beginning with the local community board.
The proposal must also be re-approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Arts Commission.
The decision is the latest setback for the parks department in its effort to push through the park’s most significant alteration since the late 1950’s, when Eleanor Roosevelt and the urbanist Jane Jacobs took an active role and traffic was banned.
Now the city will again be forced to make its case for redesign, which has inspired impassioned debate in Greenwich Village and includes plans to move the centerpiece fountain about 22 feet so it aligns with the park’s arch and to install a perimeter fence.
Residents have accused the parks department of hiding critical elements of the plan and of acting without sufficient community input.
In her ruling, Justice Goodman found that the parks department failed to fully disclose information about the redesign, including the addition of a 45-foot spray jet to the park’s fountain and reduction of the size of the plaza surrounding the fountain by at least 23 percent. The plaza has traditionally been used as a performance space, and the parks department pledged to a council member not to shrink the area by more than 10 percent.
In a statement, Chris Reo, senior counsel of the City Law Department’s environmental law division, said the city was reviewing its legal options.
“We believe that the court’s ruling is erroneous, because it ignores the fact that the parks department’s renovation plan for Washington Square Park has been the result of more than two years of public outreach and input,” Mr. Reo said.
While most people agree that the 9.75-acre park needs a makeover, opponents believe that many of the changes will turn an open space with a tradition of nonconformity into a cookie cutter park.
The park’s fountain has long been one of the city’s popular spots for residents and tourists — the site of poetry and musical performances in the 1950’s and 1960’s by Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan and of mimes, dancers and hip-hop artists today.
The ruling did not address other elements of the redesign, including the shifting of the fountain and the building of a perimeter fence, though the proposal could be altered as it makes its way again through a second review process.
The redesign was approved by Community Board 2 last year after a series of raucous public hearings. The Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Arts Commission also ratified the renovation.
Jonathan Greenberg, a Greenwich Village resident who filed the lawsuit, which sought to stop the renovation, said that the decision would allow the neighborhood to get another look at the proposal.
“I feel very pleased that there will be some transparency and accountability in this process,” he said.
While the city’s community boards have only advisory power, Justice Goodman said that a board’s role in the democratic process is protected by the City Charter.