Opponents File Suit to Block Museum Expansion Approval, Saying It Will Cause ‘Catastrophic Environmental Damage’


A rendering of the entrance to the new building.

A nonprofit group opposing the Museum of Natural History’s plans to build a new educational center on its campus has filed a lawsuit against the project, claiming the city approved it in error. The group, Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, has fought the proposal since 2016, because group members say it will cause harm to the surrounding area.

“Unless overturned, the determination, in violation of the New York City Charter, would, not only result in the loss of public parkland comprising cherished greenspaces in Theodore Roosevelt Park, but worse, the project, 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,” the suit says.

The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court on March 15, and lists both the city and the museum as defendants.

The museum’s 203,000-square-foot Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation would mostly be built within the existing museum footprint, but it would also take up about a quarter-acre of the surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park. The city approved the project in December, saying that any environmental hazards could be mitigated by the museum.

The Community United group also says that the city incorrectly claimed that the museum has full control over the park, and thus doesn’t need to go through a more extensive approval process.

In a statement, the city’s Law Department said “The city stands by its approval of the Museum’s expansion plans and its environmental review. We’ll review the legal papers.”

“At a time when science literacy has never been more important the Gilder Center will provide significant new capacity to enhance the public understanding of science,” the museum said in a statement. “We don’t have a specific comment on the lawsuit since we don’t comment on pending legal cases.”

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 70 comments | permalink
    1. sange says:

      I wish these people would channel all their organizing, money, and efforts into doing something productive and useful for our community. The Museum needs this expansion, it will be great, and there is a fabulous park one block away. Move on with your life!

      • Mike says:

        I agree.

        The expansion is over due.

        What’s the big deal? Condos are going up all over the place and our problems will stem from an expansion of an outdated museum. Really?

        Time to modernize this relic to today’s standards.

      • Weird That Way says:

        I totally agree. All this angst over 1/4 acre! The points they make are so extreme they are laughable.

      • Nj says:

        I support this lawsuit and feel that people like yourself don’t value nature. This is public land. One block away is the very overcrowded CP. If you ever had a moment to sit in Roosevelt park you might notice how quiet and safe it is. The trees that they plan to take away crest the oxygen you breath.

        • I can do math says:

          This plan will result in 7 trees being removed and 19 trees being planted. Seems like a net win for the park and the museum.

          This lawsuit seems to be a way for a lawyer to make a lot of money from some misguided NIMBYS

      • Billy the hippie says:

        I totally agree !!!

      • David says:

        I was away for the weekend, but have now read more than 60+ comments on this posting, and no one has mentioned what is really important to all UWS residents (based on many previous articles):

        Will they be selling wine?

    2. Diane says:

      These people need to fight a different fight. Leave the museum alone! The change is so minor; what a waste of everyone’s time and the museum’s precious resources. Seriously, GO FIND SOME OTHER BATTLE TO WAGE.

    3. Giulia says:

      I had to stare at the two site plans for quite a while to notice any difference at all between them. Really? THIS is what they’re fighting over? Let them build it forgodsakes.

    4. Westside billythehippy says:

      This is total bullshit and the project will continue. Mark my words. BillyNYC

    5. Bob Lamm says:

      From the beginning, I’ve felt neither strongly in favor of the Museum’s expansion plan nor strongly against it. But I’ve been continually amazed by the overheated language used by opponents of the plan. It will cause “catastrophic” environmental damage to the area? Really? Will 3/4 of the residents of the Upper West Side die within a few years? I’m convinced that this type of overheated rhetoric was a factor in Cary Goodman’s pathetic showing in the City Council race (only 805 votes, FOUR percent of the total votes cast).

      • Jay says:

        Agree. Unfortunately, overheated, false rhetoric is not unique to this group.

        You would think they would be embarrassed to waste their own time and money on this, but NIMBYs can’t help themselves.

        • Billythehippie says:

          It’s a total waste of time with this group had a lot of time on their hands for trivia things like this.
          If anybody remembers “the group” when they put up the Paramont building.. which is now called (I hate
          to say this name)…”Trump international hotel” at Columbus Circle (The shadow of the building will overcast the trees in Central Park) and does anybody remember the Westside Trainyard from W. 57th St. to W. 72nd St. on the Hudson River at about the same time… there was a group called “Save our Bass Fish”…? — need I say more….LOL!

    6. Len Wich says:

      A single life-threatening health hazard would be acceptable, but as a resident of the UWS, I certainly cannot support a series of life-threatening health hazards.

    7. Reed says:

      This is typical of the residents south of West 96 Street attempting to restrict many developments in order to protect their own interests. Their attitude to the residents north of West 96 Street is simply ‘we don’t care’ about your community.

      • dannyboy says:

        Reed, I’m interested in your Comment. Can you please expand a bit, as I am always interested in economic justice and social justice principles. Thank you.

      • kitty.h says:

        The operative words in this story and in many of the comments is “their community.” Clearly this issue is important to these residents and they’ve organized to combat what they see as a threat to their local environment. Whether we agree with their agenda or not, once a problem is perceived, organizing on the local level is the best way to further your cause.

    8. Bill T says:

      Anyone have any idea what exactly this means – “catastrophic environmental damage to the area, posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to residents of, and visitors to, the Upper West Side”
      Exactly what health hazards??

      • Mark Moore says:

        It means their lawyer thought the suit required more hyperbole to get the public attention it was designed to get.

    9. Dalestorm says:

      It’s hard to even see from the plans what expansion is actually occurring. If you look at the proposed plans for the center they far outweigh losing a very small section of Teddy Roosevelt park. In terms of adding back some nature, the Butterfly Conservatory plans are amazing and long overdue for a museum of this caliber and that’s only one of the many additions being added.
      It will cause catastrophic environmental damage posing life threatening health hazards???? Unless this addition will cause exposure to some radioactive material we aren’t aware of, what on earth are they claiming?

    10. Adam says:

      If this is catastrophic then what is ocean acidification and the cessation of thermohaline circulation. I guess we’ll have to go to the musuem to find out!

    11. Dave says:

      I agree. The Museum is one of our neighborhood’s greatest assets and should be cherished instead of vilified. We also have the crown jewel of parks a block away! Your dog can make it that far.

    12. Paul S says:

      Amen sange!

    13. UWS Craig says:

      I live within blocks of this proposed expansion. I understand that the museum provides certain cultural benefits, but the museum should not be permitted to threaten human life. Safety first!

      • Zulu says:

        Holly molly! How exactly do you think human life is being threatened by this expansion?

        If you say “because of construction” then eight million souls in this city are constantly threatened. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 10 block stretch with no construction taking place in one form or another.

      • Mark Moore says:

        It’s not. Don’t fall for the hype.

    14. Paul G says:

      I agree. Suing a not-for-profit acclaimed educational institution seems pretty lame. The museum has gone to great lengths to modify their plans in compromise.

      Enough already.

    15. Gretchen says:

      Team NIMBYsaurus making their last ditch efforts before they inhabit one of the dioramas inside the museum.

    16. StevenCinNYC says:

      This is such ridiculous hyperbole and total BS. The museum is wonderful and serves the community. This park is mostly a place people bring dogs to defecate. It’s only decreased slightly in this plan and there is plenty of Central Park to make up for it. These people are so obnoxious and not reflective of what we want. So glad to see so many people here speaking up against this self righteous garbage.

    17. Critcize, Don't Modernize! says:

      Out of context with the neighborhood!

      Too tall!

      No affordable housing?

    18. Tony says:

      I find the majority, if not all of the comments, in concurrence with my thinking. Many years ago when I lived on 77th & Columbus I suggested to the Museum that they should consider turning their factory-like backside into something more creative. I’m so glad that they finally did and I further hope they overcome
      the over-actors in the neighborhood.

    19. Anonymous says:

      If a certain wonderful group of people didn’t stand up and fight, we would have lost Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, and an I’ll advised design would have appeared at the old Coliseum site. That area is already over used with endless school buses, tourist buses, etc. How about thinking it through, before rushing forward?

      • sange says:

        You are absolutely right that it was a dedicated group of activists, including incredible Issac Stern, who saved our cultural gems like Carnegie Hall from devastation. In this situation, our cultural gem – AMNH, a neighborhood anchor as well as a major tourist destination – has put forward a sustainable plan that will improve their long-term prospects and provide an excellent additional serve to the children and museumgoers who love their space. There’s a park a block away – as Dave said above, the dog can make it that far!

      • WeNeedChange says:

        Give me a break…on with progress and new world. You’re the kind that does not like “change” and we have no time for that or your’re kind.

        • dannyboy says:

          “we have no time for that or your’re kind.” – WeNeedChange

          Can’t get along with neighbors?

    20. NYWoman says:

      Misuse of the Drama Queen adjective “Catastrophic”; after in depth, full environmental review approval. This group acts like a bitter spouse that knows they’re wrong, but can’t back down without losing face. The majority of Manhattanites, New Yorkers, city teachers, professors, parents and tourists welcome an improvement to one of the greatest museums in the world.

      • Correct NY Woman says:

        You are so right is the kind of people that don’t like change in our new world and we don’t have time for that kind of nonsense. We must unite and bring new changes to our new world.

    21. D-Rex says:

      Please build it!

      What better way to help the environment than to educate people (of all ages) about the natural world around us, past present and future!

      “…catastrophic environmental damage…” ??!! It is an education center for a natural history museum, not an oil refinery…for crap sakes!!!
      The group protesting this needs to focus their efforts elsewhere. Surely they could get more “bang for the buck” on a truly serious environmental issue. And I suspect some members could be more honest about what is really driving their outrage.

    22. peter wright says:

      What the opponents conveniently omit is that the new garage at the Rose Center was built over an unsightly asphalt parking lot..and resulted in the addition of a 1 acre roof garden, The Arthur Ross Terrace, with water features that are a delight to small children..and maintained by the Museum..so park users gained an acre, then lost 1/4 of an acre…for e net gain of 3/4 of an acre in Roosevelt Park
      Peter Wright/Friends of Roosevelt Park

    23. EricaC says:

      I do think this is a misguided objection, and the litigation will merely make it more expensive and extend the disruption.

      If they want to fight something, fight to get the anti-scientific members of the museum board off the board.

    24. ST says:

      I wish those of you who consider the fight to be bs and useless would study the actual plan more thoughtfully. The construction phase alone will be hellacious–anyone commute down Columbus Ave? A large swath of Teddy roosevelt park will be lost to construction vehicles. We will lose the greenmarket permanently as the main entrance to the museum is being moved to Columbus Ave. Say hello to congestion and noisy food trucks as tourists take over the Columbus Avenus allee that has been a neighborhood staple. Once completed the neighborhood will have three million more tourists in the subway and central park. But most importantly, the museum is sitting on a boatload of toxic refuse. How do you like the idea of your kids being exposed to that? All at the expense of your tax dollars.

      • Duck Duck says:

        Point of clarity for those who may actually be concerned about the validity of ST’s statement: This will not be the “main entrance” to the museum. The main entrance will always be on CPW, as that is where the subway entrance is. In addition, the museum ALREADY has four entrances, including this location, and visitors use all of them. Most people also use the planetarium entrance, which is where the parking lot is. We will not lose Columbus Ave, the greenmarket, or anything else. As for the risk of “noisy tourists and food trucks…” well, this is NYC, not rural Idaho, so…

        Anyway, let AMNH build already.

      • GroundControl says:

        I agree. Unfortunately many of the commenters here are very unfamiliar with what is happening. There will be a major impact on the environment and the congestion on Columbus Avenue pouring out into Teddy Roosevelt Park. In addition are you aware that there are mega trustees on the board of the AMNH who are dyed in the wool climate science deniers? The man whose name will be on this Barbarella building was the founder of the Club for Growth-the far right think tank whose members are also mostly climate science deniers. And they’re at the helm of a “science” institution. People should really avail themselves of the information readily available to know what it is going on in their neighborhood.

        • dannyboy says:

          “People should really avail themselves of the information readily available to know what it is going on in their neighborhood.”

          new to WSR?

    25. robert says:

      As usual, the opposition is led by a person or group that wants to establish its personal power base. What else is new?

    26. robert says:

      All “catastrophic environmental damage to the area, posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to residents of, and visitors to, the Upper West Side” means is that a bunch of lawyers that are politically connected to our electededs and the regular group of UWS self appointed community leaders, will make a bunch of $$$. It will delay the project another couple of weeks and cost the museum money it doesn’t need to spend and the project will go forward. Enough with the NIMBY crap. I still remember when the same BS was used when groups sued to stop the repair of the B’way mall retaining walls, which were falling apart. I was on B’way this am and shockingly the old trees are still there and doing fine

    27. Huntley Gill says:

      Public policy is best made by review, discussion and consensus, not lawsuits filed by small minorities. This ignores the history of the site (the museum, after all, predates the neighborhood!) and the clear approval of the community. Note the (very poorly designed) park is across CPW from 840 acres of the most important park in the US.

      • dannyboy says:

        “This ignores the history of the site (the museum, after all, predates the neighborhood!)”

        This ignores the true history of the site. There were homesteads that preceeded the Museum.And this:
        Manhattan Square was purchased by the City to be a section of Central Park lying west of Eighth Ave. (Central Park West). Museum bigwigs didn’t buy any land. They were rather able gents, you must recall, and like their counterparts today, were great ones for sipping the champagne, making speeches, and posing for pictures — while someone else paid the bills.

        Even today’s bunch haven’t lost the touch for cutting themselves in for more credit than is their due. A glance at their web site’s history page reveals the kind of slippery-lawyer phrasing that never goes out of fashion.

        “1872…The Museum…secures Manhattan Square…to build a bigger facility”

        Well, they may like the feeling of having secured, but it would be like some kid using the word to describe how he got his new toys from Santy Claus. The City annexed the land to the park years before; the city gave the entire square, to be used rent-free; the city obligated itself to erect the first building; the city incurred the costs associated with preparing a suitable 18-acre setting for construction; the city committed to ongoing maintenance; the city issued bonds for further construction. Almost a century and half later, we’re still paying.

        Through resolutions in City Hall, and through legislation in Albany, they managed to get the city into a permanent position of patronage for their Museum (it certainly isn’t ours). In 2009, it cost us over $18 million. And if you’re thinking of going to their Museum, it will cost you $16, and $9 for each of the kids.

        My research was hasty, and if I got things wrong, welcome correction. We spend lots more on less worthy projects, but it is a great tradition in our town for others to take credit when the taxpayer was the one who laid out. Irksome, no?

        Source: T.J. Connick, Ephemeral New York

    28. So sad that this group has nothing better to do than create neighborhood divisiveness, attempting to hold up the Museum’s necessary expansion, which will benefit our children and many generations to come. Occupying only 1/4 acre of a 12-acre park, the enhanced area will offer many new amenities. The AMNH project did undergo an environmental review, of course. Also, importantly, when a State statute in 1876 designated then Manhattan Square for the Museum, the park in its entirety was set aside for future expansion of the museum. The shameful, ongoing tactics of this group reminds us of our President: fabricate any facts, and someone’s bound to believe it.

    29. Bruce Bernstein says:

      I’m for the expansion. children and adults use the Museum from all over the city and in fact the world. the museum itself has become very overcrowded.

      it’s a public resource, unlike most of the other development projects we see. 200 Amsterdam only has benefits for the ultra-rich and a big down side. this project has community benefits.

    30. George Teebor says:

      Modernizing Museum far outweighs the “loss” of 1/4 acre of park which is rarely used as public park. Many better things to fight like the monstrosity being built on 69th street and Amsterdam Avenue which will cast a shadow all the way into Central Park.

    31. Erica says:

      Perhaps this group would be better served by joining the group that is fighting to get store fronts from being left empty or scaffolding that is left up for years. You know, things that are actually important to the well-being of the neighborhood.

      • sange says:

        couldn’t agree more! Let’s focus on ACTUAL problems, not beautiful new educational facilities at one of the world’s great museums.

        • Bill says:

          Yes, lets move on. The scaffolding issue needs attention. About time the issue got some visibilty.

    32. Petty Park Lover says:

      This group should spend money on something else instead of suffering these fools who can’t tell the difference between a city park and a neighborhood park.

      Who are they trying to protect public assets for when this public is so willing to forfeit their public land into private hands?

      Why should they educate the public about an education center being built by trump supporting climate deniers?

      Like they said, your dog can make it to Central Park, and your elderly grandmother, well she can just stay home and look a pictures of parks on her tv.

    33. N Lowe says:

      Complain about bike racks taking up precious main thoroughfares. The Museum needs the expansion. Let it go and move on to something more useful.

    34. ScooterStan says:

      Attention NIMBYs (NotInMyBackYard-ers):

      Before you influence decisions affecting the entire neighborhood, did it ever occur to you that MANY of YOUR neighbors don’t want YOU in their back yard?

    35. I’m sure that if you actually lived mere feet from where the AMNH surreptitiously planned to swing 1/2 their visitors, numbering in the millions, a few feet from your street’s narrow sidewalks, you wouldn’t be so quick to regurgitate emailed talking points. Nowhere in the 1876 statute does it say anything resembling what the AMNH says it does. They should go through a real and honest review if they plan on forever removing precious and finite NYC public parkland from New York City.

      I wonder if so many here also support the AMNH’s steadfast and enthusiastic support for Rebbeccah Mercer. A climate denier who has spent millions combatting the acceptance of man-made climate change, and the #1 Trump donor-supporter/election fixer. Here on the UWS, at least on this little patch, facts matter.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        response to Jeannie:

        is there any evidence that the AMNH itself has endorsed climate denialism?

      • Zulu says:

        Jeannie Davis,

        I live on that block and I have no issues with the expansion. Sure there will be disruptions to the surrounding area but once it’s done we will have a world class addition to the museum for all to enjoy. You do have to crack some eggs to make an omelet.

        And yes, the Mercer’s are the worst people in the world, what’s your point?

      • RK says:

        David Koch had the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center named after him.. you know, the one on the left. Should we boycott that too?

        Why not gladly take the Mercer’s money to improve your neighborhood, and revel in the fact that they are boosting the real estate values in one of the country’s liberal strongholds?

        • dannyboy says:

          ” revel in the fact that they are boosting the real estate values” – RK

          The MONEY Shot.

    36. Paul RL says:

      Hmmmmm….a place for dogs to crap or a world-class educational center where all members of our community can benefit? Education and community, please!

    37. Jim from DC says:

      According to the Post, the AMNH has laid claim to the entire park. If that’s true, one can hardly fault park lovers for taking a stand. The AMNH should submit a master plan and commit to the future of the park and how they plan on developing it.

      As it is, I’d be embarrassed and ashamed if I was the AMNH at the state of the park (ostensibly its grounds) surrounding it. How about using some of that political power and money to show the residents you actually care about their quality of life, it might help your credibility when you claim that this expansion will barely have an impact on their quality of life.

      Last time I visited, I noticed there is a tiny % of that park that is publicly accessible, why not trade opening up and improving the rest of it for this project? Is that so unreasonable?

      • Marc says:

        Arguing against this plan is asinine. The AMNH has the right to expand and should. I’m proud to have this in my backyard. As a clinician, it forensically appears that those complaining are intent on using this non-issue as a means to distract them from their real (more personal) issues. My suggestion, seek therapy.

        HOWEVER, what I am NOT proud of is the way AMNH refuses to use its influence to effectively clear snow and ice from the northern paths in the winter or maintain the a suitable path on the Wester side of the property. Shame on you – both of these are the real hazards and I have seen more than one person get injured attempting to navigate these areas.

        • dannyboy says:

          “HOWEVER, what I am NOT proud of is the way AMNH refuses to use its influence to effectively clear snow and ice from the northern paths in the winter or maintain the a suitable path on the Wester side of the property. Shame on you – both of these are the real hazards and I have seen more than one person get injured attempting to navigate these areas.”

          Hey Marc the Therapist,

          Where’s your self-awareness? You, in just your previous thought informed that “it forensically appears that those complaining are intent on using this non-issue as a means to distract them from their real (more personal) issues. My suggestion, seek therapy.

          Dr., heal thyself!