Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Construction and Tree Removal for Museum of Natural History Addition


A rendering of a room in the Richard Gilder Center, via Museum of Natural History.

A state judge issued a temporary restraining order on Monday halting construction on the Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Center until it can be reviewed by a court. The next court date is December 11. The order also blocks any demolition or tree removal.

The order stems from a legal challenge brought by Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, a neighborhood group. The group argues the museum doesn’t have the right to build on the property without a much more extensive review process, and it says that the construction process would cause “catastrophic environmental damage.”

“We cannot allow this peaceful oasis to become a dangerous and toxic construction site,” said Community United President Laura Quinlan Messersmith in a statement.

A city study, however, said the materials at the site “are similar in type and extent of contaminants to many urban areas, including throughout Manhattan. The proposed project would have no known risks with respect to hazardous materials that cannot be controlled through the use of measures commonly used at construction sites throughout New York City.”

The museum said in a statement that it has gone through “New York City’s rigorous environmental review process, which in this case lasted approximately two years and included multiple levels of review and public consultation.”

The building is expected to be 230,000 square feet, although most of it — aside from about a quarter of an acre — would be built within the museum’s existing footprint. Seven trees are expected to be removed to make way for construction, though the museum has pledged to plant more.

“Enhancing science literacy has never been more important than it is now, and the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation will add significant capacity to the Museum’s ability to fulfill this important part of our mission,” the museum said.

The museum says it intends to appeal the ruling.

Correction: The building will be 230,000 square feet, not 203,000 as originally reported.

NEWS | 29 comments | permalink
    1. Mike says:

      I hope the expansion proceeds as planned. The place is a zoo from the hordes of visitors in an antiquated (but beautiful) facility.

      Best
      M

    2. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      Hooray!
      Amidst the darkness of the weekend, the press of global warming and the chutzpah of the museum — a ray of light and common sense from Judge Kotler.
      Congratulations to all the park protectors who have opposed this land grab for the last three years.

    3. W. 80th St. Block Association says:

      No worries…They will build it and it will happen!
      Happy Holidays 🎄

    4. Rob G. says:

      And when the Second Decline of the Upper West Side is complete, we can thank groups like Community United for making it so.

    5. Jeff Berger says:

      I hope the Olympics come to New York City! Then we can make NIMBYism an event. Dr. Goodman would be the captain of the Gold medal team.

      Sir, your desire to cancel this project is totally bizarre. I am not sure what kind of doctor you are, but how a man of science can want to stop a science museum expansion is baffling in the extreme!

      • UWS_lifer says:

        Sorry but I have to say that “Dr” Goodman is definitely NOT a man of science.

        He has a PhD in Sociology. That sort of says it all, doesn’t it. Not sure what school he went to though. Not that it matters…sociology…sociology.

        For those of you that don’t remember, he was a candidate for office recently and therefore a public figure. Otherwise I would never post personal information about him but this is widely known stuff.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Seriously? Now someone’s putting down Sociology?

          Wow.

          • UWS_lifer says:

            Oh come on, Bruce! Stop being so intellectually dishonest so you can be offended by everything.

            A sociology professor is neither a man of science or a Doctor in the traditional sense.

            For example, I was on an airplane once with a medical emergency. The flight attendant got on the microphone and said “is there a Dr. on board this plane??”

            Unfortunately there were no sociology professors on board…however, there was a trauma surgeon who took control of the situation and saved the day.

            I guess nobody wanted to discuss Marx, Weber or Durkheim.:)

            • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

              UWS-Lifer,

              it’s you who are being intellectually dishonest.

              a PhD is a doctorate and people who hold PhDs can use the honorific “Dr.” in front of their names, if they wish. they worked very hard to earn that title, usually for almost a decade.

              or maybe you would object to Mathematicians, historians, economists, statisticians, and so on being referred to as “Drs.”

              Sociology is a field of social science. i guess you have a beef with all of social science. Sociology is a very important discipline within social science.

              You are trying to use the fact that Dr. Goodman has a degree in sociology to put him down, treat him as less than authentic. I guess you would do that to 3/4 of the professors at Columbia who do not have doctorates in hard sciences. And by the way, a Nobelist in Physics would most likely be of little use in a medical emergency on an airplane.

              I wasn’t really “offended”, just amazed at how you cavalierly trashed an entire field.

    6. Ground Control says:

      I wholeheartedly congratulate this tenacious group of citizens who care a lot more about the quality of life of the neighborhood surrounding the Museum of Natural History and the UWS than those who profess to. As a 40 year resident of New York and contributor to the AMNH, I am very disappointed with more than their attempt to turn Teddy Roosevelt into a big congested entrance for their new building and the museum. I am very concerned that some on their Board are proven climate science deniers building a “school” for “science”. Whose “interpretation” of science will be taught there? The real one or the fake one? The Board of a museum which teaches children about science should not have Board members who don’t believe that climate change is real! The Museum also appears to have plans to encroach on more and more of Teddy Roosevelt Park to privatize it for their own use. As for the “city” environmental study-where’s the study which was done by Community United? The community might have a different view if they knew the conclusions of that report. I hope these citizen heroes stand firm against this unnecessary attempt to disturb the ecosystem and privatize public park land which will very negatively affect the health, and quality of life of this community.

    7. Ananda says:

      May the restraining order become a complete restraint and halt to this awful plan of cutting down 7 beautiful old trees and destroying park land that is an oasis for people on a daily basis. The museum can use buildings that are already up rather than hacking into land that doesn’t even belong to them. Shame on them.

    8. S says:

      Upper west siders against science education, sounds a bit of a Trump move for a group of ” environmental activists”

    9. UWSer says:

      This article was written in a favorable way for the museum. So much for unbiased reporting.

      This case is one of arrogance and overreach by the museum. They have acted with little regard for their neighbors, and have destroyed a beautiful area of the park and disrupted pedestrian access and community activities along Columbus Avenue. They put up that ugly construction shed on Columbus even knowing that this litigation was pending and now it will just sit there until the litigation is resolved. What complete selfishness and arrogance by the museum.

      • Rob G. says:

        Are you kidding? WSR has given this whole issue way more air time than it deserves. If anything, they’ve actually helped empower Community United to continue their crazy and selfish fight against the museum.

        • Jay says:

          +1

          There is no controversy in the UWS about the museum expansion. Only the WSR and a few small NIMBY groups have any issue whatsoever.

          This will be appealed. The museum will win. NIMBYs go on to the next building they want to stop. Lots of money and time gets wasted. Rinse. Repeat.

    10. Angry voter says:

      Oh no another tree cut down oh boo hoo boo hoo.i hate these whiners they complain about everything.funny thing is their employers do the same shit and they say nothing because they cash that check.upper west side residents are so hypocritical because the people you work for are doing 20x the damage to the earth and society.

      • dannyboy says:

        “upper west side residents are so hypocritical because the people you work for are doing 20x the damage to the earth and society.”

        You really are Angry!

        How do you draw this conclusion?

        Why do you post on a neighborhood blog?

    11. Thomas says:

      Whining about the expansion of a world-class educational institution by people who probably have spent a combined total of seven hours sitting on any of the park benches being relocated is so typical of the UWS NIMBY mentality. Pick a fight worth fighting. This just makes you all look as silly as you truly are.

    12. MJ says:

      Hooray! I’m very pleased about the temporary restraining order and I, too, hope it becomes permanent. Those who claim anyone who is against this expansion must be anti-science or anti-education are themselves being myopic and willfully ignorant. I’m anti-tearing down trees and taking away park land THAT ISN’T THEIRS TO TAKE to build an unnecessary addition to an already very large institution. AMNH can still teach science (or “display” science, as the case may be) without this big entrance hall. I have yet to hear anyone explain how this expansion is about anything but the museum’s bottom line. I am a patron of the museum and I think this entire thing was terribly mishandled on their part. They should fix the INSIDE before trying to fix the outside.

    13. UWSCraig says:

      I’m looking at the rendering of the structure and it looks like they are chopping down trees so they can have a building with indoor trees. It makes no sense!
      I also am concerned about the catastrophic damage and release of toxic chemicals that the proposed changes will cause.
      Thankfully, we live in a democracy where judges can stop this sort of reckless behavior.

      • Jay says:

        “I also am concerned about the catastrophic damage and release of toxic chemicals that the proposed changes will cause.”

        Just what are the “toxic chemicals” that will be released? Please, be specific about exactly what they are and what the human exposure routes would be.

        I look forward to your response. I’m sure it will be a laugh.

        • UWSCraig says:

          Let me quote from the Phase I Study:

          Historic and/or current hazardous material storage and use at the project site that might represent environmental concerns, which were further investigated in the Subsurface (Phase
          II) Investigation included:
          “One 1,080-gallon diesel fuel oil above ground storage tank (AST) located
          within an epoxy-coated room with secondary containment berm”

          “One empty 250-gallon parts washer tank formerly containing trichloroethylene
          (TCE) (which was formerly used to remove lipids and fats from vertebrate zoology
          specimens), and a 500-gallon double-wall AST day tank located on the first floor (associated with the AST located in Section 16); and Exterior yard—Approximately 17 drums (up to 55 gallons) of ethanol, isopropanol, research space waste, and diesel in secured chemical storage sheds.”
          “Regulatory databases identified the Museum as a small quantity generator (SQG) of
          hazardous waste from 2005 to 2016, and historical large quantity generator (LQG) of
          hazardous waste from 1984 to 2005.
          Due to the former and current use and storage of chemicals at the project site, a potential for subsurface vapor intrusion may exist.
          Arsenic-preserved hide storage was noted in dedicated areas on the fifth floor of Section 1, and on the third floor of Section 7A.” “Arsenic preservation was a common preservation technique for natural history collections used between approximately 1930 and 1990.”
          “Chemical storage noted in Section 15 in the Ichthyology collections included approximately 300,000 small jars (up to five gallons) of specimens preserved in ethanol or isopropanol,large containers and drums (up to 55 gallons) of ethanol used for specimen preservation, and other containers (generally 15 gallons or less) of organic solvents, and solvent wastes.”

          Hmm, arsenic, organic solvent wastes, trichloroethelyne. How about you have a nice cocktail of the three of those and see how funny it is?
          No hazardous waste in my neighborhood, thank you very much.

          • Jay says:

            Funny. Not surprisingly, you forgot to mention the human exposure pathway.

            How exactly is anyone going to exposed to these materials when these tanks are located in a fifth floor locked room?

            Are you suggesting that someone is going to break into the construction site and drink what’s left in an old tank? Why have they waited till now to do this?

      • toxicavenger says:

        You already live in one of the most polluted cities in the world and you are worried about toxic chemical being released from a construction site? Hate to break it to ya, but you’ve already been exposed to enough toxins in the air, food, and water that you’ll likely be killed by them in one way or another. Have a nice day!

        • dannyboy says:

          ” Hate to break it to ya, but you’ve already been exposed to enough toxins in the air, food, and water that you’ll likely be killed by them in one way or another.”

          This is your argument against environmentalism?