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.