By Carol Tannenhauser
Just a week ago, the Museum of Natural History appeared to be in the clear to construct its new educational center; but on Tuesday a judge threw another roadblock in its path, at least temporarily.
Justice Judith Gische of the New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court granted a “stay pending appeal,” following a request by Michael Hiller, the attorney representing Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, a neighborhood group that is fighting the Museum’s expansion. They claim the Museum is unlawfully grabbing a quarter acre of TR Park, which is owned by the City, and that construction of the planned Gilder Center will, in effect, poison the Upper West Side.
“A stay pending appeal, in this case, is like a temporary restraining order,” Hiller explained, in an email to WSR. “The stay in this case would prevent the Museum and/or the City from taking any action in the Park that would adversely affect its greenspace. That means they can do things like tree protection and root fertilizing; but they can’t take down any trees or bushes; can’t eliminate any grass, knolls, or pathways; and cannot otherwise interfere with the public’s use of the Park. The Court granted the relief, but on an immediate, interim basis, meaning that the temporary restraining order went into effect right away, but it will last only until a full panel of judges (five in all) can consider extending it indefinitely.”
William Raudenbush, chairman of Community United, was elated by the decision. “By reinstating the temporary restraining order and stopping the American Museum of Natural History from doing any construction that would harm Theodore Roosevelt Park, the New York City State Supreme Court Appellate Division has indicated that it wants to take a hard look at the important matters of law in this case,” he emailed.
The Museum is confident that once it does, “Judge Kotler’s December 10, 2018 clear decision on the merits, which dismissed the entire case, will be affirmed on appeal,” a statement said. “Yesterday’s interim stay order is essentially confined to seven trees. The Museum will continue to focus on the numerous aspects of the project that are already moving forward and on its commitment to bringing to New Yorkers and visitors from around the world the expanded educational and scientific resources made possible by the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.”