MANHATTAN — The private firm that controls Zuccotti Park is breaking zoning laws by enclosing the space with barricades and deterring visitors with routine searches, legal groups affiliated with Occupy Wall Street charged Monday.
"Members of the public are subject to ad hoc, arbitrary and inconsistent rules and
conditions restricting their use of the park," the groups said in a letter to the Department of Buildings, which they say has the power to enforce the zoning regulations. "These practices have substantially modified Liberty Plaza [Zuccotti Park], making it a wholly inhospitable space for the public."
The park, near the World Trade Center, resides in a legal gray area because, while owned by Brookfield Properties, it must be accessible to the public 24-hours-a-day under an agreement with the city.
And while Brookfield had established rules for behavior and prohibited items in the park, advocates say that access must be unrestricted.
Barricades have ringed the park since the Occupy Wall Street protesters were evicted in an overnight raid last November, and guards from Brookfield are posted at the entrances.
On New Year's Eve, protesters surged back into the park, tossing some of the barricades into a pile in a protest against the measure, but ultimately did not reoccupy the park.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights are asking the DOB to put a stop to what they argue is an abuse of the rules by Brookfield, which green-lighted the eviction of the anti-greed protesters, resulting in a violent clash and hundreds of arrests.
The park reopened, with the understanding that protesters would not be allowed to bring in tents and overnight items, according to a Nov. 15 ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stillman.
The groups believe the judge's ruling is contradictory to the agreement between Brookfield and the city. They also say that police and Brookfield are enforcing "constantly-changing unwritten rules" and wrongfully prohibiting items and members of the public.
"The unwritten list of prohibited items varies daily and is wildly inconsistent. Individuals have been refused entry for possessing food, musical instruments, yoga mats, cardboard signs, shawls, blankets, 'prohibited containers,' chairs, bags of varying sizes, and numerous other personal items," the letter reads.
The rules are "not ambiguous about certain required features of public access" in privately-owned public city parks, said Gideon Orion Oliver, the president of the New York City branch of the National Lawyers Guild.
"I don't think that any building inspector could walk down to the park and not see that there are violations," he added when reached by phone Monday.
The DOB disagreed with the groups' assertions in a statement provided to DNAinfo.
“Our inspectors determined that no violation is warranted due to adequate public access to the park," agency spokesperson Tony Scalfani said.
A spokesperson from Brookfield Properties declined to comment on the letter.
Dozens of protesters who were arrested during overnight clearing of the park are due in Manhattan Criminal Court this week.
The Lawyers Guild, which provides legal representation to the majority of protesters arrested during the movement in New York, also plans to continue challenging Justice Stillman's ruling.