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Judge Dismisses Pier 55 Lawsuit as Being 'Without Merit'

By Danielle Tcholakian | April 7, 2016 9:03pm | Updated on April 7, 2016 11:00pm
 Approximately 18 to 22 percent of the park on Pier 55 will be covered by lawn, and the amphitheater will be able to seat 700 people, landscape architect Signe Nielsen said.
Approximately 18 to 22 percent of the park on Pier 55 will be covered by lawn, and the amphitheater will be able to seat 700 people, landscape architect Signe Nielsen said.
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Heatherwick Studio/Mathews Nielsen

HUDSON RIVER PARK — A New York Supreme Court judge has tossed out a civic organization's lawsuit attempting to stop the Hudson River Park Trust from building the Barry Diller-backed island park, Pier 55.

In a decision filed on Thursday, Judge Joan Lobis dismissed a lawsuit filed last summer against Diller's $130 million new pier and park between the decaying pilings of Pier 54 and Pier 56 — saying all of the claims were "without merit."

The park, which is being designed by landscape architect Signe Nielsen and will feature undulating grassy knolls and a 700-person amphitheater, sparked the ire of opponents who asked a judge to block the city-sanctioned move for a number of reasons.

Among the issues that were raised by the group that filed the lawsuit — the City Club of New York, boater and environmental studies professor Rob Buchanan and one of the founding members of the organization that supports the Hudson River Park, Tom Fox — were that the Trust was improperly using public parkland because more than half the events would require tickets for admission.

READ MORE: City Has Backup Plan if Barry Diller Pulls Out of Island Project

Judge Lobis ruled in her decision that revenue generating is part of what sustains the park, because the Trust was charged with maintaining it without any government funds.

"It would appear that a significant purpose of maintaining event spaces in the Park is to generate funds for the ongoing upkeep of the Park, which is surely a park purpose," Lobis wrote.

Lobis also sided with former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who submitted an affidavit in which he pointed out that plenty of parks citywide charge for admission to events, "ranging from as little as $3 to hundreds of dollars in concerts in stadia or on Randalls Island," the judge wrote.

Performances on Central Park's Great Lawn can cost up to $250 for VIP tickets, she added.

The judge also dismissed an affidavit from Assemblywoman Deborah Glick — who co-sponsored the amendment to the Hudson River Park Act authorizing the rebuilding of Pier 54 to make it larger than it originally was — in which she said she now sides with the project's opponents.

Glick wrote that if she'd known the extent of the changes the Trust was going to make, she would not have voted to pass the legislation, and her colleagues may not have either.

Lobis wrote that "even the statement of a co-sponsor of legislation 'cannot be viewed as indicative of the intentions of Congress as a whole,' " and that the amendment was "unambiguous" in its support for the project.

The lawsuit had also argued that the Trust did not do an adequate environmental review of the impacts building the new pier would have on the aquatic life below and that they failed to engage in a competitive bidding process when selecting the landscape architect they chose to design the park.

Lobis wrote that the Trust's regulations allowed them the ability to select any bidder they saw fit, so an open bid process would not likely not have affected the outcome significantly.

Buchanan, an active boater who says he teaches classes on the water, had argued that the pier would substantially hinder the policies and purposes of the Waterfront Revitalization Program, which outlines the uses of the waterfront areas all around the island.

The Trust had maintained the waters around the pier were for motorized boats, while Buchanan argued kayaks were meant to be allowed there as well.

"Given the many other areas within the park which... are open to kayakers (several of which bar motorized boats)," Lobis wrote she was "not prepared" to rule against HRPT "even assuming that the use of a limited area of the waters by some kayakers is prevented."

Trust CEO and President Madelyn Wils said the ruling was "a victory for the tens of millions who enjoy Hudson River Park."

"We're pleased the judge dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety, and are eager to move ahead with what will be one of the most spectacular public park piers anywhere, yet, happily, in Hudson River Park," Wils said in a statement.

Diller, in a separate statement, said he was "so glad we can get back to the work: that of building a great park and performance center for the people of New York and all those who come to visit.”

Buchanan, Fod and their co-plaintiffs were reviewing the decision and considering an appeal, they said.

"I would like to appeal — to Diller's sense of civic and environmental responsibility," Buchanan said. "If he really wants to leave a legacy, he should build beaches and wetlands and oyster reefs, not an entertainment platform in a public waterway."

The park's design has been approved by the Department of Environmental Conservation, but is still under review by the Army Corps of Engineers.