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Natural History Museum Expansion Earns Overwhelming Community Board Support

By Emily Frost | October 6, 2016 4:52pm | Updated on October 7, 2016 5:20pm
 The full Community Board approved the museum's plans to expand into the surrounding park with a new science center. 
American Museum of Natural History Expansion Approved by CB7
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A controversial plan to expand the American Museum of Natural History got an enthusiastic stamp of approval Wednesday from the local community board, despite locals urging board members to stop it in its tracks. 

The museum's $325 million proposed Gilder Center, which would create a new wing of the museum opening onto Columbus Avenue, next needs permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to move forward. The museum goes before the commission for a vote on Oct. 11. 

Two Community Board 7 committees — the Preservation and Parks committees — had already given their blessing to the expansion, but on Wednesday the full 50-member board voted overwhelmingly to support it. 

The expansion would create a new, five-story science center by demolishing three existing buildings and using a quarter-acre of parkland at the adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park.

Museum President Ellen Futter said the new center would ease movement for visitors within the labyrinthine museum and let the public "observe and participate in the process of scientific discovery."

Residents who've organized into opposition groups said the museum should throw out the plan altogether, as it encroaches on too much parkland and would mean the loss of seven trees.

While the board's final vote of approval is only advisory, it is taken into consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Without a vote by the board, "we would lose our voice in the process and our opportunity to influence the project as it moves forward," board member Jay Adolph said at the meeting.

"This is not a done deal," noted Claudia DiSalvo, president of the opposition group Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, Inc.

"They’re not giving back parkland," added group member Bill Raudenbush. "Once it’s gone it’s gone."

DiSalvo and other Community United members unfurled a scroll they said had 4,000 signatures from people opposing the project in its current form. 

Some board members expressed concern over the use of parkland, while others said the museum should have come to the community with its desires earlier in the process, not once there was a formal design in place.

However, the majority of members had positive feedback for the plan.

"I think the building is very awe-inspiring and wonderful. I think the plans for the park are beautiful," said member Audrey Isaacs. 

Of the board members present at the meeting, 37 voted in favor of the plan, while one member opposed and three abstained from voting. 

The vote was only held to decide on the appropriateness of the museum and the redesigned park, given its landmark status.

There will be another public review, led by the Parks Department, starting in the first part of 2017.

Under this review process, board members and residents can weigh in on issues like construction, traffic and other environmental impacts the project may cause.