The New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), and the Fulton Ferry Landing Association went back to court Tuesday on the Tobacco Warehouse issue, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
They filed an amended complaint to their federal lawsuit challenging the recent decision by the National Park Service to allow the state Parks Department to remove the 19th century Tobacco Warehouse from federal park protection, allowing for the now-roofless warehouse’s development into a theater by the performing arts group St. Ann’s Warehouse.
The warehouse, whose roof was removed after it was destabilized by fire, is a popular venue for parties, performances and concerts during the warmer months. St. Ann’s Warehouse’s plans would put a roof on the structure, an idea that the BHA opposes.
Earlier, according to attorney Jim Walden at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, pro bono counsel for the plaintiffs, the Heights Association et. al withdrew their motion for a temporary restraining order while the National Park Service, at the request of a federal judge, reviewed its decision last year to remove the Tobacco Warehouse from the park (legally speaking, that is).
Now, however, the plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction. They have filed an amended complaint in federal court that adds two additional defendants — Kenneth Salazar, the U.S. secretary of the interior, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp. — to the original defendant, the National Park Service.
Walden said that they would most likely add the additional defendants to an accompanying state lawsuit as well. Both lawsuits were originally filed on Jan. 18.
In general, the plaintiffs say that the National Park Service’s February decision (upholding the “de-parking” of the warehouse) was the result of strong pressure from the city and state to allow the conversion plan to go through.
They claim that earlier, National Parks “was on the verge of restoring the Tobacco Warehouse, located in the park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, to federal protection until city and state officials convinced them to reverse.”
They are supported in their action by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and other officials, according to a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs.
In January, Wayne Strum, acting chief of the service’s state and local programs division, said that its decision superseded a December 2008 decision to keep the landmark 19th-century warehouse within the park — a judgment that would basically have kept it for outdoor recreation use.
“OPRHP (state Parks Department) staff were apparently not aware that the plan for and ultimate uses of the [Tobacco Warehouse] and Empire Stores were ongoing at the highest levels of state and city government,” Strum said at the time.
“We will continue to pursue this case because we believe national landmarks are held in trust for us all,” said Joan Zimmerman, president of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association. “At this point, it is clear that the decisions and actions of the various governmental actors have not been for the public good.”
“Ironically, and sadly, neither Empire Fulton-Ferry State Park nor Brooklyn Bridge Park would exist without the community. Something borne of a robust community process has been derailed by backroom politics. We are hopeful the court will be the greater leveler of the playing field so that work can thereafter continue to build Brooklyn Bridge Park,” said Jane McGroarty, president of the BHA.
And attorney Walden said, “It’s not about what ultimately happens with the Tobacco Warehouse. It’s to make sure our parkland stays available for everyone and doesn’t get given away in backroom deals.” The National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior both made statements via e-mail that they don’t normally comment on ongoing legislation.
For Immediate Release: March 1, 2011
Contact: Linda Gross, LCG Communications: 718.853.5568
Tobacco Warehouse Case:
New Filing Demonstrates Political Pressure on Federal Agency
Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation Sued
The New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), and the Fulton Ferry Landing Association went back to Court today, filing an amended complaint challenging a decision by the National Park Service to allow the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to remove a national historic landmark, the Tobacco Warehouse, from federal park protection, allowing for private development.
The new filing reveals graphic details of political pressure brought to bear by State and City officials. National Parks was on the verge of restoring the Tobacco Warehouse, located in the park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, to federal protection until City and State officials convinced them to reverse. Awkwardly, National Parks had already released a draft decision restoring the Tobacco Warehouse. Comparing the two conflicting decisions gives a unique view into the corrosive effect of political pressure placed on a federal agency that is supposed to protect parkland.
It was an amazing turn of events but we believe it only strengthened our case, said Jim Walden, pro bono counsel at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy called the NPS reversal a disappointing chapter in -- what should have been -- a classic case of National Parks exercising judgment to protect our landmarks. If allowed to stand, this decision has troubling implications for all federally protected parks.
The new amended complaint also adds as defendants Kenneth Salazar, the Secretary for the Interior, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. We will continue to pursue this case because we believe national landmarks are held in trust for us all, said Joan Zimmerman, President of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association. At this point, it is clear that the decisions and actions of the various governmental actors have not been for the public good.
Ironically, and sadly, neither Empire Fulton-Ferry State Park nor Brooklyn Bridge Park would exist without the community. Something borne of a robust community process has been derailed by backroom politics. We are hopeful the Court will be the greater leveler of the playing field so that work can thereafter continue to build Brooklyn Bridge Park, said Jane McGroarty, President of the BHA.