BY MICAH DANNEY
Construction of the planned Hudson River Park cultural pier off West 13th Street can continue after a court last week dismissed objections over its environmental impact.
“We are grateful for the court’s decision and are pleased to be back on our fall construction schedule, which will make Pier 55 a reality for all New Yorkers,” Sam Spokony, a spokesperson for the project, said in a statement.
Opponents of the project, though, said they would appeal.
Pier 55 is a planned tree-lined 2.7-acre public park with three performance venues that will sit on piles in the Hudson River off West 13th Street. It is a project of the Hudson River Park Trust and media mogul Barry Diller, who is footing most of the $200 million bill. Nine piles of the planned 550 were installed last month, and the project is expected to be completed in 2019.
The civic group City Club of New York has opposed the project on the grounds that it could hurt the environment, and filed a lawsuit asking the court to halt work and order a more detailed environmental impact study.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the state’s Appellate Division ruled that the trust took a “hard look” at possible adverse effects of the project. The court also ruled in favor of Pier 55’s design, which is outside the historical footprint of the decrepit Pier 54, which it will replace. The court cited the legislature’s authorization of “an entirely new, redesigned structure” in its decision.
Richard Emery, City Club’s attorney, said the ruling had “vast implications” and could undermine environmental protections associated with future major projects. The group’s lawsuit cited the project’s impact on the view, fish, crowding, traffic, noise and the cumulative effect of construction of Pier 55 and of the Pier 57 Google office complex nearby.
Emery said he would ask the state Court of Appeals to hear the case. He is also preparing a federal challenge to the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.
“A monster project like this just simply shouldn’t be allowed without full environmental protections which the public deserve before we hand over almost three acres of water, and in fact land, to private interests to use as an entertainment venue as they see fit, or pretty much totally under their control,” he said.
Michael Gruen, president of the City Club of New York, said he was disappointed in the ruling but hopes to prevail.
“The case remains a good one, as it always has been, and sometimes you just have to wait for the top court in the state to get the right decision,” he said.
Rob Buchanan, another plaintiff in the case, is a rowing and sailing teacher who has boated in the area where Pier 55 is being built. He said that every embayment and cove is useful to boaters trying to get out of the current. He also said he was concerned about the precedent the park’s construction would set.
“I wish that people would take the idea of building in the river a little more seriously,” Buchanan said. “The river is not real estate. Just because there’s an open space between two piers doesn’t mean it’s okay to build in it.”
Buchanan said he was disappointed that environmental groups have not made opposition to Pier 55 more of a priority.
“We say collectively, as a city, that we’re planning collectively for the future, for resiliency and for smart growth, and that would seem to me to mean that you start to pull back from the edges and start to really respect the waterway instead of build on it — and I just think this is a backwards step,” he said.
Michael Gerrard, an environmental lawyer who served as counsel to the Pier 55 project, praised the court for clearing an obstacle to “a terrific asset” to the city. Gerrard described the environmental review as extensive, saying it went beyond what the law required, and said the projected impact was minimal. He said the proposed design would be better for marine life than the existing pier.
“It’s elevated and would allow much more light to reach the water — the sub-surface — so compared to a standard pier that lies close above the water, it’s superior,” Gerrard said.