Defenders Spotlight Shortcomings in Museum’s Environmental Review

June 15, 2017

Two leaders of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park challenged the American Museum of Natural History’s environmental impact statement at a public hearing tonight on the museum’s proposed incursion into the park. Here is the text of their comments:

I am Lydia Thomas, president of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc:

We were formed in 2015 by citizens alarmed at the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into the park for construction of the Gilder Center.

We succeeded in getting the museum to take 50% less parkland for its project and to save two majestic trees targeted for removal. We have also participated in a proposed redesign of the park’s affected west side. But we still have major concerns. Above all, we want to preserve the park’s vital role as a community gathering place for the densely populated Upper West Side.

The draft of the environmental impact statement is wide ranging but seems to resolve every issue in the museum’s favor. From loss of parkland to increased congestion it concludes there is “no significant adverse impact.”

What’s missing in the analysis?

MASS OF THE GILDER CENTER
We believe the massive structure and its monumental entrance lobby will harm the tone and texture of our small park. In the draft, every alternative to the plan is rejected because it supposedly fails to meet the museum’s needs. However, we don’t think the museum addressed our proposal. We urged the museum to solve its interior “circulation” problems with a less imposing structure, to reduce the shadows cast by a 115 foot high, 245,000 gsf structure and make the entrance less of a magnet for throngs of visitors, especially on busy days. Having studied proposed floor plans, we are confident that architects could easily meet that objective. Unfortunately, architectural imagination has given way to inflated institutional imperatives. We sadly wonder to what extent the huge lobby reflects a desire to accommodate fund-raising parties and increase restaurant and gift shop business all in the name of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

PARK RESTORATION
Reconfigured spaces for gathering and the opening of adjacent fenced-off lawn areas under a “managed public access” plan are attractive in principle. However day-to-day management is imperative to prevent damage (for example, after heavy rain). In an era of limited budgets, where is the assurance that the museum and Parks Department would provide sufficient resources to develop and

sustain both the redesigned area and the accessible lawn space? If the current maintenance of the park is a harbinger of what will be, then the future is not promising.

***

I am Ronald Flesch, member of The Defenders board of directors. I am an architect by profession:

ATTENDANCE
The draft EIS juggles various estimates, failing to provide a clear picture of how the public will use the 79th Street entrance in years ahead. As far as we can tell, the museum estimates that more than one million visitors annually will use the entrance, roughly double today’s flow. What is the source of such estimates?  The museum mentions its own projections and the vague experience of other institutions.  What methodology was used to reach the figures?  What comparable projects were examined? We are left to guess. Furthermore, the estimating does not go past 2021. It’s going to take three of those years to build the Gilder Center! To what extent will increased New York City tourism and construction of more Upper West Side condos affect attendance and park use beyond the next four years? The questions bear on congestion and how well the park can serve as a neighborhood oasis. Remember, too, that when thousands of visitors use the 79th entrance, unlike other museum entrances, they beat a footpath through our neighborhood, affecting quality of life.

CONSTRUCTION PLAN
The museum’s 36-month plan raises an array of issues, from noise abatement to removal of hazardous material. Neighborhood groups must be involved in monitoring construction. The Defenders are especially concerned about safeguarding trees as large trucks move through the site. The museum promises protection. But questions remain. For example, to what extent would limbs be removed to make way for trucks, affecting tree configuration? Meanwhile, where will scores of construction workers park in an already crowded neighborhood? And where will already troublesome school buses park? The concerns go on and on.

THE HUMAN FACTOR
The draft EIS relies on a bureaucratic manual and low quantitative standards to measure “significant adverse impact.” However, many of the neighborhood’s concerns are qualitative. For example, the yardstick of parkland per 1,000 residents does not truly measure the role of Teddy Roosevelt Park. The museum is unnecessarily usurping part of the park to be used as the foyer for its new front door. In real life, this is a park where the neighbors come to rest, play and renew themselves. Let’s never forget the human factor!

 

 

Crucial Environmental Review Ahead for Museum Expansion

March 16, 2017

The winter has come, then gone, then come again.

While we wait for the season to decide its direction, we also await publication of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park to build a new science center. Prepared by the museum under the direction of the New York City Parks Department, the EIS is due this spring.

In the meantime, the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park would like to review how far we have come in this struggle to preserve our park’s precious open space. The Defenders:

  • Led the way in alerting the neighborhood to the museum expansion;
  • Organized a costly town hall meeting attended by 300;
  • Played a significant role in getting the museum to take 50 per cent less parkland for its project;
  • Employed an arborist and saved two majestic trees slated for removal;
  • Served as an important force in re-designing the park so that, if the expansion occurs, we will reduce damage to the park’s role as a gathering place.

We also have called on the museum to further reduce the “mass” of its project and to deal with impending congestion issues. And we have testified at public hearings on the draft of an EIS and on the application to the Landmarks Commission.

Our work continues. We will be ready this spring when a public hearing is held on crucial environmental issues and the final development of an EIS. The months ahead will be challenging and your participation in this effort will be essential.

Thank you again for your contributions and for being active in defending our neighborhood resource.

Defenders Sharpen Environmental Review of Museum Project

April 6, 2016

The American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park to build a $325 million science center has triggered a range of concerns as the environmental review of the project gets underway. 

Once again, the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, which succeeded in getting the museum to take 50% less parkland for the center, are in action. They participated in a lively “scoping session” on April 6 when the public, for the first time, could comment on the proposed scope of the environmental impact statement that the museum must produce under the direction of the New York City Parks Department.

 

In both oral and written comments, the Defenders sought to deepen and sharpen the EIS by plugging gaps and reducing ambiguities. Above all, we emphasized the need to preserve the park’s role as a tranquil gathering spot in a high-density neighborhood.

We also raised questions about the sheer size of the center and its grand entrance, the accuracy of museum attendance projections, loss of canopy trees, increased congestion (both vehicular and pedestrian), access to the park during three-year construction phase, and other issues. 

Click here to see the complete written submission.

Park Defenders Win A Victory But Concerns Remain

The Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc. has succeeded in blunting the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed massive expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park  Street at 79th Street. The museum’s revised conceptual design for a six-story science center and grand new entrance would take substantially less parkland than originally indicated. Initially, the AMNH says, about 40% of the new structure would have occupied parkland. That has been reduced to 20% — a significant victory.

However, our organization still has much to do. Above all, we are dedicated to preserving the park’s treasured role as a tranquil, intimate gathering place for the community – a “sweet spot” for residents of the high-density Upper West Side.


We call on the museum to:

Redesign the park area between 79th and 80th Streets to retain fully its unique role as the neighborhood’s backyard.

Learn More

While the proposed science center would still take parkland, there is ample opportunity to recreate an oasis that matches or exceeds what is being lost. At stake is not merely dirt but how the park functions for the people who use it. The interests of the community are paramount and its representatives must be at the table as active participants in the redesign process.

Preserve more trees than currently proposed in the museum’s plans.

Learn More

In particular, we urge the museum to revise the layout of a proposed underground service driveway that would remove two mature canopy trees with trunks more than two feet in diameter, one of them a majestic English elm.

Re-examine the new building’s layout to see if the structure can be reduced in size.

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While the AMNH argues that the proposed configuration is needed to solve internal circulation issues, schematic plans are still being drawn. We urge the AMNH to consider ways to lessen the building’s impact on the tone and texture of this small park.
Animated aerial view of proposed museum expansion.

Minimize the impact that the new building’s added visitors will have on the character of the park.

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We are concerned not only about increased congestion in an already crowded neighborhood (pedestrians, cars, buses, food carts), but also about the new entrance creating much more foot traffic in the park itself.

Protect the environment from the project’s potential adverse effects, both during and after construction.

Learn More

Among an array of concerns are noise, air quality and hazardous material removal.
The AMNH is a justly famous institution. We are not anti-museum. We are pro-park. We want to work with the museum on questions of mutual concern. At the same time, we will continue to be vigilant defenders of this precious urban haven.

We’re happy to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc.
Information and comments: info@saveteddyrooseveltpark.org

English elm tree imperiled by underground driveway construction.

Voices of Concern

Individuals and organizations from around New York City and the nation have raised serious concerns about the proposed taking of parkland for the expansion planned by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Municipal Art Society of New York

Landmark West!

The American Society of Landscape Architects, New York Chapter

The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development

Central Park West Preservation Committee

The Austin Condominium, Board of Directors

Park Belvedere Condominium, Board of Directors

Billie Jean King, international tennis champion

Sig Gissler, former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and journalism professor, Columbia University

Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author & great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick

Stuart Blumin, professor emeritus, urban history, Cornell University

Paul Friedberg, FASLA, landscape architect, 2015 ASLA Medal Winner, the American Society of Landscape Architect’s highest award

Thomas Balsley, FASLA, landscape architect, 2015 American Society of Landscape Architect’s Design Medal Winner

Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, landscape architect, designer of Brooklyn Bridge Park and portions of Hudson River Park

Adrian Smith, ASLA, landscape architect, park designer, Trustee, American Society of Landscape Architects

Terry Meehan, CEO, Meehan and Associates

Peter P. Blanchard III, with Sofia A. Blanchard, author and land conservationist; founder and Board Chair, Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, N.J.; Board member of Maine Coast Heritage Trust; member of the Board of Trustees, The Frick Collection, New York City

Four Views of Museum's Target Area

TARGET AREA:  Where precious parkland and towering trees would be lost to construction. (photo by Dave Greenberg)

Click on photo to enlarge image.

BIRD’S EYE VIEW: Expansion site seen from nearby 79th Street roof deck.

Click on photo to enlarge image.

TREE LEVEL: Museum expansion site seen from 79th Street during Sunday farmer’s market.

(photos by Piero Basso)

Click on photo to enlarge image.

STREET LEVEL: Approaching site on 79th Street at corner of Columbus Avenue.

Google Earth’s Image of Museum Greenery

WHERE TREES ARE A TREASURE: Google Earth’s view captures green canopy surrounding American Museum of Natural History. At least nine stately trees are threatened by the museum’s expansion onto parkland near 79th Street entry at Columbus Avenue. The vital role of trees in the adjoining neighborhood, planted through the years on side streets by block associations, is also visible upon closer look. No wonder “save the trees” is the community rallying cry. (Image provided by Sam Leff of 79th St.)
Graphic designer: Haruka Aoki