Fort Greene Park tree-removal fight moves forward
Activists won a round in their legal battle against a city plan to remove 58 mature trees from Fort Greene Park.
Appeals court judges decided Tuesday that the city Parks Department must give the Friends of Fort Greene Park an unredacted report about a $10.5 million redesign of the historic public recreation area.
The ruling by the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department affirms an October 2018 decision by New York Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth requiring the Parks Department to hand the activists the complete report that landscape architecture firm Nancy Owens Studio drew up.
In response to a FOIL request by the activist group, the city agency had delivered a heavily censored version of the Fort Greene Park Historic Resource and Management and Operations Study.
In addition to tree removal, the city’s planned changes to Fort Greene Park include the creation of a paved plaza near the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument.
The state Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, enables members of the public to obtain records from state and local government agencies.
In Tuesday’s appellate decision, Associate Justices Dianne Renwick, Ellen Gesmer, Cynthia Kern and Anil Singh ruled that Bluth had correctly decided the Parks Department failed to adequately show it had retained Nancy Owens Studio to prepare the report.
If the Parks Department had done so, it wouldn’t have been legally required to give the Friends of Fort Greene Park the landscape architecture firm’s full report. That’s because a provision of FOIL exempts outside consultants’ work from public disclosure when government agencies use the materials in decision-making processes.
Why such secrecy, activists ask
When asked about the appeals court’s ruling, Parks Department spokesperson Maeri Ferguson told the Brooklyn Eagle, “We are currently reviewing the decision.”
A plaintiff in the suit against the Parks Department said activists are eager to find out what the full report about the park will reveal.
“Evidently the Friends of Fort Greene Park aren’t the only ones who think that transparency is required for a democratic process in which the public has a right to know what a city agency — the Department of Parks and Recreation — has up its sleeve,” Sandy Reiburn told the Eagle.
“Lower court and appellate judges all said, ‘Unredact the FOILed information.’ So we wait with great anticipation to see what was so secret that the city and the Parks Department felt they needed to fight us in order to keep it hidden from the community,” she said.
The Friends of Fort Greene Park think that information from Nancy Owens Studio’s study might help them in a lawsuit they filed jointly with the Sierra Club and the City Club of New York.
The city is undertaking the redesign of Fort Greene Park under the aegis of the Parks Without Borders program. Its purpose is to increase parks’ accessibility to people with limited mobility.
But, the community activists say the park’s redesign will cause environmental harm to their neighborhood because large trees absorb almost 70 times more air pollution each year than small, newly planted trees — a statistic they say they got from a bulletin published by the Parks Department about the benefits of street trees.
Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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