May 22 - June 4, 2003
City Shortcut On Filter Plant Criticized
By JORDAN MOSS
Members of several community groups held a press
conference in the southeast corner of Van Cortlandt Park
on Sunday to express their opposition to the city's proposal
to build a water filtration plant at the Mosholu Golf Course.
The city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is taking a procedural shortcut
in the siting process for a water filtration plant at the Harlem River -- one of three sites
being considered -- and advocates say it is out of line and possibly illegal.
In an April 15 letter to Deputy Mayor Mark Shaw, DEP commissioner Christopher Ward
requests a "zoning override" so that the agency wouldn't have to go through the usual
process requiring a change in zoning to allow for the construction of a filtration plant at
the Harlem River site. In an April 23 memo to Ward, Shaw approved the request.
Attorneys for park advocates say the city is on shaky legal ground. "There's no precedent
for a zoning override that we can find historically in New York, and by doing that, there
is a short-circuiting of the process and it would appear . . . that the right of the public to
comment will be curtailed," said Howard Epstein, a lawyer for the Friends of Van
Cortlandt Park, who also represented the group in a successful suit in 2001 that prevented
the city from building in the park before it got the approval of the state legislature.
Though the city has been clear about its preference to build the plant at Mosholu Golf
Course (it will officially announce a preferred site on May 31) and not at Harlem River,
park advocates worry that the city will use the same shortcut to build in the park.
"If you're going to construct a facility like this in a park, you'd have to have that area
designated as industrial property," Epstein said. "Accomplishing a redesignation of
zoning is not necessarily a fait accompli. And until they do that, any request for parkland
alienation is premature."
Charles Sturcken, a DEP spokesman, said that time was a factor in the decision to pursue
the override. "Given the time constraints, we had to have something together by April,"
Sturcken said. "The time from the consent order was constraining us."
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