Vol. 12, No. 7 April 8 - 21, 1999


City Needs Legislature's Approval, Dinowitz Says


Even if the city secures the necessary local land use approvals to build the filtration plant at Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park, legal obstacles could get in the way.

Park advocates claim the city needs permission from the state legislature to "alienate" parkland, that is, use it for a purpose other than for which it was intended.

"It is my intention to ensure that there's a lawsuit that ... would force a determination that legislative approval is needed," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, "and the plan by the city as it is now -- I can't imagine how that would get legislative approval."

In response, Joe Ketas, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said his agency's legal adviser, the city's Corporation Counsel, determined that building the plant in the park would not constitute alienation "primarily based on the fact that we're going to replace the park's functions either in kind or in an enhanced state after we leave that site."

Ketas would not release documentation concerning that determination. "It's a privileged, lawyer-client document at this point," Ketas said.

Though the city is planning to restore the golf course on top of the plant, park protectors believe it's impossible to fully restore a rolling, natural topography and are skeptical that construction damage will only be temporary. In testimony before the borough board, Jane Sokolow of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park pointed to the damage done to the northeastern corner of the Park as the result of Third Water Tunnel construction. She worried that Mosholu Golf Course would receive the same treatment. "The rendered after picture [in the DEIS] depicts a large, flat, open, grassy expanse that looks similar to a landfill or mined area after it has been 'reestablished,'" Sokolow said. "There are no trees or landscaping, there are no rock outcroppings or rolling meadows. The terrain is flat and sterile-looking, void of topographical relief and features."

Dinowitz' office has documented a number of legal precedents, where the state's attorney general and comptroller have ruled that local jurisdictions must obtain permission from the state legislature before taking parkland. For instance, in 1956, the state comptroller ruled that the New Rochelle Housing Authority could not use parkland for a public housing development "without the consent of the state legislature."

While some of the rulings cited are informal, they are often looked to for legal precedent, said Bill Weitz, Dinowitz' chief of staff. "The rulings have a certain consistency to them," Weitz said.

If the city is forced to go to the legislature for approval, Dinowitz predicts the proposal's certain demise. Though park alienation bills routinely sail through the legislature on the last day of each legislative session (the assemblyman says he is one of the few who reflexively votes against all of them) Dinowitz predicts his colleagues in the Assembly will follow his lead since Van Cortlandt Park is in his district.

And Dinowitz promises to do everything in his power to force the issue up to Albany. "If they try to do this [without getting legislative approval] we're going to sue them," he said.

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