City Club appeals Pier55 suit to top state court

A design rendering of the proposed Pier55 project, which would sit offshore from Hudson River Park, connected to it by two pedestrian bridges.
A design rendering of the proposed Pier55 project, which would sit offshore from Hudson River Park, connected to it by two pedestrian bridges.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Last Thursday, two members of the City Club of New York, Rob Buchanan and Tom Fox, who have been litigating against Barry Diller’s Pier55 project, appealed to the state’s highest court to overturn lower court rulings against their lawsuit.

The City Club’s suit was recently rejected by the Appellate Division, which upheld the ruling of State Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs contend the Pier 55 project — a proposed “entertainment island” to be built off of W. 14th St. — was “developed in secret” by media mogul Diller and the Hudson River Park Trust, and amounts to an unauthorized “alienation” of public parkland. They further charge that the plan has not undergone a full environmental review, and does not adequately ensure public access.

“In short, it’s a prime example of a public-private partnership run amok,” said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club.

“This is a major potential case for the Court of Appeals,” said Richard Emery, the petitioners’ attorney. “It presents new aspects of current legal issues relating to putting public land in private hands and building a major entertainment space as an island in the Hudson without adequate environmental review.

“The issues deeply affect the public,” he stressed. “Our goal is to ensure maximum public access to parks, preservation of incomparable views over the Hudson, and maximum enjoyment of the park.”

The petitioners last Thursday asked the Court of Appeals to reinstate a previous preliminary injunction on construction for the pier that the State Supreme Court had temporarily imposed this summer, but on the following day the court refused their request.

Pounding piles for the project restarted on Tuesday. Nine piles have been pounded in so far this summer, and now 46 more will be by the fall — assuming the Court of Appeals doesn’t quash the project.

The Trust, the state-city authority that operates and is building the park, has until Mon., Oct. 3, to file a response to the City Club’s request for the court to hear the case. The court will then decide whether or not to hear it.

Diller and his wife, fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg, have committed to fund $113 million of the $130 million of the glitzy project’s cost. Under a long-term lease with the Trust, Diller would operate the 2.7-acre undulating pier and its extensive entertainment programming, 51 percent of which would be free or low-cost.

David Paget, the Trust’s attorney, said, “The plaintiffs’ application does not meet the exacting standards of the New York Court of Appeals for securing permission to appeal to that court. Their arguments — part of a relentless delay tactic campaign — are without merit, as…decisively determined by the…Appellate Division.”

A spokesperson for Diller’s IAC company declined comment, saying the comment by the Trust’s attorney was sufficient.

According to Fox, the petitioners are challenging the courts’ position regarding the “public trust doctrine.”

“The lower courts said the public trust doctrine does not apply to state parkland, just city and federal parkland, and that makes New York an outlier state, since most states recognize the public trust doctrine as applying to state parks,” Fox noted. Under the public trust doctrine, parkland that is removed from public use or used commercially must first be “alienated” by the state Legislature.