Parks should negotiate, not litigate, on Wash. Sq.

One needs a scorecard to keep track of the lawsuits against the Washington Square renovation plan. Now two new environmental suits have been added to the mix.

One lawsuit filed in July 2005 — which raised concerns about the renovation disturbing the graves of Revolutionary War veterans beneath the square and the impact on the park’s ecosystem — was withdrawn after the Parks Department agreed to do an environmental impact assessment. Even so, there are now four lawsuits.

To recap: One lawsuit charges Parks failed to fully and faithfully present its design plans to Community Board 2 during the public review process; the second lawsuit charges that the public was denied access to the most current design plans within a reasonable amount of time prior to the January 2006 Art Commission hearing; a third suit, filed last Friday, argues that the renovation must undergo a full environmental impact statement that could take a year and a half; still another lawsuit contends the renovation will disrupt the park’s habitat, which has recently attracted — Exhibit A — a red-tailed hawk.

The lawsuit that contends the public review process was flawed already has stalled the project for six months, and a decision by the Appellate Division could come down any day. Clearly, this lawsuit is strong, as it already won in July in State Supreme Court when Justice Emily Jane Goodman ruled Parks should return to C.B. 2 and re-present its plans for the fountain and plaza — whether these be to align the fountain with the arch and raise the plaza, as in the current plan, or something new.

One of the environmental suits is also considered strong, and is being litigated by attorney Arlene Boop, who is litigating the suit Goodman already ruled in favor of.

While the lawsuits mount, the park is falling further into disrepair and is sorely need of some of the very barebones renovations community members have pleaded for. At night, scurrying rats are back out in force, many heading toward the mounds, once enjoyed by playing children, now virtual rodent condos.

Again, Parks should heed Goodman’s ruling and re-present to C.B. 2 — old plan, new plan, either one. Or, Parks should, as Councilmember Alan Gerson recommends, work with the Washington Square Park Task Force to iron out the issues. Parks should sign any resulting agreement, unlike the last time when Parks disavowed its agreements with Councilmember Gerson and Speaker Christine Quinn.

We don’t understand why Parks won’t work — in good faith — with the community. Will Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy on Washington Square be one of trying to ram this project through against community objections? We see the same situation with the Union Square pavilion. We feel the Parks commissioner’s a good man, but, sadly, we’re seeing a pattern. Please, Commissioner Benepe — work with the community.

If the city continues to fight in court, however, we have a nagging sense that Parks will have squandered a broad community consensus to renovate, rather than revamp, Washington Square Park.