Back Room Deal?

UPDATE: City Club of New York files Freedom of Information request into Pier 55 design changes

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City Club of New York files Freedom of Information Law request into Pier 55 design changes. (Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)
City Club of New York files Freedom of Information Law request into Pier 55 design changes. (Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

The City Club of New York is turning up the heat on the Hudson River Park Trust over the “secret, last-minute architectural design changes to Barry Diller’s proposed Pier 55 project.” In what may prove to be the most consequential “bait and switch” since Bruce Ratner tried to slide a third rate design for his Atlantic Yards arena past the trained eye of City Planning Commissioner Amana Burden, Pier 55 last week morphed into a less than thrilling design. Whatever the public merits of the Thomas Heatherwick design, at least its water-facing base was a fantastical undulating platform that continued up the sides of the park. That pod frame has now become a “conventional flat pier,” or as the City Club claims, “a pale parody of the original.”

The City Club has filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the Hudson River Park Trust asking for “any and all” records pertaining to “the new design of Pier 55, as presented in a joint application for a modification” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. A City Club press release announcing the request claims that the Trust’s “approach is consistent with the back-room dealing and lack of transparency that have characterized this project from day one.”

UPDATE: At 3:45 pm today, the Hudson River Park Trust issued a response to The Architect’s Newspaper. That response is located immediately below. A full press release from the City Club of New York (included in this article’s original form) is located farther down.


The Trust has made technical alterations to make the project easier to build, but the topography, landscaping, program and size have not changed. It’s unfortunate but not surprising that the plaintiffs—who have now lost four times in four courts including the highest in the state—are making another desperate attempt to derail a project that has strong support among neighborhoods along the park, Community Board 2, park advocates and prominent civic groups. The plaintiffs’ depiction of the submission of a FOIL request as a “major development” is ludicrous and illustrative of their desperation. Construction continues and we’re looking forward to opening this addition to ‪Hudson River Park in 2019.


CITY CLUB DEMANDS ALL DOCUMENTS ABOUT PIER 55’s SECRET ‘BACK-ROOM’ DEAL ON CHANGES TO ‘DILLER’S ISLAND’ PLANS

Club FOILs records involving last-minute architectural changes to controversial plan.

NEW YORK (FEB. 3, 2017) — The City Club of New York has filed a FOIL request with the Hudson River Park Trust for all documents pertaining to its secret, last-minute architectural design changes to Barry Diller’s proposed Pier 55 project.

In a FOIL request to the Hudson River Park Trust, the City Club and plaintiffs Tom Fox and Robert Buchanan, asked for “any and all” records pertaining to “the new design of Pier 55, as presented in a joint application for a modification” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

On December 30, with no public notice, the Trust notified federal and state regulators that it was overhauling the design of Pier 55. Most of the structure will now be a “conventional flat pier” rather than the undulating platform originally promised.

City Club officials, who have been battling the rushed-through Pier 55 plan in state and federal courts for more than a year, said they have no information about how this design was developed, who was consulted, or what its impact will be on the environment.

They said the new design could have different effects on views, noise, and shadow than the old design. “We have no way of knowing whether HRPT studied those effects. This approach is consistent with the back-room dealing and lack of transparency that have characterized this project from day one,” officials said.

“The Trust and Diller’s request to change the project is of a kind with the bait and switch methodology of this project from the beginning: first to the community, then to the Legislature and now to the world at large,” City Club lawyer Richard Emery said. “The Trust and Diller have misrepresented this project over and over again. Hopefully the courts and the Army Corps will get wise to this shell game.”

City club President Michael Gruen said: “The modified design for Pier 55 is a pale parody of the original. The theme of an organic cluster of stemmed vegetation growing from the River is utterly defeated by resting most of the ‘island’ on a conventional flat pier, flattening the undulation theme, and merely sprinkling the periphery of the ‘island’ with ornamental ‘pots.’  No claim can credibly be made that community board support, claimed favorable public opinion, legislative support, or even the Trust’s Board’s rushed approval in early 2013, extends to this corruption of the original design on which such support arguably rested. The approval process must go back to step 1.”

Fox, one of the plaintiffs in the suits, added: “The Hudson River Park Trust was established to create a world-class waterfront park in an open and participatory process. The secrecy and closed door deals that the current leadership of the Trust are pursuing has undermined that public process and we must return to meaningful community involvement in decision making of the entire Park is in jeopardy.”

The FOIL request comes after a report that the plans had changed in the design. Here’s the link.

Michael Gruen
President

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