Elected officials, community board members and residents continue the fight to keep Ruppert Playground from becoming a high-rise and are currently pushing the City Planning Commission to require The Related Companies to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) before starting development on the site.
"There is a 32,000-square-foot park that is a really cherished and wonderful open space that is used by seniors and children that Related wants to turn into a high-rise," said Council Member Jessica Lappin at last month's Community Board 8 meeting. "I think that requires a pretty significant change in our land use."
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who has also been pushing the city to force a ULURP review instead of allowing Related to build as-of-right on the parcel, wrote in a letter to the City Planning Commission that Ruppert Playground was created as "a park space to offset the impact of another high-density development."
But now The Related Companies, the real estate company that bought the space in a 1983 deal with the city and has maintained it as a playground for over 25 years, has fulfilled its end of the bargain and is planning to build a 35-story high-rise on the land.
Opponents argue that it is a land use change that requires a full public review, even though it is allowed under the original contract. The playground has been closed to the public since September 2011. Related did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
"The community has come to rely on this park space as a valuable resource for outdoor activities and as an escape from the heavily congested surrounding area," Garodnick's letter stated. "Prior land use review and approval never explicitly considered the elimination of the park space?the city should review its implications in a full land use review process."
Community Board 8's territory, with over 219,000 residents, is one of the most densely populated areas in Manhattan. Only 3.2 percent of its total land area is dedicated to parks and open space.
The plan for another high-rise in this already congested neighborhood has rallied active dissent from the community, its elected officials and park advocates.
"A building makes no sense, because this community has the least amount of public space-it makes no sense to allow something like this to go up," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. He said that if the city doesn't force a ULURP review, there may be lawsuits from the community.
In a memorandum filed Jan. 11 by the law firm Goldman Harris LLC on behalf of Ruppert Housing Company, which owns the 650-unit Mitchell Llama cooperative housing development adjacent to Ruppert Playground, "development of the playground requires a modification to the Large-Scale Residential Development Plan to change the use of [Ruppert Playground] from public open space to specify the use and build of development, if any, permitted on the site."
The ULURP process takes about 17 months, during which time the application will go through the community board, the borough president's office and the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission. Each phase invites public comment.
"Even though Related has no obligation to maintain the playground, they cannot use it for any development unless they change the large-scale plan with it made with City Planning," said Howard Goldman, an attorney at Goldman Harris LLC who specializes in zoning and land.
"The legal question now is what public process Related should go through with City Planning in order to make that change in the plan," he said.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has tried to work out a deal with Related that would offer a substitute site on which to build. She wrote in a letter to City Planning that she hopes to find an alternative solution.
"I can't really imagine a bigger change in park space use and it deserves a ULURP, it deserves a public hearing and it deserves a chance for people to have a say," Lappin said.
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