July 12, 2013

Second lawsuit filed against the Central Library Plan


Sometimes, it seems, you just have to get a lawyer. After a year of protests from all kinds of individuals and organizations against the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan, two groups have finally filed lawsuits against the trustees of the Library, in the hopes of halting the plan.

The first lawsuit came from a number of scholars and writers (including Jack Macrae, one of the owners of the Far West Side’s most beautiful indie bookstore, 192 Books) and was filed on July 3rd; the second was filed on Wednesday by the group Citizens Defending Libraries, along with more scholars and writers, among them Edmund Morris, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, historians David Nasaw and Joan W. Scott, and specialist on American legal and constitutional history Stanley N. Katz.

As reported by Jennifer Maloney in the Wall Street Journal, the new lawsuit

argues that the removal of books to off-site storage constitutes a violation of the conditions under which the New York Public Library was formed in 1895. The lawsuit also argues that the renovation violates a 1978 agreement among the library, New York City and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, stipulating that the state agency must approve all structural changes to the Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

One of the issues for those against the CLP has been that the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would normally be the body that could prevent radical changes to a historic building like the main branch, has had their hands tied, somewhat: only the exterior of building is landmarked, not the stacks, or even, amazingly, the Rose Reading Room, though Community Board 5 requested landmark status for the latter this spring. The Commission has not yet returned a decision on the request, and you might think they could have hustled a bit on this one. However, since the CLP primarily affects the stacks under the Rose Reading Room and other parts of the interior, when the Library brought a request to make some small changes to the exterior to the LPC in January, the Commission passed it, 6 to 2.

But this new lawsuit revives the possibility of bringing a stop to the plan on preservation grounds. The only information about this 1978 agreement so far has come secondhand, as quotes from press release put out by the law firm, Weiss & Hiller, that’s representing the plaintiffs. It may, however, be relevant that 1978 was also the year the Supreme Court upheld the decision by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to reject Penn Central Transportation Company’s plans to build a 50-story office building on top of Grand Central, one of the Commission’s first great successes following its creation after the destruction of Penn Station. Details about the stipulations of the agreement and the responsibility of the state should come out as the case unfolds.

In other CLP news, Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio will be publicly announcing his opposition to the plan on the steps of the 42nd St building at 10:30am on Friday.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.