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Legal Battle Rages On Over the Still Fenced-In Chase Plaza

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In September 2011, J.P. Morgan Chase came under firing for erecting fences around its large plaza, which occupies a block of Cedar Street between Nassau and William Streets in the Financial District. Opponents claimed the fences were to keep out Occupy Wall Street protesters; Chase said they were renovating the plaza. But they refused to disclose plans and found themselves being sued over landmarks violations. However, there was obvious construction happening last fall, and since then, the fight over the fences fell off our radar. Now the Village Voice reports that the battle is far from over.

A "sprawling" lawsuit, which has many plaintiffs and defendants, focuses on the freedom of speech. The suit alleges that the city, NYPD, and private corporations, including Chase, conspired to "effectively impose a corporate monopoly on political speech." How does the plaza fit in? The plaintiffs claim the fencing off of the area "impinged on protesters' first-amendment rights to expression." But Chase has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaza is privately owned and therefore it is their "fundamental right, protected by the federal constitution, to exclude the public from the plaza."

The matter of whether or not the public has a right to use Chase's plaza hinges on how the plaza was created back in the late 1950s. This was before the advent of Privately Owned Public Spaces, so Chase isn't required by law to follow the rules of POPS, which dictate that public access must be maintained. However, the original zoning approval says that the tower would occupy only a small footprint, "leaving 72.7 percent for a plaza, which will afford light and air and room for relaxation for the applicant's employees and for others in the area." And it's on this fact that the plaintiffs have hinged their lawsuit?the city ceded a block of Cedar Street to the corporation in exchange for a public plaza (sounds very much like a POPS).

The suit also quotes David Rockefeller, then the president of Chase, who said the creation of the plaza required "a sense of citizenship to clear an open plaza on some of the city's most valuable land and throw it open to the light of the sun -- and the public." A ruling on Chase's movement for dismissal is expected in the coming weeks. Click through to the Village Voice for the complete legal document.
· Faced With A Lawsuit, J.P. Morgan Chase Claims Plaza is Private [VV]
· Look Here—No Trespassing on Chase's Private Property! [Curbed]