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Lawsuit halting American Museum of Natural History expansion dismissed

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Work can resume on the Studio Gang-designed Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation

The American Museum of Natural History can resume progress on its $383 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation after a state Supreme Court judge vacated a temporary restraining order on the property issued in late October.

The order against the museum stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, a group that legal documents describe as a “coalition of more than 5,000 New Yorkers [who] seek to preserve [the] Park and protect the neighborhood surrounding it from irreversible environmental damage.”

The lawsuit revolved around Community United’s belief that the expansion’s encroachment on a quarter acre of Theodore Roosevelt Park, which the museum sits within, will destroy the park and pose a safety threat and environmental hazard to the surrounding community. It also takes issue with the removal of seven of the park’s trees.

The museum has already responded to community concerns by amending its original expansion plan in 2016 to reduce the new wing’s footprint within the park from one-half acre to one-quarter acre, requiring seven rather than nine trees to be removed.

The decision turned on an 1876 act that authorized the Parks Department to “enter into a contract with the [Museum] for the occupation by it of the buildings erected or to be erected” within the park. The Parks Department and the American Museum of Natural History entered into a written lease for the site in 1877, the decision states.

The American Museum of Natural History revealed the Gilder Center, designed by Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang, in November 2015. The expansion of the city landmark has since been approved by the local community board, the Parks Department, and by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, with commissioner Frederick Bland heralding it as “a beautiful and brilliant example of a contemporary expression of a meaningful building.”

The Gilder Center originally sought a 2020 opening date; it’s unclear how that’s been affected by the TRO.