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American Museum of Natural History clears final legal hurdle for planned expansion

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A state appeals court dismissed a last-ditch appeal against the project on Thursday

The exterior of the American Museum of Natural History. The facade is white with columns.
The American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side.

A state appeals court blocked a last-ditch effort to halt the construction of the American Museum of Natural History’s new educational center, likely capping a years-long battle to stymie the institution’s expansion.

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division dismissed an appeal Thursday seeking to reverse a prior court ruling that allowed the natural history museum to begin construction on the $383 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation—the site for which is located within the Theodore Roosevelt Park.

The group that filed the legal challenge, the Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, has argued that the city’s Parks Department misinterpreted the law when it approved plans to build the center on the parkland and charged that the museum should be required to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to acquire permits for the project. But after reexamining the case, the court found opponents’ remaining argument “unavailing” and sided with the earlier decision, court documents show.

“The court properly found that no ULURP was required ... as there was no ‘site selection for capital projects’ or a disposition of city property involved in this case,” the decision states. “The court also properly found that petitioners have failed to demonstrate that the Parks Department’s [State Environmental Quality Review Act/City Environmental Quality Review] determination was not made in accordance with lawful procedure, was affected by an error of law, or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.”

Work has already begun on clearing trees to make way for the project after a judge lifted a temporary stay on building the new five-story, 230,000-square-foot facility. A spokesperson for the museum told Curbed that the institution is glad to put the legal feud behind them and is eager to break ground on the project, which will also connect the museum’s building and includes a redesign of the adjacent section of Theodore Roosevelt Park.

“The Gilder Center will be a major new resource for science education for all New Yorkers and visitors from around the world, and we are extremely pleased that we can now turn our attention to proceeding with the project,” said Scott Rohan, a spokesperson with the American Museum of Natural History.

Plans for the contested project were initially filed in August 2017, having received approval from Manhattan Community Board 7 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2016. The museum expects to complete the new education center by 2021.