AP and NY Times stories on Randall's Island win
Judge kills city's private school sports fields deal (AP)
Judge kills city's private school sports fields deal
Associated Press, January 31, 2008
NEW YORK (AP) _ A group of private schools that planned to pay to build and renovate public athletic fields in exchange for their exclusive use at some hours will not be allowed to complete the project, a state judge ruled Thursday.
Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich ruled the Randall's Island project, awarded by the city's Franchise Concession Review Committee, was not properly reviewed under the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
Kate Ahlers, spokeswoman for the city's law department, said the city was reviewing the decision and "considering its options."
Under the deal struck last February, 20 private schools in Manhattan agreed to pay the city about $52 million over 20 years to build new athletic fields on Randall's Island and renovate 36 existing ones, for a total of 63.
The island is 480 acres in the East River between upper Manhattan , Queens and the Bronx . It is connected to the city boroughs by the Triborough Bridge as well as a pedestrian bridge to East Harlem .
The schools, which include such exclusive institutions as Dalton , Trinity and Spence, would have received permits for sole use of two-thirds of the fields between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays _ the hours of peak demand _ for the life of the deal.
Public schools, sports leagues, after-school programs and private schools not in the consortium would compete for permits for the remainder of the fields.
After-hours messages left at the Dalton and Trinity schools and at the home of the head of Spence were not immediately returned.
Last June, East Harlem residents sued the city, complaining that public land had been turned over to private schools and the city was spending $65 million of public money to get the project going.
The East Harlem plaintiffs contended that the project was approved without proper environmental or community review, and without competitive bidding.
The judge agreed.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Norman Siegel, issued a statement saying he was "pleased" with the decision. "It sends a strong message that the rule of law applies to everyone including city agencies," he said. "Moreover, it says you can fight city hall and sometimes you can win."
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer said he was the only member of the Franchise and Concessions Review Committee who voted against the proposal.
"I applaud today's decision," Stringer said. "The judge's order will insure that the project gets the full public review and input it needs to become a fair deal for the community, the City and for private and public schoolchildren alike."
February 1, 2008
Deal Over Randalls Island Sports Fields Is Voided
A Manhattan judge voided an agreement between the Bloomberg administration and 20 private schools on Thursday, ruling that the city had improperly given the schools priority in using athletic fields on Randalls Island in exchange for $45 million.
The deal, struck last year among the schools, the city’s Parks Department and the Randalls Island Sports Foundation, which operates the parkland on the island, was opposed by a coalition of public school parents and students, youth league teams, residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx , and parks advocates.
Opponents maintained that the deal was tantamount to privatizing public park land and had been approved by the city without having gone through the proper competitive bidding and public review processes.
In the ruling on Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan , the judge, Shirley Kornreich, agreeing that the project had been improperly approved, annulled the agreement.
“This sends a strong and important message that the rule of law applies to everyone, including the city and city agencies,” said Norman Siegel, a lawyer for the deal’s opponents. “Moreover, it says you can fight City Hall, and sometimes you can win.”
The ruling means that the Bloomberg administration must essentially start from scratch by submitting its deal with the private schools, which include Buckley, Dalton and Chapin, through the Uniform Land Use Review Process. That process requires major projects to be approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, and to be reviewed by the local community board and the borough president.
The agreement had been approved by the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee, a majority of whose members were appointed by Mr. Bloomberg. The mayor supported the plan.
The Parks Department on Thursday referred inquiries to the city’s Law Department.
Kate Ahlers O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the City Law Department, said in a brief statement on Thursday, “The city is reviewing the decision and is considering its options.”
The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, the only member of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee who voted against the agreement, released a statement applauding Justice Kornreich’s ruling.
“The judge’s order will ensure that the project gets the full public review and input it needs to become a fair deal for the community, the city, and for private and public schoolchildren alike,” he said.
The annulment represents the second time in the past half year that the Bloomberg administration has failed in an effort to transform Randalls Island , which is in the East River near Manhattan , the Bronx and Queens .
In September, the Parks Department announced that it had canceled its plan to build a $215 million water theme park on the island after officials questioned whether the developer had sufficient funds to finance the project.
The athletic-field plan, as outlined in court documents, called for the 20 Manhattan private schools to pay the city $44.7 million to create new playing fields and to renovate existing ones on the island. (The Parks Department had previously put the figure that the city was to receive from the schools at $52.4 million.) In exchange, the private schools would have been given control of two-thirds of the more than 60 fields from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on school days for the next 20 years. Private schools have used the island’s fields for years, because many lack athletic fields on school grounds.
As part of the arrangement, the Parks Department had agreed to contribute $65 million to creating and refurbishing the fields.
The Randalls Island Sports Foundation reported on its Web site on Thursday that 15 percent of the project had been completed as of December. But with the deal with the private schools now in question, it was unclear whether the Parks Department would continue that work.