The city plans to cede JFK Marina Parkland to private control: is it legal?

OP-ED submitted by Yonkers on Hudson Alliance

The Yonkers on Hudson Alliance (YOHA), a coalition of community groups, is questioning the legality of an action by the City of Yonkers that allows the Glenwood Power Plant developer to control and profit from JFK Marina land , the newest public park in Yonkers that provides public access to green space on the shore of the Hudson River. The city’s action would privatize the Marina’s South Lawn, an open space cherished by park visitors who come for recreation and respite along the riverbank, where they can enjoy sweeping views of the palisades.

At its meeting on February 15, 2022, the Yonkers Planning Board gave the Goren Group the green light to take the next step, granting the developer a ground lease to build and profit from private events held on the lawn. popular south of JFK Marina – referred to in official documents as parcel 1C. By ceding this essential public space to private control, the city has overstepped its authority, YOHA argues.

As noted in a letter from the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic on behalf of YOHA and Riverkeeper, which has protected public space on the Hudson for 56 years, YOHA argues that the city is neglecting the doctrine of public trust, a long-held principle. by New York. courts that prevents the use of a dedicated park for purposes other than the park. YOHA advisers have also confirmed that a little-known, legally binding document called Letters Patent states that JFK Marina is to be preserved as a public park forever.

“It’s about social justice,” says Barbara Smith, president of the Hudson River Community Association, a founding member of YOHA representing the neighborhood immediately surrounding the plant and marina. “The city needs to stop privileging private developers and start improving the health and well-being of Yonkers residents.”

To date, the city and developer have relied on a process known as Parks Alienation to cede control of public lands to the Goren Group. The alienation provides cover for allegations that the city flagrantly violates the doctrine of public trust.

But YOHA argues that the Letters Patent, a land deed issued by New York State in 1964, dictated the terms under which Yonkers was allowed to establish and operate the marina. The document states that no one can ever be allowed to make a profit on the Marina Park. The city therefore does not have the power to authorize the use of the Marina land for profit, as the Goren group wishes.

A July 16, 2021 letter from the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic to Mayor Spano advised the city of its duty to uphold the Letters Patent mandate. If the marina, or part of it, ceases to be used as a public recreational space, the letter stated that “the land reverts immediately to the people of the State of New York, and not to the entity planning to develop the land”. Clearly, the disposition of the South Lawn in 2013 is invalid and any further disposition or lease of the Marina property is also against the law.

“It’s the law, plain and simple,” says Dominique Surh, co-founder of Friends of Trevor Park, who discovered the letters patent while researching the park’s origins. “The letters patent state that no one, not even the city of Yonkers, is allowed to cede control of the marina to a private company. The park is supposed to remain public, forever.

“The city does not have the power to do what it did by foreclosing and giving the developer a lease on plot 1C,” said Stephen Wagner of the Yonkers Committee for Smart Development. “The alienation must be declared invalid and the proposed ground lease must be cancelled.”

To date, the city has offered no response to refute the primacy of the binding document brought to their attention by YOHA and Riverkeeper in the Pace letter.

While supporting the rehabilitation and reuse of the Glenwood Generating Station, YOHA’s goal since its inception has been to protect Yonkers’ essential public space, particularly the parklands that provide direct access to the Hudson. The group, a coalition of four anchor community groups supported by a dozen affiliated organizations, played a galvanizing role in stopping the Goren Group from erecting a factory parking lot in the middle of Trevor Park. When public outcry scuttled this effort, the developer offered to place his garage in the center of JFK Marina.

YOHA also led the effort against this project and ultimately won by moving the planned garage to another site. “The Hudson River and the Palisades make Yonkers special,” says Elliot Scott of the River Communities Coalition of Yonkers, one of YOHA’s founding groups. “But our elected officials continue to cut off our access to the water’s edge. They seem determined to turn Yonkers into a cookie-cutter city, where only the wealthy can enjoy the beauty of the city. Our municipal government should do everything in its power to protect and provide even more public access to our beautiful waterfront.”

Of course, waterfront properties are also coveted by developers, and the city has a long history of great deals that facilitate the construction of high-end housing that most residents can’t afford, and that continue to drive down housing. public access to the river. . And the Goren Group received such benefits, including covenants that allow the developer to pay no tax for years to come.

The members of YOHA have found a solution that respects the letters patent and the spirit of the doctrine of public trust while allowing the development of The Plant to move forward. “The developer needs a road leading to his front door via the marina,” comments Wagner. “We understand, the Factory needs a road. So, okay, the city can and should allow a simple restricted easement that allows the developer to build a single narrow roadway. The city is muddling the waters by talking about land leases and other instruments that convey the entire South Lawn to the developer. They shouldn’t give a free lease to the Goren group on the entire south end of the park. Ownership and control of Parcel 1C is to remain with the citizens of Yonkers for “public recreation,” as required by the Letters Patent. »

“The developer plans to redesign the entire South Lawn, the heart of the park,” says Surh. “Of course they say the public will be allowed to use it, but it will be difficult because the city will give them control. And they intend to use it for events, to make money. We call on the city to seek a fairer solution, to protect open public space and to defend its residents.

Submitted by Yonkers on Hudson Alliance

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