Governors Island Rezoning Challenge In Court 2/8/24 – Feb 5th Press Conference Video and Statements.

Metro Area Governors Island Coalition (M.A.G.I.C.)
MEDIA CONTACT: Roger Manning

Governors Island Rezoning Challenge – statements and video from Feb 5th Press conference. Court date – Feb 8, 2024

The press conference video:
(Statement transcriptions below.)

Legal fund:

In this notice:
1) Speaker list and Video from 2/5/24 Press conference
2) February 8 court info
3) Statement text from the participants
4) Governors Island overview
5) More Lawsuit overview
6) Links

M.A.G.I.C 2/5/24 Press Conference Video and Statements. In Court 2/8/241) Metro Area Governors Island Coalition (M.A.G.I.C.) held a press conference Monday February 5th 2024 in front of the NY State Supreme Court building in Foley Square, Manhattan. Speaking were City Council Member Christopher Marte, lawsuit attorney John Low-Beer, M.A.G.I.C. co-founder Roger Manning, and representatives from groups who have joined Council Member Marte in a amicus brief supporting the lawsuit: City Club President Layla Law-Gisiko, Harriet Hirshorn of East River Park Action, Michele Campo of The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Michael Kramer of The South Street Seaport Coalition. Also Roy Ruis from NYS Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick’s office and downtown resident Christine Dimmick. Statement was sent from Friends & Residents of Greater Gowanus.

The press conference video:

Statement text from the participants below in this post.
( 3D modeling image from application created by George Janes Associates. See more in gallery created in collaboration with Environmental Simulation Center HERE )

2) Oral arguments in the Article 78 lawsuit
challenging the 2021 Governors Island rezoning currently on appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York will be heard Thursday, February 08, 2024 2:00 PM at 27 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10010. The case is captioned Manning v City Council of NYC, Appellate Index No. 2023 – 03112.

Attend in person?
The session starts at 2pm. Our case is #11 out of 14 for that day. Consider coming around 3:00pm in order to clear security in time etc .

Watch online:

The lawsuit aims to nullify a rezoning that serves as a gateway to severely compromising a unique public resource that greatly benefits New Yorkers from all the city’s zip codes and millions more don’t even know they have. Manhattan District 1 City Council Member Christopher Marte has been joined by numerous others in filing an amicus brief in support.

The portion of the contested 2021 rezoning that extended the 2013 North Island Special Zoning (introduced commercial uses without increasing building heights) to the rest of the island would be more than adequate to accommodate development needs without violating the letter and spirit of the GI Deed and 2010 Master Plan as is the case with other major sections of the 2021 rezoning. Lawsuit overview continues below.

Trees Not Towers Governors Island Legal Fund - click here

3) Statements from Press Conference Speakers

Roger Manning – NYC based The Metro Area Governors Island Coalition (M.A.G.I.C.)

I’m Roger Manning, co-founder of NYC based The Metro Area Governors Island Coalition (M.A.G.I.C.) with Allie Ryan – Individuals and community groups in support of maintaining Governors Island as the natural public resource that currently serves millions of New Yorkers as a safe, pastoral experience for the city’s children and their families and provides space for environmental, educational, arts, and historic projects and fitness and recreation. (M.A.G.I.C.) came together in Nov 2020 during the ULURP process for this rezoning.

Governors Island is a 172-acre island in New York Harbor located approximately 800 yards south of Manhattan Island. First used by the Lenape people, it is the first European NYC! The U.S Army then Coast Guard took were stationed there. It was transferred to the city in 2003.

The lawsuit aims to nullify a rezoning that serves as a gateway to severely compromising this unique public resource that millions use and millions more don’t even know they have. Manhattan District 1 City Council Member Christopher Marte has been joined by numerous others in filing an amicus brief in support.

The Trust has done many great things on GI, but no-one’s perfect. THIS [pointing at large image] is the vision for GI from TGI in 2020. It’s not an actual plan, but a visualization of what be allowed. See that tiny tower there? That Liggett hall, currently the tallest structure and its dwarfed by the Trust’s vision.

GI is not Roosevelt Island. Not Brooklyn Navy yard. Not Hudson yards – all previous projects that higher ups in the Trust have been involved in.

The lawsuit aims to Get the City back on track with the mission outlined in the Deed and Masterplan.

The City has not produced evidence to show that its goals require the density and building heights in the zoning being challenged. The portion of the contested 2021 rezoning that extended the 2013 North Island Special Zoning (introduced commercial uses without increasing building heights) to the rest of the island would be more than adequate to accommodate development needs without violating the letter and spirit of the GI Deed and 2010 Master Plan as is the case with other major sections of the 2021 rezoning.

AS CB1 summarized in their excellent Dec 2020 resolution – the City’s plan is nearly three times larger than the public’s original understanding of what it would be, “and the drastic increase in scale of development is unacceptable.”

John Low-Beer, Attorney for the lawsuit

In 2003, the federal government transferred GI to the City and the State subject to covenants, or deed restrictions “intended to ensure the protection and preservation of the natural, cultural and historic qualities of Governors Island, enhance the ability of the public to enjoy GI, and increase the quality of life in the surrounding community, the City, the State, and the United States.” The 2010 Master Plan and the 2011 EIS furthered these purposes, describing GI as “An Island Like No Other,” a “Carefree Island,” that “allows visitors to leave the big city behind,” an Island of “vast water, big sky,” and emphasizing the 360 degree views that a visitor would have from the top of the 70-foot-high hill, planned to be the highest point on GI.

But just as nature abhors a vacuum, the City Administration abhors an open space that is not developed to the maximum. In 2016, the City dumped this vision in favor of a mega-dense real estate development, greenwashed by a Center for Climate Change. Mayor DeBlasio now described GI as “the site of a sweeping economic development project,” a “Project to Support City’s Economic Recovery,” that would “create 8K jobs and an estimated $1 billion of fiscal impact for the City, all on Governors Island alone,” and proposed zoning amendments to “facilitate the development of a new 24/7 mixed-use campus.”

This zoning more than doubles the square feet of development contemplated in the Master Plan. Allowed building heights are equal to 26 stories, more than three times higher than any of the buildings now on the Island. Whereas the deed prohibits industry and manufacturing, the zoning allows them. Whereas, the deed, with narrow exceptions, prohibits residential uses, the zoning allows them. Whereas the deed requires 40 acres of parkland dedicated in perpetuity, the City’s zoning does not dedicate one single acre. And so on.

Our lawsuit says that the City cannot flout its legal obligations. I hope the Court will agree with us.

Layla Law-Gisiko, President of the City Club of New York

My name is Layla Law-Gisiko. I am the President of the City Club of New
York, a civic organization founded in 1892 to advocate for good urbanism
and good government.

Today, I stand with friends and allies to denounce both bad urbanism and
bad government.

The City Club signed on to an Amicus Brief to support the fight against a
terrible rezoning of Governors Island that would allow bulldozers to roll in,
skyscrapers to go up and industrial uses to be developed.
Governors Island has been described as a gem, a haven, a respite. Facing
the high density of our city, Governors Island stands in the New York
harbor as a green refuge dedicated to recreational use, a public space meant
for the enjoyment of all.

When the federal government retroceded the land to New York City, a
deed restriction memorialized the nature and the purpose of Governors
Island and I quote: “preservation of natural, cultural and historic qualities
of Governors Island.” But the city violated the spirit and the letter of the
law by introducing and ultimately approving a rezoning that permits
dorms, apartments, skyscrapers and even industrial uses.
In a participatory democracy, the People’s voice is supposed to be part of
policymaking. But despite vehement community and civic opposition, the
city adopted the rezoning.

Governors Island extreme rezoning echoes other projects like Brooklyn
Bridge Park and Diller Island that are part of a broader narrative where
government seemingly works hand in hand with private interests to
redefine the use of our city’s precious public land. The focus, unfortunately,
is always on the economics of parkland management at the expense of
space access for the public good.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a concerning trend in the collaboration
between our government and private developers, a trend that puts
commercial interests way above the sanctity and purpose of our public
lands. This rezoning amounts to commercial exploitation of a public asset.

With this rezoning, our legal foundations are being shaken. The rezoning
violates the deed governing Governors Island, a deed that requires the
perpetual dedication of a specific acreage for parkland. The land use action
circumvents this obligation, as it allows construction on vital green space.
This not only contradicts legal commitments but also challenges the very
essence of preserving public lands for the benefit of generations to come.
It sets a precedent that directly conflicts with the sanctity of public open

And while some believe it is an isolated case, think twice. This rezoning as
part of many other assaults on our public assets will amount to death by a
thousand cuts. And what we are witnessing is cut 500th. But the repeated
assaults will lead to the demise of our public assets. We have a duty to
speak up.

This rezoning must be fought on its own merits because it is a direct
violation of a deed and the City acted in an arbitrary and capricious
fashion. But this rezoning must also be fought for the precedent it sets. A
precedent that may be used in the future to invade our most cherished park

Alicia Boyd of MTOPP

Hi my name is Alicia Boyd and I represent Brooklyn. And of course we had our own struggles against development in park land and garden land in that Community as well. And so what we see is a pattern all over New York City where you are coming in, you see the sun, you see light, you see air and then you decide that now you want to see shade you want to see… And they violate the law constantly.

You know they always talk about environmental concerns, they’re always telling you how they’re concerned about the environment and how we’re going to protect the environment. But these monstrosities that are being planned are not for the protection of our green spaces and it’s not for the protection of our people. It is for money. This is big money. It’s always about money. It’s always about economics. It’s all it’s never about people. It’s never about our right to land. It’s never about our right to air. It’s never about our right to have sunlight. This is the right for them to use every public asset – every public asset to gain money. And this is a pattern. And I’m so glad that we’re talking about setting precedent. Because this is setting precedent. If you cannot honor a Deed what are you going to honor? You’re not going to honor anything. It’s written in the law. It is in the ground. A Deed is the ground – is in the ground. And you were saying, “we don’t care what’s in that ground. We don’t care what the forefathers said that this land was supposed to be about. All we care about is money. And as long as money is the root, we will violate every law.” And we have to stand up.

And I also am talking about the appeals court for God’s sake. When is the appeals court going to step in and say enough is enough? ! Well this is the case where the appeals court should come up and say, “enough is enough New York City. You have to abide by the laws in New York City. You have to protect your green spaces in New York City. You cannot give it to developers. You cannot give it to Big real estate interests. You have the right and you have the responsibility that’s embedded in the law. That says that the earth and the sky and the air belongs to the people!” It belongs to us. And it’s up to the appeals court to step up and take this case and send a message to these greedy greedy greedy greedy developers that enough is enough. Governor’s Island you cannot have. It is not yours to take and we’re not letting you take it. This this belongs to the people and we are going to give it back to the people. And we’re going to allow people to have green space and air and light. Because once we give this out what do we have? We got shade and concrete. We need our green spaces. My ancestors knew that and they fought. And we need to stand here and fight too for Governors Island. We need to make sure that our voices are heard. We need to beg the appeals court, to please take this case and send a message to our elected officials. And send a message to these developers. Not every land is for sale.
Thank you

Christopher Marte, NY City Council Member Manhattan D1
Written statement:
We know this kind of rezoning wouldn’t happen in Central Park or in Prospect Park. But for the thousands of residents of Lower Manhattan and South Brooklyn, Governors Island is the largest green space we have access to. Staying true to the deed of the Island is upholding one of the most basic types of law. And protecting our right to have access to nature and open air is one of the most basic types of human rights. I’m proud to join MAGIC and environmental groups from across the city today to call on the Appeals Court to uphold these laws and protect Governors Island.

Transcription from the video:

…Thank you for all the community groups that are out here today. We have people from East River Park, 250 Water, people from Brooklyn over here – there like the Brooklyn sectio. And of course the City Club for always standing by the people and being for the people cuz this is going to take a coalition.

We’re all here because we know what the worst case scenario is. We can look at this map. When we look at this map of Governor’s Island we see that it’s only for developers and not the people that actually cherish the space, that uses the space, right?

We know that there is a climate Center going on Governors Island [pauses for passing fire trucks]
This is the worst case scenario, right? This is what nobody here and no one who has ever been to Governors Island wants. And this is what we’re fighting. We’re not fighting the climate Center. Yes, we want the height to be lower, and it should be lower and more spread out to meet the nature and the contextual environment of Governors Island. But we don’t know what’s next and I think our city has manipulated the process of the climate Center to say, “look the community is part of this process it’s part of our RFP process.” But for every other development, we have no say we have no way to stop stop it we have no ways to minimize it. And as we’ve seen they can break the laws that exist right now. So the zoning that is there now – how do we know they’re going to respect it if they can’t even respect the deed of the island?

And so that’s why we’re fighting here today. We’re fighting to make sure that the laws are abide by and that people keep the green space that we desperately need. Every summer we have extreme heat. Every winter we have extreme rain. And we continue to ask what the city can do. And one thing the community have asked it says please don’t touch our Park Land. The same way they would never touch Central Park. The same way they won’t touch Prospect Park. They should not change Governors Island. Because people who live in Sunset Park in Lura Manhattan that is our Green Haven.

And so I’m here and I wrote I supported this Amicus brief to show that we’re here to fight and we’re here to fight to win thank you win. Thank you.
[… continues] I forgot to add this but we have amazing organizations on Governor’s Island. We have Earth Matter. We have grow NYC. We have the Billion Oyster Project and our fear… [and Harbor School] Yeah – and our fear is that once big development comes in, these guys get pushed out. We already started seeing it with the move, potential movement of Earth of Earth matter. And so this is not just a fight for the land. This is for the fight for people who are actually doing the work and meeting the moment when we’re trying to create climate Justice all throughout this city. So, just wanted to make sure that I mentioned that.

Harriet Hirshorn of East River Park Action

So, East River Park action – the people in East River Park action know how devastating it is when all the trees are chopped down for a quote unquote resiliency project. So we were probably um probably not the first greenwashing project of the city, but we are a greenwashing, this is a green washing and so is what’s going to happen to um Governors Island if we don’t stop it. And I guess the only other thing I want to add is that we have an Instagram page and on our page there’re about 6,500 followers and the words that we see the most often are, “ecocide”, “tragedy”, “heartbroken”, “devastating”, and “not resilient.” So that’s about all I have to say.

Michele Campo of The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors

Historically speaking the current situation of Governors Island is reminiscent of all past land deeds between the Europeans and Native Americans.

This is Lenape Land and we should all remember how the letter and spirit of deeds and treaties were disregarded, discarded, and in fact stolen in the quest for monetary gain.

Governors Island and its restrictions should remain intact – absolutely NO development.
Art and spirituality are tied to this land.
Respect the Deed — Respect the Land…. Respect the First Peoples.

Michael Kramer – President South Street Seaport Coalition, Inc.

As we understand, building heights in parcels E-2 and W-1 will be reduced from 300’ to 250’; bulkhead and permitted obstruction heights will be limited to 40’; and building base heights will be reduced to 60’ or less. CB1 believes that the modest height reductions offered are not adequate in addressing the critical issues surrounding height. CB1 requests that more work be done to achieve height reductions closer to the 125’ cap requested by CB1.

While we appreciate that certain problematic uses have been eliminated or scaled back within the Open Space Subarea, we have major concerns over the amount of as-of-right development that could still occur in this space that should have protections closer to what is customary for NYC parks. CB1 still maintains that the Open Space Subarea should be designated as public parkland. The zoning must be amended to reduce the density, height and bulk for the development on the Island to respond to the community’s many concerns including but not limited to: context of the Historic District, views from on and off the island, shadows on the Harbor School, etc..

Deborah J. Glick NYS Assemblymember District 66 (Read by Community Liaison Roy Ruis)

Downtown residents have long faced a conundrum – we love our neighborhoods, but are faced with a lack of open space that impedes our health and wellbeing. Although Governors Island is not in my district, it has been a much needed respite for all residents of Lower Manhattan, providing a green space that is both beautiful and an escape from the density and crowds that exist in our communities. The Governors Island rezoning was pushed through with limited community engagement during the height of the pandemic and approved despite there being no clear justification for chipping away at a beloved park to promote egregious development. I hope this lawsuit is successful in overturning the rezoning and ensuring that the beauty and uniqueness of Governors Island is maintained.

Marlene Donnelly, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus
(statement via email)
Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus have signed on in support of the Overturning of the New York City Planning rezoning of Governors Island for the primary reason that this rezoning intends to piggy-back onto Brooklyn’s existing sewage infrastructure which serves the West side of Gowanus and Red Hook and carries sewage to a Sewer Plant in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Today, without this rezoning this common sewage infrastructure releases untreated sewage into the Gowanus Canal and the East River including Buttermilk Channel when it rains. As a result, these local waters do not comply with Federal EPA water Quality Standards, and Red Hook and Gowanus buildings are plagued with issues of sewer backup and local flooding.The rezoning plans for Governors Island would pump all waste water under Buttermilk Channel into the existing sewer infrastructure of Red Hook, where it would continually consume a Carbon Footprint as it is physically pumped uphill to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This would reduce the sewer’s current carrying capacity, and result in larger sewer overflows of waste into the public waters.In 2023, New York State DEC issued a new Rule Making Action to address state Water Quality Standards. In that action, rather that bringing these waters classified under “SD” and “I” standards into compliance with Federal EPA standards, the State announced it will seek a special variant under the Clean Water Act would allow these waters to continue to receive unacceptable amounts of untreated sewage with each regular rainfalls.We ask that plans for redevelopment on Governor’s Island not be permitted to tie into the existing Brooklyn Red Hook sewer until the waters of Gowanus and Buttermilk Channel comply with EPA water standards. We further ask that all New Yorkers make it known to the NYSDEC, and each of their State Senators and Assembly Representatives that it is not acceptable for NY State to seek any variant that avoids compliance with the Clean Water standards of the federal Government for our NY public waters.
Thank you

4) Governors Island

Governors Island is a 172-acre island in New York Harbor located approximately 800 yards south of Manhattan Island first utilized by the Lenape people.  After some two centuries of U.S. Army and Coast Guard use, the federal government turned Governors Island over to New York State and New York City in 2003, subject to  deed restrictions intended to “ensure the protection and preservation of the natural, cultural and historic qualities of Governors Island,” so that the Island would serve as “an educational and civic resource of special historic character and as a recreational and open space resource” for the people of New York.  As the 2010 Masterplan recognized, this is a unique environment in the middle of New York Harbor, a “world apart,” a place where one can “leave the city without leaving,” a place of “views, wind, tides, currents, horizon, escape,” an Island of “vast water, big sky.” It is a bucolic, car-free parkland oasis, home to a national monument and a historic district and provides space for education, the arts, recreation, athletics, environmental projects, and wildlife.

5) More Lawsuit Overview
The lawsuit aims to nullify an upzoning that in numerous ways violates the letter and the spirit of the deed restrictions placed on the Island by the federal government, as well as the vision of the State/City 2010 Masterplan.  This upzoning would replace the existing bucolic environment with a 24/7 destination that embodies the Administration’s view of Governors Island as “the site of a sweeping economic development project,” as Mayor DeBlasio put it in his 2016 State of the City address—”a project to support the City’s economic recovery” by “creating 8K jobs.”  In violation of the deed restrictions, it allows industrial and manufacturing uses and residential uses of all kinds, and fails to dedicate 40 acres as parkland, as required by the deed.  As Community Board 1 stated in its Dec 2020 Resolution, this “drastic increase in scale of development,” to nearly three times what was envisioned by the 2010 Masterplan, “is unacceptable.”  

The City’s response is disingenuous.  It argues that the zoning limits industry and manufacturing when it does not, and that it has dedicated 43 acres of parkland when it has not.  Moreover, it has never produced any evidence to show that its goals of making Governors Island financially self-sufficient and establishing a Climate Solutions Center require the density and building heights, the industrial, manufacturing, residential, and commercial uses, and the 200 parking spaces provided by the 2021 rezoning.  Laudable though the City’s economic development goals may be, they cannot override the deed’s vision of preserving Governors Island as a special place for present and future generations of New Yorkers, adjacent to parts of the City sorely lacking in parkland and open space.

– The lawsuit:
– Court Documents:
– Governors_Island Deed:
– Community Board 1 2020 resolution
– M.A.G.I.C. website:

#GovernorsIsland #TreesNotTowers #DefendGI #Pagganck