Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 29, 2019

NY Appellate Court Rejects Claim that Community Garden was a “Park” Protected by the Public Trust Doctrine

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

A New York appellate court held in May that a lot that was previously used as a community garden was not a “park” protected by the state’s public trust doctrine. The property at issue was owned by the City of New York and was used as a community garden from 1997 to 2004 pursuant to licenses granted under the city’s “Green Thumb program.” The city attempted to terminate the license in 1999 and convert the property into a parking lot for a nearby minor league baseball stadium, but it eventually renewed the garden’s license in 2000 and 2003 due to an injunction ordered in separate litigation. The city then terminated the license in 2004 and relocated the garden to another site in accordance with a settlement agreement reached in connection with the earlier limitation. The property was never converted into a parking lot, however, and community members reestablished the garden as an unlicensed use. The city then sought to develop the lot again in 2013 as part of an outdoor amphitheater project, and the unlicensed garden was destroyed in the process.

The petitioners sought to invalidate the city’s destruction of the garden under the public trust doctrine, which prohibits the alienation of parkland without prior approval from the state legislature. To establish an implied dedication of parkland, the court explained that the petitioners would have to show that “(1) ‘[t]he acts and declarations of the land owner indicating the intent to dedicate his land to the public use [are] unmistakable in their purpose and decisive in their character to have the effect of a dedication and (2) that the public has accepted the land as dedicated to a public use.'” The petitioners did not meet this showing, however, and the court concluded that the evidence demonstrated an unequivocal intent on the city’s behalf not to dedicate the property as parkland. The city, the court noted, had only ever allowed the community garden as a temporary licensed use, and the earlier settlement agreement had expressly stated that the lot was not being dedicated as parkland. The court therefore affirmed the decision granting the city’s motion for summary judgment.

Matter of Coney Is. Boardwalk Community Gardens v. City of New York, 2019 NY Slip Op 04162 (5/29/18).

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