Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Law Review: New Yankee Stadium Replaces Parkland

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Law Review: New Yankee Stadium Replaces Parkland

Article excerpt

The court examines whether the National Park Service had authority to replace parkland set aside by a Land and Water Conservation Fund Act grant.

In 1979, the federal government invested more than $302,000 in a portion of parkland in the South Bronx, N.Y., through a Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act grant. In the case of Save Our Parks v. Kempthorne, 06 Civ. 6859, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85206 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), the plaintiff Save Our Parks claimed the planned construction of a new Yankee Stadium violated the LWCF terms because development plans required that this "portion of parkland currently protected by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund be converted to private use."

Section 6 of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act authorizes the secretary of the Interior to provide financial assistance to states, subject to several requirements. Specifically, section 6(f)(3) prohibits any property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance from being converted from public outdoor recreational use unless the secretary of the Interior approves the conversion. 16 U.S.C. § 4601-8(f)(3).

The Secretary is only authorized to approve a conversion: ( 1 ) if he finds it is in accord with an existing statewide comprehensive outdoor recreational plan (SCORP); and (2) only upon such conditions as he deems necessary "to assure the substitution of recreational properties of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location."

The Secretary of the Interior has delegated the authority for approval of conversions pursuant to LWCF to the director of the National Park Service (NPS).

Accordingly, the specific issue before the federal district court in Save Our Parks v. Kempthorne was whether the National Park Service's approval of this conversion violated Section 6(f) (3) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. 16 U.S.C. § 4601-8(0 (3).

Facts of the Case

For more than a decade, the New York Yankees Major League Baseball team had been working with the city and state of New York to devise a suitable plan, using limited public funding, to build a "state-of-the-art" ballpark with better amenities to accommodate the needs of the team and minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The final plan for the new Yankee Stadium would require construction on 22.42 acres of New York City parkland adjacent to the current stadium grounds. The project, however, included a complete replacement of all parkland recreational facilities, resulting in an expansion of total parkland acreage to 24.56 acres.

The project designated three parcels of land that were not currently parkland to serve as a substitute for the conversion parcel: the old site of Yankee Stadium, parkland running alongside the Harlem River, and a city street to be converted into a landscaped walkway.

On July 17, 2006, the NPS approved the conversion as having met the requirements set forth by Section 6(f)(3) of the LWCF, concluding that "the replacement parkland would be of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location."

In addition, NPS found "the conversion was in accordance with the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan for New York, and that all practical alternatives had been considered."

The organization Save Our Parks had the opportunity to comment throughout the administrative process of approval of the project, including adjustments made to the project's plans as a result of public hearings and comments. Save Our Parks, however, remained unsatisfied with the ultimate approved project. After unsuccessful litigation in state court, Save Our Parks brought a lawsuit in federal district court against federal, state and local government officials, as well as the New York Yankees, alleging NPS approval of the conversion violated section 6(f)(3) of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. 16 U.S. …

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