May a Private Company Close off a Public Space that is an Officially Designated City Landmark Without Explanation?

Many have been wondering when JP Morgan Chase (“Chase”) will take down the fencing closing off Chase Manhattan Plaza, an architectural landmark in Lower Manhattan.  Public space activist have been trying to get the Landmark’s Preservation Commission (“Commission”) to step in, to no avail.  The Commission stated that Chase did not needs its permission to set up the fencing because it was removable and not attached to the plaza, therefore arguably temporary.

To date, plaza owner Chase has not offered a comment and has not dispelled the position that the site was blocked to keep Occupy Wall Street protesters away.  Chase has a permit for waterproofing repair work that includes a “no change in use, egress or occupancy” provision. However, open-space advocates have proclaimed that the fence itself has changed the  “use, egress or occupancy” of the site.  When a lawyer working on behalf of an open-space advocacy group requested information about the building in a Freedom of Information request, that request was denied because the Chase Manhattan Plaza building has been put on a list generated by the New York Police Department, that keeps the building permit plans confidential due to terrorism concerns.

This dispute over the fencing has taken place for months. A supporter of open and accessible public space recently sued the New York City Department of Buildings over its failure to disclose the permit plans.  At a recent hearing in State Supreme Court, there was a suggestion that sensitive information be redacted from the permits to allow the public access to the plans.  What the outcome of the dispute will be is unknown.

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