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Judge Extends Injunction Against Union Square Restaurant

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While a judge ruled Monday that the Parks Department can move forward with parts of the planned renovation of Union Square Park, she left a decision on the construction of a restaurant at the north end of the park up in the air.

Last week, a state judge ordered a temporary stop to construction at the park after a community group filed suit against the city in an effort to block the conversion of an old pavilion in the park into a restaurant. Monday, the judge ruled to extend the injunction, while allowing construction on other parts of the park to move forward.

The city and developers backing the $21 million proposal want to restore the park's historic pavilion and triple the size of the playground, while also adding a restaurant to the site. There had been a restaurant/bar in the pavilion that was only open during warmer months, but its 14-year lease expired last year and it closed down.

Critics of the city's renovation plan say the proposed restaurant would ruin the park's character.

"The pavilion used to be used as a recreation place for many years and we consider that a taking of public parkland," said Carol Greitzer of the Union Square Community Coalition. "They want to put a private, expensive restaurant in there and we want to use it as an entrance to the playground, which will be right down below the pavilion."

"In New York City you have the highest concentration of restaurants, and the mayor, the Union Square Partnership, and the anonymous donors should really be ashamed of themselves for taking away precious park space," said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates.

However, Parks Commissioner Adrien Benepe says the plan has a good amount of support and that opponents are speaking only for a minority.

"It's really a terrific plan, we've been working on it for five years," said Benepe. "It was fully approved overwhelmingly by the community board, local council member supports it and has money in the project, local business improvement district, many other groups, and it was approved by the Art Commission, too. So it's a very well thought out plan. It's been through more public review than probably any plan that we've had before."

The judge did not say when she would rule on the restaurant. But she did issue a temporary restraining order preventing construction workers from cutting down trees or doing any restoration work on a pavilion at the north end of the park.

"The judge was very sensitive, she was concerned about the trees, which is a very good issue,” said Croft.

At least one neighborhood group says the addition of a restaurant would be good for the area.

“Not only does it brings a sense of vitality to the North End of the park, particularly after hours when the green market packs up and goes home, but it’s added a sense of safety, and we believe the more people that utilize the park, the safer it is,’ said Jennifer Falk of the Union Square Partnership.

The judge says she wants to research the case further, before she decides whether the pavilion will be a place for food or for fun.
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