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Horsing Around with Conservation: How a Carousel Planned for a Brooklyn Park May Violate the Land and Conservation Fund Act and State Law

Andrew Stengel[1], Albany Government Law Review Member

Introduction

The carousel is a universally beloved amusement ride.  The very thought of a carousel evokes images of smiling children atop colorful faux galloping horses accompanied by the sounds of pleasing circus music.  However, the federal government may not may not be similarly amused with a carousel planned for a park in northwest Brooklyn, New York.

Enter David Walentas, a developer with enormous real estate holdings in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass),[2] an area in northwest Brooklyn more or less bounded by the East River to the north, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the south, Brooklyn Bridge to the east and Manhattan Bridge to the west.[3] Jane Walentas, Mr. Walentas’s wife, recently donated a restored carousel to be placed in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a green space that is under development along the coastline of the area.[4]

The carousel is destined for an area that was once known as Empire Fulton Ferry Park, which was recently conveyed from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreations and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC), a state-city body.[5] The nine-acre park, formerly maintained by the OPRHP, juts out to the east of the Brooklyn Bridge and boasts scenic views of New York City Harbor and the Manhattan skyline.[6] The park also features a cove, one of the few places in New York that provides access to the waterfront and is a vibrant location for marine life.[7]

Unknown to most is a “carnival” of federal and state laws that the carousel impacts.  Empire Fulton Ferry Park was the beneficiary of a ten-year-old federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant that bars conversion of the park area in perpetuity without prior approval from the Department of the Interior.[8] New York’s public trust doctrine similarly bars conversion of the land without prior legislative approval.[9]

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