The Fate of Seneca Park


The Fate of Seneca Park

The Fate of Seneca Park
Jan 02, 2003


The fate of Seneca Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as one of the three original parks in the Rochester, New York park system, hangs on two legal appeals. A plan to triple the area of the Seneca Park Zoo has been officially adopted.

The Zoo plan, which projects construction costs totaling $68 million, includes a 650 car parking lot, to span this linear, river edge park. The parking lot would eliminate the park drive, picnic groves and rolling native woodland, across the very center of the largest intact historic area of the park. Although New York State requires full disclosure of environmental impacts, the pro forma impact statement adopted with the Zoo plan disputes rather than discloses the obvious irreversible and irretrievable loss of unique and significant scenic and historic resources resulting from this plan.

The City of Rochester, which owns the park, in an attempt to gain regulatory authority over the County-sponsored plan, officially designated the park a local landmark. The County sued the City to prevent enactment of the landmark designation. The court ruled that the landmark designation remains valid, but the regulatory authority associated with landmark designation can only take effect in the year 2060, following the expiration of a park management agreement between the City and County. The City has appealed this ruling.

The Seneca Park Alliance, a coalition of eight preservation, environmental and neighborhood groups, which advocates alternatives to the Zoo plan and preservation of the park, sued the County to overturn the Zoo plan, based on the gross insufficiency of its environmental impact statement. The court ruled that the County had fulfilled its requirements. The Seneca Park Alliance intends to file an appeal of this ruling. However the additional legal fees required, do present a serious obstacle to fully pursuing legal remedies by this group.

The current economic distress has temporarily reduced the immediacy of the threat to the park. In addition, the prospect of the election of a new County administration in 2004 offers some, if scant, hope for the park. However, in fact, unless one of the legal appeals succeeds in overturning the Zoo plan, as soon as public or private funds become available, the way is clear for construction of the zoo parking lot and destruction of historic Seneca Park.

For More Information

Landmark Society of Western New York
133 S. Fitzhugh St. Rochester, NY 14608