WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A federal judge has ordered Gettysburg National Military Park officials to notify the court in a week whether they intend to proceed with plans to demolish the Cyclorama building in December.
If park officials say they are sticking to the plan, the attorneys representing a preservation group that has sued the park over the fate of the historic structure said they will file injunctions to halt the building's destruction.
U.S. District Court Judge Alan Kay heard arguments from both sides in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on Thursday for the first time since the Recent Past Preservation Network filed the lawsuit in March 2007.
The preservation group wants the 1961 building preserved and alleges that park officials did not fulfill their obligations to explore alternatives before deciding to demolish the structure.
Kay said Thursday that the chance of the case being settled before the December demolition date is "remote."
Park officials have said before that they would postpone demolition until the lawsuit is settled. But when Kay asked on Thursday whether the federal agency would hold off on taking action until a ruling is made, the park's attorney, Samantha Klein, said she would confer with her client.
Kay then directed Klein to notify the court and the RPPN's attorneys within a week of the decision.
After more than a year of filing documents and motions, Thursday's hearing was the first opportunity for both sides to make arguments in front of a judge.
Nicholas Yost, representing The Recent Past Preservation Network, said the park failed to explore the possibility of relocating the Cyclorama building despite the group's urging to do so.
But relocation is possible, Yost said. The preservation group has identified two Gettysburg businessmen willing to lease property for the building and a structure-moving company that concluded relocation could be done using "dolly wheels and a grid of steel beams."
"That's going beyond what plaintiffs should have to do," Yost said. "It is the government's job to come up with alternatives."
At issue is the park's plan to restore Ziegler's Grove, the current site of the Cyclorama building and the former visitor center, to its 1863 Civil War appearance. More than 900 soldiers died there during the battle. Razing the 1961 building, designed by famous architect Richard Neutra, is part of that plan. Neutra's son, Dion Neutra, is also a plaintiff in the case.
The statute of limitations has run out on the Recent Past Preservation Network's allegations, argued the park's attorney, Samantha Klein.
Klein said the park's decision to demolish the building was part of its 1999 general-management plan, and alternatives - though not necessarily relocation - were considered before that. Those alternatives included no action and adaptive uses.
"They can't now complain that the Park Service didn't look at the alternative of relocation," Klein said. "Plaintiffs waited seven years before they brought this lawsuit."
Kay seemed sympathetic to both arguments. But he questioned why the park wouldn't consider relocating the building if there are two competing preservation needs.
"It seems to me that would be a win-win situation," he said.
Klein said one reason is the potential negative effect moving the building would have on the landscape.
But if both the battlefield and the building can be preserved, Kay said he saw no reason for the Park Service to object.
"I have to assume that the government really doesn't care what happens to that building," he said. "They're going to destroy it."
Kay, who presided over the hearing in place of another judge, said he will review the case and make a recommendation on how to proceed.
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