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Who were the Kerlins?

In 1989, Professor Nicholas A. Robinson was named Pace Law School’s first Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law. This week, Professor Jason J. Czarnezki will be invested as the second Kerlin Professor.

Professor Czarnezki will deliver the annual Kerlin Lecture, titled: "New York City Rules! Regulatory Tools and the Environment." He continues a tradition that began in 2000 when Carol Rose delivered the first Kerlin lecture, "Selling the Common Heritage? Commerce, Property and the Protection of the Environment."

But who were Gil and Sarah Kerlin?

The benefactors behind both the Pace Law distinguished professorship and the lecture were local visionaries who contributed to the field of environmentalism and land use.  Anyone who drives through Riverdale, the picturesque neighborhood situated in the west Bronx, enjoys one of the Kerlin’s contributions. A visit to Wave Hill, the 28-acre public garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River, offers another.

Gil Kerlin, a law partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP, spearheaded the effort that pushed back against developers trying to turn the winding roads and single-family houses of Riverdale into a swath of high-rise apartment buildings and shopping centers. His effort is all the more remarkable considering he accomplished this feat during the post-war building boom of the 1950’s.

The founder of the Riverdale Community Planning Association, Kerlin helped craft a zoning plan that covered almost three-square miles of the Bronx. The plan restricted the approval of large-scale apartment buildings and encouraged the construction of single-family homes. When adopted by the New York City Planning Commission in 1954, it represented one of the largest zoning efforts in the history of the City.

In 1961, the owners of a 20-acre estate overlooking the Palisades had intended to sell their property to a developer who planned to construct high-rise apartment buildings. Kerlin convinced them, instead, to donate the mansion and the land to the City. In the years that followed, he helped transform the estate into Wave Hill, the public arboretum and center for art and environmental science.

Wave Hill continues as an active public garden with the mission, “to celebrate the artistry and legacy of its gardens and landscapes, to preserve its magnificent views, and to explore human connections to the natural world through programs in horticulture, education and the arts.”

At Pace Law School, the contributions of this visionary couple are captured in the Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Distinguished Professorship in Environmental Law. The official policy states that the professor who receives this honor will be “a faculty member with a distinguished record of outstanding scholarship, teaching and service in the field of Environmental Law.”

The career of Professor Nicholas Robinson embodies that policy. We now welcome Professor Czarnezki.

 

Photo caption: Professor Robinson (left) and Profesor Czarnezki