Penn Station Empire Station Complex GPP DEIS
At the Community Board Five Full Board Emergency Session meeting on Thursday, December 02, 2021, the following resolution passed with a vote of 31 in favor; 0 opposed; 0 abstaining:
WHEREAS, ESD had introduced a General Project Plan (GPP) to upzone and override local zoning laws around Penn Station in CB5 and parts of CB4; and
WHEREAS, The Land Use, Housing & Zoning committee of CB5 held a hearing on December 1st, 2021; and
WHEREAS, Community Board Five reviewed and analyzed the revised GPP, the Design Guidelines, the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the Neighborhood Condition Study; therefore be it
RESOLVED, the following documents spell out Community Board Five's position as well as questions regarding the Revised General Project Plan, the DEIS, the Design Guidelines and the Neighborhood Condition Study.
PENN AREA FORMERLY KNOWN AS EMPIRE STATION COMPLEX
DESCRIPTION AND CHRONOLOGY
The New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a as Empire State Development (ESD) is the sponsor of a land use proposal to override New York City zoning rules, to redevelop all or a portion of nine tax blocks around Penn Station, on blocks 783, 809, 808, 807, 781, 780, and 806 located in Manhattan Community Board Five (MCB5) and blocks 755 and 754 located in Manhattan Community Board Four MCB4.
The original proposed land use action would facilitate the development of 8 sites with 10 buildings, with a total of approximately 20 million square feet of mostly office space, as well as retail and hotel use, and a potential small residential development alternative.
On July 1st 2020, ESD issued a Draft Scope of Work (DSOW) delineating the scope of the project in order to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
ESD created a Community Advisory Committee that met sporadically.
On July 13th, Manhattan CB5 held a joint Transportation & Environment and Land Use, Housing & Zoning committees meeting to discuss the DSOW and issued recommendations to change the Scope of Work, including relocating Madison Square Garden.
On July 20, 2020, ESD held a public hearing at which CB5 delivered comments.
On December 21, 2020, ESD issued the Final Scope of Work (FSOW) and did not incorporate CB5’s recommendations, except for an affordable housing alternative.
On February 18, 2021, ESD Directors approved the creation of a General Project Plan (GPP) for the Empire Station Complex Civic and Land Use Improvement Project.
On February 24, 2021, ESD issued the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as well as a Neighborhood Condition Study and Design Guidelines.
On March 3, 2021, CB5 held a joint LUHZ and T&E committees meeting to review and opine on the DEIS, the GPP, the Design Guidelines, and the Neighborhood Condition Study.
On March 11, 2021, CB5 voted on a resolution to recommend denial of the GPP and recommended drastic changes.
Following the issuance of the DEIS, it was unanimously acknowledged by community boards, elected officials and civic organizations that the community engagement was distressingly inadequate.
In April 2021, ESD created a Community Advisory Committee Working Group made up of approximately 40 members representing among others elected officials, community boards, residents, REBNY, MTA, Amtrak, NJ Transit, Vornado, New School, University of Pennsylvania, and agreed to a series of 12 weekly confidential meetings.
In early August 2021, the CACWG issued a set of recommendations to ESD.
In early November 2021, ESD staff presented changes to the original DEIS incorporating some elements raised by the CACWG recommendations.
The revised DEIS will be presented by ESD in a public hearing for public comments on December 8, 2021 and will be followed by a public comment period open until January 10, 2022. The Draft EIS may be further revised based on public comments delivered at the hearing. The Final EIS will be brought to the ESD Board of Directors for vote and approval in the Spring of 2022.
Summary of revisions
The revisions made by ESD include the following:
A 7% reduction in density bringing the project from 20 million to 18.1 million square feet. This density reduction impacts primarily sites 1, and 2. Density reduction to sites 4 to 8 is minimal.
Inclusion of housing units, including 30% permanently affordable The only site required to include housing is Site 1 located in CB4; Sites 4 and 8 will
have an option to provide housing but it will not be mandatory and therefore there is no
guaranteed creation of affordable housing in CB5.
The creation of a Public Realm Task Force. A Public Realm Task Force Fund would be initially funded through development funds from the GPP sites, although it is unclear where and how these funds would be levied.
A 5% increase in public space. Most sites would see an increase in the public space requirement from an average of about 12% to about 17% but these increases concern mostly sidewalk enlargements and subway entrances. An additional “Shared Street” is being proposed for West 31st Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
Increased community services at site 1 in CB4.
Street frontage redesign with a modest lobby frontage reduction from 100 feet to between 40 feet to 90 feet
Massing requirements that would reduce but not eliminate obstructions of views onto the Empire State Building along 33rd street.
Stated Goals of the GPP
The goals remain unchanged and are stated in the DEIS, and the GPP:
Goal 1: Revitalize the area surrounding Penn Station with new, sustainable, high-density mixed-use development.
Goal 2: Improve passenger rail, transit facilities and pedestrian circulation, access, and safety.
Goal 3: Support improvements to address substandard conditions in Penn Station.
Goal 4: Support and accommodate future capacity increases at Penn Station.
The revised proposed land use action would facilitate the development of ten new buildings, roughly doubling the current density by adding approximately 18 million sq/ft, and would propose modest public realm modifications as well as additional subway egress. The proposed land use action, although embracing the goal of improving Penn Station and or facilitating Penn Station expansion, would not directly cause any of those goals to be reached. Penn Station upgrades are still not in the scope of work, they are not described, detailed, or evaluated in this proposal; their exact cost is not disclosed in this land use action. The land use action does not detail how and how much, if any, it would contribute to the Penn Station upgrades, how the funds would be allocated, over what period of time or who would control them. MTA has announced that they will develop their own separate plan for Penn Station Reconstruction, known as Master Plan that will likely follow federal environmental review requirements under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and may be an EAS or a categorical exclusion. A Penn Station Expansion Plan is being spearheaded by AMTRAK and would undergo environmental review under NEPA.
If additional tracks are to be built to the south of existing Penn Station to expand the existing terminal, it would require condemnation of block 780 and parts of blocks 806 and 754. But Penn Station expansion is not in the scope of work of this GPP, it is not described, detailed, or evaluated in this proposal; its cost is not disclosed in this land use action. Furthermore, the DEIS states that Penn Station expansion would be a federal action, coordinated by Amtrak, necessitating federal environmental review (NEPA), under which sites 1, 2, and 3 may or may not be slated for redevelopment. The land use action does not detail whether the Penn Station expansion is the preferred alternative, how much it would financially contribute to the Penn Station expansion, and to the public realm improvement fund.
The proposed land use action is not conditional on any public realm, transit or infrastructure improvements of any type. Although it is better described in the revised GPP, the project value capture funding and financing scheme is not part of the EIS scope. Revenue structure remains out of the EIS scope.
Community Board Five strongly supports Penn Station reconstruction. However, we believe that any proposal to address Penn Station’s current condition, Penn Station expansion and any land use action must be addressed in a coordinated fashion and conducted in a comprehensive fashion following a logical sequence to properly evaluate the environmental impacts of all these actions. It is essential to understand in quantifiable terms (scope, cost, funding mechanism, timeline), what transit and infrastructure improvements are needed, and proposed first, before any land use action to support such improvements can be evaluated. The current proposal uses improper segmentation that prevents cumulative impacts analysis of the project.
Community Board Five’s absolute priority is to reconstruct Penn Station in a way that will allow current and projected capacity and provides true connectivity to the North Eastern Region. After careful review of the revised DEIS, we believe that the land use action is ill-guided, will fail to reach its stated goals. The land use action is not a priority and the two related projects, Penn Reconstruction (aka Master Plan) and Penn Expansion must reach a record of decision before a land use project can be considered.
SUMMARY OF COMMENTS ON THE REVISED DEIS
Community Board Five appreciates that ESD has made modifications to the original project, especially to the design guidelines, and the affordable housing component. Unfortunately, the proposed modifications are too modest. Community Board Five continues to strongly object to the proposal based on those grounds:
Density: The Revised GPP density is still too extreme. While CB5 recognizes that increased density around transit hubs is desirable, the proposal is overwhelming in scale, massing and concentration; and its negative effects would be devastating to the area. CB5 notes that density to sites 7 and 8 has not been reduced.
Displacement: The Revised GPP would still recommend and create the framework for condemnation of blocks 780 and part of blocks 806 and 754. Eminent domain is not an acceptable step and CB5 cannot support displacement of dozens of businesses, hundreds of residents, and thousands of workers. Furthermore, CB5 recognizes that under the current framework, condemnation would be done by a federal entity, under NEPA and therefore affording the least amount of protection to displaced residents and no protection to business owners and operators.
Funding and Financing: After review of materials provided by Ernst & Young, a consultant to ESD as well as a developer with stake in the area (likely Vornado), CB5 finds that the funding and financing schemes would be a liability and could end up costing billions of dollars to tax-payers (state, city). In order to provide funding to MTA to reconstruct and expand Penn Station, ESD would issue bonds promptly after the adoption and ratification of the GPP. But revenue backing these bonds would only start to trickle in in 2028 (upon completion of the new proposed buildings) in the best-case scenario and could also never trickle in if Vornado choses to not develop the properties (a very likely eventuality given the very volatile nature of the oversaturated NYC commercial real estate market). The bonds once issued would be guaranteed by the state, would start to produce interest to bond holders and the state or ESD would likely have to repay the principal before revenue would be generated. It would amount to putting the Penn reconstruction and expansion on a maxed out credit card with no hope of bringing additional revenue. The debt service to ESD would be devastatingly high. It would also prevent the city from enabling their own value capture plan.
Thru-running: The proposed GPP infers that an expansion of Penn Station is necessary and does not consider through-running as a serious alternative. CB5 believes that Through-running is a necessity to properly interconnect the entire region, provide mobility and address climate change. CB5 urges that through running be thoroughly evaluated under the Penn expansion and Penn reconstruct plans. Thru-running would save billions of dollars and would provide true 21st century connectivity.
ULURP: CB5 believes that any land use action in the Penn area should be undertaken by the city and not by the state. Municipalities are sovereign in land use planning and actions. The state is ill equipped to plan comprehensive land use actions. The city process affords a more transparent and fair review process with checks and balances. Furthermore, CB5 has been an active part of a transit-oriented rezoning for East Midtown Subdistrict and understands the level of sophistication needed for a value capture transit-oriented zoning change, CB5 cannot support a land use proposal that does not follow ULURP.
MSG: The proposed GPP still excludes MSG from their plans and does not contemplate relocating MSG. CB5 believes that Penn Station cannot be reconstructed to be made safe and fully ADA accessible unless MSG is relocated. MSG operations have tremendous negative impact on the area with loading, parking on public streets and sidewalks. Furthermore, CB5 believes that MSG tax break is not justified and must be repealed.
View Corridors: While the revised GPP provides new design guidelines that modestly protect view corridors onto the Empire State Building along 33rd street, the overall impact of the proposed developments on the numerous view corridors is unacceptable.
Shadows: The new development would cast deep shadows on open space and light sensitive historic resources, including on Penn South open space. The removal of daylight evaluation regulation would allow creation of dark canyons at street level.
Historic Resources: The proposed developments would cause extensive demolition of historic resources including the Church of St John the Baptist, the Gimbels Bridge, among others.
Role of NYC: The proposed GPP is seeking a letter of support from the NY City Planning Commission. We urge the current CPC to defer any decision or recommendation until a new administration is sworn in in less than 30 days. We also urge the current administration to defer any decision on authorizing the PILOTs agreement (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes).
In order for the applicant, ESD, to justify proposing a land use action and override in a municipality, pursuant to UDC Act Section 10, it must establish the following findings:
“Civic Project Findings: UDC Act Section 10(d)
There exists in the area in which the project is to be located, a need for the educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, public service or other civic facility to be included in the project.
(4) The plans and specifications assure or will assure adequate light, air, sanitation and fire protection.”
“Civic project" definition. A project or that portion of a multi-purpose project designed and intended for the purpose of providing facilities for educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, public service or other civic purposes.”
While the GPP affirms that Penn Station itself is part of the project, Penn Station is not in the scope of work; improvements and expansion to Penn Station are not part of this project and are not in the scope of work. The project calls for the development of ten commercial buildings with no educational, recreational, cultural or public service purpose. CB5 notes that the project would cause the demolition of a higher education facility (Touro College) and a church, a homeless services provider facility, as well as a number of other facilities that serve the public and the community (NY Department of Motor Vehicle office).
The plans and specification demonstrate that the shadows caused by the developments will be massive, will impact open space and light sensitive historic resources, and that they will be mostly unmitigated. The Design Guidelines also eliminate the sky exposure plane regulation currently existing in the zoning and will offer no mechanism to assess and protect access to light at street level. The proposed density will cause the streets surrounding the sites to be plunged in semi-permanent twilight. The project will not assure adequate light and air. The project fails to fall within the definition of a Civic Project.
“Land Use Improvement Project Findings: UDC Act Section 10(c) (1)
The area in which the Project is to be located is a substandard or insanitary area, or is in danger of becoming a substandard or insanitary area and tends to impair or arrest sound growth and development of the municipality.”
“(c) "Land Use Improvement project" Definition. A plan or undertaking for the clearance, replanning, reconstruction and rehabilitation or a combination of these and other methods, of a substandard and insanitary area, and for recreational or other facilities incidental or appurtenant thereto, pursuant to and in accordance with article eighteen of the constitution and this act. The terms "clearance, replanning, reconstruction and rehabilitation" shall include renewal, redevelopment, conservation, restoration or improvement or any combination thereof as well as the testing and reporting of methods and techniques for the arrest, prevention and elimination of slums and blight.”
Community Board Five believes that this area of our district cannot be qualified as a slum and blight, nor can it be described as substandard or unsanitary and that the characterization is offensive, grossly inaccurate and serves the only purpose of erroneously applying a portion of the UDC Act to justify an action that should not be permitted. The area is home to Madison Square Garden, a large and world-renowned sports arena, as well as iconic Macy’s, an equally renowned department store; the retail presence in the area includes the largest clothing companies in the world, including brands such as H&M, Target and Old Navy. These brands typically are never found in slums and unsanitary areas. The Neighborhood Condition study commissioned by ESD underscores that the commercial vacancy rate is among the lowest in the borough, clearly establishing that the area is economically strong, dynamic and in no need of salvation. The area is home to Hotel Pennsylvania, a grand historic building designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1919. The building is owned by Vornado, the real estate entity that will most benefit from the State proposed land use action. The hotel maintenance and necessary upkeep has been grossly neglected by its owner, its condition is therefore self-inflicted and cannot be used to justify the land use project. The Neighborhood Condition Study notes that Madison Square Garden (MSG) is a windowless structure that creates an unpleasant streetscape, but the current proposal does not plan to relocate MSG, despite CB5’s and other civic groups’ advocacy. The area is also home to a DMV office, run by the State and if the condition of this State-run facility is deemed unsanitary, it is self-inflicted and cannot be used by the State as an argument to demolish and redevelop the area under State action. The GPP notes elements of the public realm, including poorly designed plazas and streetscapes. CB5 notes that the majority of plazas were designed and built by Vornado, in exchange for a generous density bonus. They are owned and maintained by Vornado, the partner in the proposed Project.
While the GPP claims to be comprehensive, it is everything but comprehensive: The transit-oriented actions, Penn Station expansion and Penn Station improvements are not part of this proposal.
At its inception, ESD failed to provide meaningful community engagement for review and input on the GPP. The original CAC was woefully inadequate. After strong opposition, ESD agreed to convene an expanded group known as Community Advisory Committee Working Group, or CACWG. The CACWG was made up of more than 40 members that included elected officials, community boards, MTA, AMTRAK, NJ Transit, civic organizations (MAS, RPA, TriState Transportation, HDC), special interest groups (REBNY), unions, Vornado, 34th street BID, NYC DOT, NYC DCP. The CACWG met weekly from April 27 2021 to June 29 2021. The CACWG issued a report to ESD, MTA, AMTRAK with a set of recommendations. (Report attached).
Two public meetings were held by community boards in July 2021 to provide information to the general public as well as to residents at risk of development.
In early November 2021, ESD presented their response to the CACWG recommendations in the form of a revised DEIS that includes modifications outlined above.
The New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a Empire State Development (ESD) is considering the adoption and affirmation of a General Project Plan for the Proposed Project. The GPP and the DEIS were adopted by the ESD directors on February 18, 2021. The directors, all appointed by the Governor, will be tasked with adopting and affirming the GPP once the environmental review process concludes, after the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Once adopted, the project will be referred to the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB). ESD projects must receive a resolution of approval from PACB prior to entering into any project-related financings. According to ESD, the State Attorney General must provide an opinion. The State Comptroller must approve some aspects of the GPP, although it is unclear what exactly is within scope of the Comptroller’s review. The NY City Planning Commission must issue a letter of support, and the PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) must be negotiated and approved by the city.
While a number of agencies are provided the opportunity to comment, Community Board Five believes the review and approval process is entirely one-sided. The process does not afford responsiveness to the various constituencies. It rather favors one single developer and provides no real opportunity to compel any modifications to the project.
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
Madison Square Garden (MSG), is an arena located on block 781. It sits directly above Pennsylvania Station. In 1963, the original Pennsylvania Station, a four-square-block colonnaded colossus, designed by famed architects McKim, Mead and White, built in 1910, was demolished and its remains were disposed of in a marsh in Secaucus. Penn Station was replaced by a sports and entertainment complex bearing the name Madison Square Garden. In order to build the new arena, columns and girders were installed through the subterranean train station, around the tracks and into the platforms, to reach terra firma.
MSG was granted a fifty-year special permit by the NY City Council in 1963, to operate as an entertainment and sports venue with a capacity in excess of 2500 people. The Special Permit established a maximum capacity of 22,000 seats. In 2013, the NY City Planning Commission recommended and the NY City Council voted to extend MSG special permit for 10 years, with the express condition and recommendation that MSG be relocated as it impedes any meaningful, sustainable and significant renovation, reconstruction and expansion to Penn Station. The proposed project under consideration encompasses block 781, where MSG is located. The Neighborhood Condition Study notes: “The existing station consists of vestiges of the below-ground portions of the original station, punctuated at all levels by structural columns that support MSG and 2 Penn Plaza. These structural elements, together with the remnants of the original station’s subterranean infrastructure and the low priority given to intuitive design resulted in the disjointed and confusing station layout observed today.”
The Neighborhood Condition Study further notes: “Because large swaths of MSG’s building façade are windowless and ground floor retail is limited, there is an inhospitable pedestrian environment along significant portions of the streets framing the north and south sides of the Penn Station block. Due to modern needs for the arena, the interior loading configuration of MSG is no longer viable for the building. Service and loading takes place on West 31st Street and West 33rd Street, as well as within the former Taxiway north and south of the pedestrian bridge and the area to the immediate west of the former Taxiway north of the pedestrian bridge (which is identified as a public plaza). These loading conditions adversely affect the quality of the public realm. Fewer pedestrians make use of these blocks: on a typical day, approximately 1,500 pedestrians were observed using the sidewalk on the south side of West 33rd Street during the morning one-hour peak period, while approximately 975 pedestrians were observed on the north side of West 31st Street.”
Given that MSG special permit will expire in 2023 (in 2 years from the certification of the GPP), and given the inadequacy of the arena, given the inhospitable streetscape it creates, given its poor functionality, and given its grave impediment in redeveloping Penn Station, the only conclusion is that MSG must be relocated.
Along with numerous civic organizations, Community Board Five has been advocating for the relocation of MSG since 2012, and even before. CB5 strongly urges ESD to use the opportunity created by the massive demolition plan proposed in this current Project to effectuate the relocation of MSG to a superblock bound by 6th and 7th Avenues, and by 32nd and 34th streets. While Penn Station renovation is not part of this proposal, it is clear that Penn Station structural limitations cannot be properly addressed without relocating MSG. To be viable, the proposed project must address this serious land use and infrastructure issue, in a comprehensive way.
COMMENTS TO DEIS
Chapter 2: Analytical Framework
"As discussed below, any commercial development on the proposed Penn Station expansion sites would be contingent on those sites first being deemed the preferred alternative for a station expansion by or for Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and New Jersey Transit pursuant to an independent approval process and federal environmental review that will be undertaken for the proposed Penn Station expansion."
"Although ESD has no authority to approve or dictate the location of a Penn Station expansion, it has included Sites 1, 2, and 3 within the proposed GPP boundaries"
CB5 believes that segmentation is a deep flaw of this proposal. Furthermore, we believe that the three separate actions are introduced in the wrong order. The first actions should be Penn Station expansion and Penn Station upgrades. Once those have been determined, scoped and their cost estimated, then can a land use proposal be introduced and properly evaluated.
Chapter 3: Land Use, Zoning, and Public Policy
The proposed density is very high: (for example, Empire State Bldg is 27 FAR, One Vanderbilt is 30 FAR, the densest bldg in Hudson Yards is 33 FAR)
Area Net FAR
Site 1 16.20
Site 2 32.26
Site 3 32.26
Site 4 25.60
Site 5 33.88
Site 6 31.32
Site 7 26.66
Site 8 26.66
The DEIS concludes that The Proposed Project would not result in significant adverse impacts related to land use, zoning or public policy.
The proposed density would not be permissible under the current zoning. Such density, ranging from 16 to 33.8 FAR would double the current built density. While higher density is desirable at and around transit rich areas, the agglutination of nine supertall buildings in a very small footprint will dangerously overburden the area and will cause substantial negative impacts, as revealed in the DEIS.
The current zoning, Special Midtown District (SMD), has a sky exposure plane threshold and requires a sky exposure plane analysis to protect and preserve access to air and light at the street level. The design guidelines eliminate this massing criteria and will cause access to light and air to be drastically diminished. Community Board Five believes that the Special Midtown District sky exposure plane criteria must be restored.
Chapter 4: Socioeconomic Conditions
The proposed action would cause direct and indirect residential and commercial displacement.
Community Board Five is concerned that lack of outreach has prevented proper community engagement. Residents and businesses in nearby K-town must be consulted and dual language outreach must be done, even if they may not be directly impacted by the project. Residents in and around the project area would be displaced and it is unclear whether they are aware of this massive land use proposal.
The DEIS shows that the area will lose hundreds of good-paying hotel jobs for a minimum of 10 years if demolition and construction schedules proceed as currently forecasted. This job loss is not taken into consideration in the current DEIS.
Chapter 5: Community Facilities and Services
The DEIS concludes that there would be no impact to community facilities and services as no residential development is proposed.
Community Board Five believes that substantial fully affordable residential development should be included in this proposal, therefore community facility and services forecast should be part of the review. Community Board Five advocated for affordable housing as well as community space during the SOW comment period. We stand by this statement and believe this project should include a large community facility such as an indoor sport facility to serve the needs of the residential population and the numerous schools around the area.
Chapter 6: Open Space
"As shown in Tables 6-10 and 6-11, with a total worker population of 325,523 and 10.12 acres of passive open space, the passive open space ratio would decrease from 0.034 to 0.031 acres per 1,000 workers in the With Action condition. The open space ratio would remain well below the City’s goal of 0.15 acres per 1,000 workers."
"[...] although the Proposed Project would introduce new and enhanced open spaces and other public realm improvements that would benefit workers and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, it would also introduce a substantial new worker population that would overburden existing and proposed passive open spaces, particularly during the midday hours when the open spaces would be most heavily utilized by a multitude of users in addition to workers. Therefore, the Proposed Project would result in a significant adverse indirect impact to open space."
Open space in the study area is already grossly inadequate, and among the lowest in the entire city of New York. The project would eliminate the POPS on block 783, as it would be taken over by sites 4 and 5. Community Board Five is deeply troubled and disappointed that its meager open space resources would be reduced and overburdened by the proposed developments to such magnitude. While the project would develop additional open space on block 780, it would be unacceptably insufficient and would result in a substantial net loss.
Chapter 7: Shadows
"However, nine sun-sensitive resources would experience substantial durations and occasionally large extents of new shadow, significantly reducing their attractiveness and usability, or, in the case of the historic resources, obscuring a sunlight-dependent feature. Phase 2 of the Proposed Project would result in significant adverse shadow impacts to the following sunlight-sensitive resources: Madison Square Garden (MSG) privately owned public space (POPS), Plaza 33, Herald Square Park, Chelsea Park, the Penn South open spaces, the Farley Building, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi Church, and the former Greenwich Savings Bank."
Jane Jacobs said: “Shadows are erasers of humans.” Sunlight is essential to the enjoyment of open space, especially in winter when shadows are the longest and travel the slowest. The proposed developments would cause large shadows onto sensitive resources and open space, both in the 2028 and the 2038 phases. The only shadow mitigation the DEIS offers is outdoor electric lights to two churches. Community Board Five in general, and the area around Penn Station in particular, are needful of light. Shadows will linger for extended periods of time and will render the existing and new open space inhospitable. An acceptable mitigation would be to reduce the density.
Chapter 8: Historic and Cultural Resources
"** The 2038 With Action development on Site 6 would almost fully obstruct views of the Empire State Building in eastward views along West 34th Street, and the 2038 With Action development on the east (Seventh Avenue) portion of Site 2 would block partial views northeast to the Empire State Building available from the east portion of Chelsea Park along Ninth Avenue, from the south side of the Ninth Avenue and West 28th Street intersection, and along the western portion of West 28th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues."
"The Proposed Project would result in significant adverse impacts to visual resources in the 2028 and 2038 analysis years. Demolition of the Church of St. John the Baptist on Site 2 is projected to occur as of the 2028 analysis year and demolition of the copper skybridge spanning from Site 8 across West 32nd Street is projected to occur in the 2038 analysis year."
Community Board Five is troubled by the blunt damage caused by this project to historic resources. Some of these buildings and structures could be saved by incorporating them into the proposed developments, with a more tactful urban planning approach. The proposal makes no effort to address the historic resources. This approach is as misguided as the demolition of the original Penn Station itself.
Chapter 9: Urban Design and Visual Resources
The DEIS wrongly concludes that the proposal would not have adverse impacts. The proposed developments would be as tall or taller than the most iconic building in the city and possibly the world, the Empire State Building (ESB). The sprouting of nine buildings directly in the sightline of the Empire State Building would obstruct its views from most west side vantage points.
The Photo Location Reference Map Figure 9-1 p 7, identifies and documents 60 existing views. But only 14 Illustrative No Action and With Action Massing View Locations are studied. (Figure 9-41 p 70). Visual impact to ESB is only represented in one view. Views at 32nd, 33rd & 34th street looking east are not represented. CB5 requests that these views be represented.
The visual impact is not properly assessed and illustrated. It deprives the public of the ability to fully appreciate the adverse impact of the proposal. It is imperative that the Final EIS include illustrative views matching the documented existing condition in Figure 9-1 map p 7, especially views within the project area, looking east to assess the impact to the Empire State Building.
Chapter 14: Transportation
Total subway trips would increase from 4,217 (no action) to 16,364 (with action).
"The Phase 1 and Phase 2 net incremental trips are shown in Tables 14-14 and 14-15, respectively. In comparison, the Phase 2 development-generated trip increments would generally be 10 times or more than those under Phase 1 for vehicle, transit, and pedestrian trips."
The traffic increase for all modes of transportation would be extremely high, ranging from 500% to 1000%. The proposal includes modest subway access and new egress improvements, but it fails to demonstrate that it will mitigate the transit adverse impact in an already acutely congested area. The DEIS concludes that there will be no impact to bus ridership; a conclusion that CB5 disagrees with. CB5 requests that bus ridership be evaluated. The proposal does not have a comprehensive plan for vehicular traffic, especially to address congestion caused by MSG patrons.
It is unclear whether the projections are based solely on the increased density caused by the 10 new buildings, or whether they account for Penn Station improvements and expansion, as well as other land use actions (Macy’s upzoning) as each action would further increase traffic.
Chapter 19: Neighborhood Character
“The Proposed Project would not result in a significant adverse impact on neighborhood character.”
The DEIS concludes erroneously that the proposal would have no adverse impact on the neighborhood character. The loss of light, air, open space, views on the Empire State Building, demolition of the Gimbels Bridge as well as other historic resources would tremendously impact the neighborhood character. The area currently has a strong streetscape articulation with straight building walls topped with robust cornices and a continuing retail streetscape at the ground level, punctuated by other use types such as churches or educational institutions. Under the proposal, the new buildings would rise like those of Hudson Yards, and would create a vastly different streetscape. The neighborhood character would be drastically altered.
Chapter 20: Construction
“[…] the Proposed Project’s construction activities would result in significant adverse impacts in the areas of transportation, noise, localized neighborhood character, and historic and cultural resources.”
According to the DEIS, construction will span for 18 years. It is unclear what traffic, noise and pollution mitigations are proposed for residents of the area. Construction noise in open space will not be mitigated. The mitigation for construction adverse impacts is inadequate.
Chapter 21: Alternatives
The DEIS proposes alternatives, including a residential alternative and a low-density alternative. Community Board Five believes that these alternatives would be better proposals than the current one, and urges ESD to seriously consider alleviating the burden caused by the project by proposing sound, comprehensive planning.
Community Board Five cannot confirm how the GPP’s Goal 1 (a sustainable mixed-use development) is achieved when the DEIS primarily analyzed only commercial use and overwhelmingly only office use. Community Board Five would like to see the GPP attempt to use a more inclusive & traditional definition of “mixed-use” by including residential and community facilities.
The lack of any concrete information on improvements to Penn Station, the Penn Station Master Plan, or any recognition of Madison Square Garden’s engineering infrastructure as an impediment to substantial railroad station improvements proves impossible for Community Board Five to conclude that the GPP will achieve Goal 2 (a safer Penn Station). The current Penn Station is a known firetrap and obvious terrorism target. In 2018, the New York State legislature passed the New York Pennsylvania Station Public Safety Improvements Act. It states: "Penn Station is currently overcrowded, hard to navigate, at times often chaotic and has a limited capacity for security and proper policing, […] Penn Station is in desperate need of more access and egress to allow better entrance and exit capacity and expedited evacuation procedures. In this time of heightened terrorist threats, Penn Station needs more controlled points for security monitoring and equipment. […] This is a pressing public safety and transportation issue and is a major objective for the state to resolve." The current GPP brings more fire safety issues with mega tall towers and a continuous, supersized underground transit facility connecting 6th Avenue, Broadway, PATH, 7th Avenue, LIRR, NJTransit, Amtrak, and 8th Avenue lines. There will be more need for clear communication channels & equipment between all of the police agencies at Penn Station (Amtrak Police, NYPD, NYS National Guard, NY State Police, MTA Police, and NJ Transit Police) and, with the 33rd Street PATH station being connected to the enlarged complex, the Port Authority Police Department. Equipment that facilitates communications between FDNY and all relevant policing agencies in Penn Station has been an issue for many years. The DEIS doesn’t address any of these public safety issues and Community Board Five sees them as of great importance and a glaring void in the proposal.
Community Board Five doesn’t see how Goal 3 (addressing substandard conditions) is met by this GPP. Above, we outline how we think the DEIS makes arbitrary characterizations, incorrect characterizations, or has yet to consult the community for what are the actual deficiencies in the neighborhood.
Community Board Five has been working on Goal 4 (supporting future capacity at Penn Station) for over a decade. The current DEIS does not contain the Penn Station Master Plan, a clear proposal for an East-West Corridor, or a clear assumption for Federal support of the Gateway Tunnel. It is very difficult to judge this GPP given that so many of its stated goals are inadequately addressed.
Community Board Five believes that Penn Station must be modernized to provide a safe environment to users, to allow further growth and adaptability. Community Board Five believes that it is sensible to increase density around transit rich areas.
Unfortunately, the proposed revised project, a land use action, only provides the framework for additional built density and market-rate commercial use (with a modest affordable housing component and alternative). It fails to provide analysis or the framework for Penn Station renovation and expansion. The proposed project is ill guided. It does not serve a civic and land use purpose that would serve the public. The proposed project does not provide a framework for revenue generation, on the contrary it could be a serious liability.
The City of New York has created a framework for a transit-oriented upzoning around Grand Central Terminal, with the enactment of the East Midtown Subdistrict in 2018. The city land use review process (ULURP) that permitted this new zoning was more transparent, equitable and comprehensive than the current proposal introduced by ESD. It allowed great community engagement from community boards as well as civic groups. It acknowledged the role and value of historic resources. It provided a clear framework and mechanism for bonus density in exchange for tangible transit upgrades. It is currently permitting the construction of numerous transit related projects administered by MTA. The GPP fails in all these categories.
On its merits, the GPP proposal is of a magnitude never contemplated in CB5. Even the East Midtown Subdistrict, the latest transit-oriented land use rezoning in CB5 (2018), is more restrained (max 30FAR, including TDR from landmarked buildings), with much clearer transit upgrades mechanisms.
Overall, the myriad adverse impacts caused by this revised proposal are too large, too broad, too all-encompassing, regardless of the alleged revenue they would generate, or the alleged needs they would serve. And furthermore, the alleged revenue is not presented, assessed or discussed. This proposed project serves the needs of a developer and its shareholders who will greatly benefit from this land use action. Under this proposal, Community Board Five would be forced to carry the brunt of these impacts in a very sacrificial way. In order to fund Penn Station’s purpose and needs, other revenue streams may include direct funding from NY State as well as New Jersey and the Federal government. Unfortunately, the burden this project placed on our district is too high. While CB5 is not opposed to upzonings in transit rich areas, this proposal’s magnitude, scope, lack of purpose and mechanism is unacceptable.