Thursday, September 2, 2010

Letters from CB5 to the CPC and City Council

A few posts ago I wrote about a letter that was sent from CB5 to the CPC admonishing them about their decision to approve the 15 Penn Plaza Project. And to my surprise CB5 also sent a letter to the City Council telling them how they felt.  Is it me or is the community the only sane people left in NY?

Below are a copy of those letters:

"The Board does not oppose this project per se. However, we have serious concerns about the building's proposed size, possible only through the granting of special permits, in an application that offers few public benefits in exchange.

First, in exchange for a 20% transit bonus, the applicant's proposal includes the restoration and reopening of the Gimbel's Passageway plus various other access and egress improvements, all of which we applaud. But as we note in our resolution, some of these improvements are either self-serving or mandated, and thus not sufficient for the 474,000 square feet received in exchange.

Second, Community Board Five is deeply troubled by this application's request for midblock up-zoning (from a C6-4.5 to a C6-6) adding another 266,000 square feet to an application that lacks many confirmed details, including building size, height, tenancy, construction timetable or financing plans. The applicant conceded to us that it could be many years before any development scenario might move forward. Yet if granted, the upzoining would be permanent and remain with the zoning lot regardless of future development plans or even if the lot were to be sold.

Third, we ask that the Commission evaluate this application from the perspective of consistency. The Commission recently considered the Jean Nouvel/MoMA building, and despite noting the proposed building's exemplary design and the lasting benefits that this project would generate for landmarks and cultural institutions, it voted to reduce its size due to its impacts on the city skyline and the surrounding neighborhood.

In comparison, the 15 Penn Plaza application wholly lacks the MoMA project's distinguished architectural features, produces no benefits for landmark preservation or cultural access, would have similarly detrimental impacts on neighborhood density and traffic, and would notably diminish, not enhance, the skyline position of its iconic neighbor, the Empire State Building.

Indeed, the proposed buildings would directly obstruct the view of the Empire State Building from the west, thereby fundamentally altering and diminishing New York City's skyline in a way few projects have in decades. Should 15 Penn Plaza not be held to the same standards and criteria as Nouvel/MoMA?


Letter sent by CB5's Chair Vikki Barbero:

"The ULURP process has ended and the Council has made its final determination. We remain distressed and dismayed, however, by the level of discussion and debate both in the media and at the Council.

The issue before the Council was not principally about women and minority employment, as important as this issue continues to be in all job areas. Yet, if you were present for the Council debate you would have thought it was at the heart of the matter being voted on. The issue before the Council was not about a battle between two major real estate developers, as many press reports made it out.

The issue before the Council was not about the need to foster jobs during this bad economic climate, for even the developer admits they won't be building for years to come. Yet, a number of our political leaders used that bogus argument as an excuse to support the project.
And the issue before the Council was certainly not about sticking it to the Empire State Building because it failed to light up for Mother Teresa.
The issue before the City and the Council was, in fact, about far more than just one project on one block of midtown Manhattan. It was about giving strategic and prudent oversight to a section of our city - the area around Penn Station - that is about to undergo significant change.
The City has created the Moynihan Station sub-district precisely because this area of midtown is poised for major development -- and the City has a responsibility to prepare for it, to be thoughtful about it, and to set the parameters for it.
One development should not be permitted to set a bad precedent for the next, as we believe this one does by upzoning an entire block without a rationale and with limited resultant public benefit. A city as dense as ours, with so many competing interests, needs to thoughtfully and inclusively plan for its future and not let one wealthy and powerful developer override that process.
That was the debate that was entirely missing this week both in most of the media and, even worse, at the City Council. We were disheartened and discouraged by its absence."

Credit to Huffington Post for publishing these letters.