Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Testimony of Wally Rubin for Community Board Five at the New York City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Monday, August 23rd, 2010


Good morning. My name is Wally Rubin and I am the District Manager for Community Board Five. Thank you for the privilege of addressing you today on the topic of 15 Penn Plaza, one of the most important development projects our Board has faced in years.
Community Board Five and its Land Use & Zoning Committee spent considerable time meeting with the applicant and reviewing every available document before we voted 36 to 1 to deny this application.
Obviously, our Board felt very strongly about this application and here are the reasons why:
First, we think that the transportation improvements Vornado has proposed are inadequate. Many of the improvements are ultimately either self-serving or mandated and wholly insufficient for the 474,000 square feet Vornado will receive in exchange. Indeed, as one of our Board members put it, they are akin to Vornado cleaning up its own basement.
Second, Community Board Five is deeply troubled by this applicant's request for a midblock up-zoning, adding yet another 266,000 square feet to a tower that is utterly lacking confirmed details, including building size, height, tenancy, construction timetable or financing plan. The applicant conceded to us that it could be many years – years - before any development scenario might move forward, which entirely demolishes the argument that we should approve this project now as a salve for our current economic troubles.
If the up-zoning were to be granted now, it would remain with the zoning lot permanently, regardless of future development plans or even if the lot is eventually sold. It is ill-advised from a proper planning perspective to approve such an up-zoning without a clear rationale for its request. This up-zoning, just blocks from the Empire State Building, will allow Vornado, or whoever might eventually own this site, to build a building that will change the iconic skyline of New York City forevermore. Such a change must be deeply considered and well thought out, both in terms of its design and, more broadly, its impact on future land use decisions in the immediate area.
Community Board Five is not opposed to development and we recognize that this site is appropriate for a large commercial building. We value the job creation that will result not only during construction but also after the proposed building is complete. But we are also acutely aware of how the area
surrounding Penn Station is poised to undergo enormous development, growth, and change in the coming decade. This means that each individual land use decision will cumulatively contribute to its transformation.
Therefore, we hope that the ladies and gentlemen on this committee and the Council as a whole will join us in asking Vornado to return to the table with their request for a permanent up-zoning when they have a rationale and a final, financed plan in place. Until such time, we urge the Council to join with City Planning, the Moynihan Station Community Advisory Committee and Community Boards Four and Five to begin to outline a Moynihan Station subdistrict zoning plan and a future for this area that is both well-considered and comprehensive.
Thank you for your time.

The PDF version of this can be found here.