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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

NYC Council

This past weekend I was lucky enough to capture a recording of the NYC Council on Zoning meeting for 15 Penn Plaza on the NYC Gov TV Channel. Over the next few days I will be attempting to make an audio transcript of the meeting (minus the commercials). Please be patient with me as I do this. We have also reached out to CB5 for a copy of the speech that Mr. Wally Rubin gave that day, if we get it from CB5 will will gladly post it here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A letter to Mr. Roth and Mr. Greenbaum

I opened up my mailbox today and found this wonderful letter from Mr. Marco Zanaletti, who just happens to live in Italy.  the letter is listed below and reads:

Da: Marco <marcoz88@alice.it>
Data: 18 settembre 2010 16.26.07 GMT+02.00
Oggetto: Pennsylvania Hotel

Dear Sirs, 

From what it was once a beautiful and unique Country - Italy - I am begging you not to demolish the Pennsylvania Hotel. An awfully lot of money can be made more easily and smartly out of history than out of cheap consumerism. If we had preserved our country and our landscape, we would today be much richer, not only in our pockets, but in our hearts too. New York has lost already many landmarks, last but not least due to terrorism. 
So please, let the Penn hotel survive, as a piece of the America which changed the world for the better and that we learned to love and respect.

Yours truly, 

Marco Zanaletti

Via Ticino 88
20081 Abbiategrasso (Milano) 


Thank you Marco, let us hope your letter does not fall on deaf ears.

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.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another letter to Christine Quinn

Congratulations!  Thanks to you and the other members of the NYC Council, you have caused nearly 1000 people in Manhattan lose their jobs.  And to what benefit? The demolition of a building you know was landmark worthy?  The destruction of the NYC skyline?  Was it the "donation" from Vornado?  It always comes down to selfishness and money.  The demolition of Penn Station was a huge mistake, and I bet you agree!  Thank you for making the same mistake again with Hotel Pennsylvania.  Congratulations Ms. Quinn.  A job well done.  We will remember this when you are up for re-election.  Thank you for your contribution to the history of New York.  You have failed.

With Love,
Steven Lepore

A letter to Christine Quinn

Ms. Quinn:

I would personally like to thank you on behalf of the all the employee's of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Because of your vote, and the votes of other members of the NYC Council you have effectively put them out of work, and increased the unemployment of NYC. All for a few campaign contributions from Vornado. Fantastic job Ms. Quinn, we will be sure to remember this next time we go to the polls on election day to vote for you.

Gregory Jones
Save The Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation