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It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over

The Judge has ruled against the petitioners in the two lawsuits challenging the Empire State Development’s General Project Plan (GPP) that threatens the destruction of six blocks around Penn Station through eminent domain. Attorneys for the petitioners are considering an appeal.

Rendering of Penn Station Redevelopment Project for Midtown Manhattan

The Conservancy submitted an amicus brief, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation League of New York State. The amicus brief, which was accepted by the court, bolstered arguments that the area is not “blighted, “and instead contains several landmark quality buildings.

New York State has one of the strongest eminent domain laws in the country, heavily in favor of the State. So the legal challenge was an uphill battle from the start. But, to quote the eminent philosopher Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The ruling was not a ringing endorsement of the GPP. The Plan initially counted on Vornado to build giant commercial office towers around Penn at an undetermined date, and contribute an undetermined amount to Penn upgrades.

The decision stated that the court could overturn the State’s determination to approve the GPP only if that determination was arbitrary, lacked a rational basis, or lacked a basis in law. The standard of review is a high bar that led the court to conclude that it “may not substitute its judgment for EDS’s…even if the plan appears dubious in the current economic climate.”

The petitioners maintained that the GPP should have contained a comprehensive financial analysis. But the Judge stated in the decision that the statute allows ESD to defer this “to an indeterminate date.”

Even though keeping the GPP benefits Vornado, the ruling said that proposed bike lanes, underground pedestrian concourses, shared streets, and expanded sidewalks demonstrated a “civic purpose.” The ruling ignored the loss of homes, businesses, non-profits, and architecturally distinct buildings. Instead, the court basically accepted ESD’s assessment of “blight.”

We are disappointed in the decision. But the plans for Penn and the area are fairly opaque and certainly confusing. The public still deserves full transparency, actual transit improvements, and a station worthy of New York. This does not require leveling blocks of Midtown.

We will keep working with colleagues to achieve a real “world-class” Station.

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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