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We Need More Public Debate on the Governor’s and Speaker’s Plans for the City

Last week I explained why the Conservancy opposes the Governor’s plans to level large areas around Penn Station for huge new development and the City Council Speaker’s bill that would leave residents with less say in how their neighborhoods evolve than they have now. Both plans trundle along with remarkably little media coverage or public input.

Community Board 5 is getting a presentation of the Governor’s Empire Station Complex Plan on March 3. The Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) already approved the plan. And there’s $1.3 billion in the Governor’s proposed budget that would allow the State to start buying–or using eminent domain–to clear buildings around Penn Station.

The Governor’s budget message describes the plan as “One of the most ambitious infrastructure projects yet.” Very true. It also revives long-discredited urban renewal.

Rendering of Empire Station Complex, a 20-Million-square-foot redevelopment plan for Midtown Manhattan.

The plan overrides the City’s zoning and planning. But the State’s Draft Environmental Impact Study assures us there are “no significant adverse impacts related to land use, zoning or public policy.”

Several historic buildings would be lost, and others would face potential damage from the proposed construction. All buildings on West 30th and 31st Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues–and on West 32nd and 33rd Streets between 6th and 7th Avenues–would be demolished. Other blocks will be partially demolished. The proposed new construction would be larger than Hudson Yards. The State Historic Preservation Office recommends that the ESD “take a hard look” and “seek ways to avoid or minimize” the effects of demolishing historic buildings.

The plan would level the last remaining McKim Mead and White building constructed as part of the original Penn Station Complex. The 1908 five-story, classical structure is on West 31st Street. Noted architect Napoleon LeBrun’s 1872 St. John the Baptist Church and convent on West 30th would also be goners. The buildings are eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places and eligible for City landmark status.

I trust the Community Board will have plenty of questions. The City’s elected officials should raise some as well.

The City Council held a hearing on Speaker Corey Johnson’s “Planning Together” bill last week It would add a layer of bureaucracy on top of the current public review process in the name of long-term planning. The bill was written without input from the City Planning Department. But the Council Members spent nearly four hours challenging City Planning Chair Marisa Lago on the City’s “upzonings.” In a departure from the usual practice of rotating testimony for and against a bill, all the supporters testified next. By the time Andrea Goldwyn, our Public Policy Director, and others spoke in opposition, most of the Council Members had left. We support long-term planning. Unfortunately, this bill isn’t it.

These two plans would have a major impact on the City. What does your Council Member, State Assemblyperson, and State Senator think of them?

Here are links to find their contacts. Why not ask them?

Find your Council Member

Find your State Assemblyperson

Find your State Senator

Empire Station Complex area from the West, image by Andrew Campbell Nelson

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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