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Comments Of State Senator Thomas K. Duane On The Draft Scope Of Analysis For The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Regarding The Expanded Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project

 

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, which includes much of the area that will be affected by the Expanded Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project. This includes the superblock occupied by the current Penn Station and Madison Square Garden (the 'Penn Station Block" or "Moynihan Station East"), the superblock on which the Farley Post Office and the Farley Annex sit (the "Farley Block" or "Moynihan Station West"), the block to the North of the Penn Station Block (which holds "Penn West" and "Penn East"), and some of the surrounding area within the Proposed Moynihan Station Subdistrict, which is included in one alternative in the Draft Scope. Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments today before the Empire State Development Corporation ("ESDC") and its subsidiary, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation ("MSDC"), regarding the Expanded Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project.

 

I have been a long-time supporter of this project starting with its inception and continuing throughout its many iterations. The original goal of the Moynihan Station project, to convert the Farley Post Office into a train station complementary to Penn Station across Eighth Avenue, was an ingenious answer in its own right to the lingering question of how to alleviate Penn Station's severe overcrowding. In addition, the use of the Farley building is a fitting tribute to the original Penn Station, tragically demolished, which was also a grand Beaux Arts building by McKim, Mead and White. The possible transportation enhancements and activation of the beautiful Farley building were reason enough to support the first proposed Moynihan Station. These core elements remain still today, but have been enhanced in the Expanded Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project, and I offer my conditional support for the project as it is laid out in the Draft Scope.

As the entire plan with its alternatives is laid out extensively in the Draft Scope, I will only briefly describe the project, and then offer my suggestions and concerns. Under the new proposal, the Farley Block would be comprised of a new Madison Square Garden (MSG) on the Western side and a new train station on the Eastern side, with MSG and the United States Postal Service (USPS) sharing the ticket windows in the historic lobby of what would be renamed Moynihan Station West. The demolition of the existing MSG would free up the Penn Station Block to allow construction of an entirely new station, Moynihan Station East. The Farley building two million square feet of development rights would be transferred to Penn East to build a commercial tower to the East of One Penn Plaza using ESDC ability to override New York City zoning. There would be approximately 5.4 million square feet of development rights available on the Penn Station Block after a 2.7 million square foot transportation bonus is realized through the demolition of MSG and the construction of an improved Moynihan Station East.

The Penn Station Block's development rights would be used differently under two alternatives explained in the scope. Under the Penn Station Mixed-Use Development Option, the 5.4 million square feet of development rights would be used in a mixed-use development on the Penn Station Block. Under the Moynihan Station Subdistrict Option, only 1.1 million square feet would stay onsite, while the rest would be transferred to buildings within a proposed Moynihan Station Subdistrict throughout the surrounding blocks. Under both proposals, Penn West will be developed using its existing 125,000 square feet of development rights, and some or all of the remaining USPS operation at Farley would be relocated to USPS' Morgan Annex at 29th Street and Ninth Avenue. In either scenario, the project is immense and has far reaching and complicated impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods, City, and region.

The scoping document on which I am commenting is generally quite thorough in itemizing those impacts needing analysis and the methodology by which the study will be completed. However, there are elements of the plan that I hope will receive special scrutiny in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS).

The component of the plan about which I feel most strongly is the proposed relocation of USPS facilities currently operating in Farley to the Morgan Annex in Chelsea. The Morgan Annex postal facility is inappropriate in its own right. It has created a tremendous traffic problem in Chelsea due to the enormous influx of USPS trucks to the facility every day. Ten years ago, when Chelsea residents were forced to swallow Morgan Annex and the additional postal operations placed there, USPS promised an affordable housing development on top of the facility and street-enlivening retail at its storefronts as compensation for the increased traffic burden. Unfortunately, neither of these community benefits have been realized, ten years after Morgan Annexfs completion. The principle behind Morgan Annex was to centralize USPS functions both there and at USPS' Church Street building, which I have also represented, thus saddling those communities with an unreasonable share of USPS truck traffic. But for the purpose of today's issue, the additional postal operations have been unfair to Chelsea, and I cannot support any relocation of additional USPS operations to Morgan Annex as I believe that this will only exacerbate already serious traffic congestion, air pollution and childhood asthma problems that exist in the surrounding community.

The 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, completed for the previously-conceived Moynihan Station project, assumed that the approximately 250,000 square feet of USPS operations still at Farley would remain there after its transformation to Moynihan Station. This Draft Scope assumes as a worst case scenario that all 250,000 square feet of USPS functions will be transferred to Morgan Annex. This would necessitate, in the Draft Scope estimation, construction of up to two additional stories on the massive Morgan Annex building and its additional truck traffic. I request that the four streets surrounding Morgan Annex be included in the DSEIS traffic study. This would ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the traffic congestion currently created by Morgan Annex, and also highlight the paralyzing effects that further operations at the Annex would cause.

I also ask that the DSEIS study whether the promised affordable housing development which was to be built atop Morgan Annex would be feasible under this proposal. I would also recommend, in order to fully understand the impact, that the DSEIS study the Chelsea traffic implications of the West Side Rail Yards development. Finally, the Draft Scope needs to take into account the completely unacceptable proposal by USPS (Project Number 07XG002EN000), to relocate incoming mail processing operations currently performed at the Bronx General Post Office to the Morgan Annex, resulting in an additional 117 new morning rush hour truck trips a day. On account of the concerns I have already enumerated, and despite my requests for further study, I do not support this mass relocation being studied as a worst-case scenario. I believe that doing so is simply the first step towards making the plan a reality and therefore ask that this not be studied as the worst-case scenario in the DSEIS, but instead considered an Alternative. The Draft Scope mentions that if USPS decides to relocate its facilities to another location, then the impact on that location will be studied. I hope this will be expanded upon in the DSEIS and specific locations will be identified.

While the proposed relocation of USPS facilities is a main concern, I have further suggestions regarding the Draft Scope, especially with regards to the Moynihan Station Subdistrict Option. I will focus my comments on the part of the proposed Subdistrict that most impacts my district: the area West of Eighth Avenue between 30th and 31st Streets, and West of Broadway between 32nd and 36th Streets. I understand and appreciate the desire by ESDC and the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) to avoid the construction, design, and logistical issues involved with the Penn Station Mixed-Use Development Option. The Subdistrict Option is an attractive proposal that would create a mechanism by which to financially incentivize the relocation of MSG, free Moynihan Station East from excessive development, and simultaneously revitalize a possible business and commercial district. I realize there are still details that will most likely be figured out in the coming months and during the Cityfs Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). However, I would like to emphasize the automobile traffic concerns on 34th Street and the surrounding streets, especially 35th Street. Having had my office on West 35th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues for a number of years, I know firsthand that the street grid can barely handle the traffic it currently has, much less that from the vastly increased development imagined under this option. While some of this concern may be alleviated through the Draft Scope's description of the intended underground pedestrian network, I would urge additional consideration and possible additional mitigating factors.

The Draft Scope explains that the current Special Midtown District bonus, which allows bonuses for developments that improve subway station accessibility, will be replaced by a different bonus for developments that help establish an underground pedestrian network. This bonus will maintain the Special Midtown District bonus 20 percent increase in floor area. I agree that the increased development imagined in the Subdistrict Option necessitates an underground network similar to that which spreads out from Grand Central Station, thereby lessening street pedestrian congestion and incentivizing use of public transportation. I hope that as the City finalizes the details of this option that care will be taken to ensure that the new Subdistrict maximum 24 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) -- already a substantial increase and cause for considerable community concern as outlined in the comments presented by Community Board Four -- will require these transit and pedestrian access improvements where applicable. If these minimum mitigating factors and others are not undertaken, or if the DSEIS shows that they cannot offset the impact of this tremendous amount of new development, then there must be a reconsideration of the maximum FAR as allowed in the Subdistrict Option.

The possible transfer bonus from the Penn Station Block is large enough that I would hope that transit, traffic and pedestrian improvements will be prerequisites for transfer certification, as the City administration has done with other zoning incentives. It would be most unfortunate if this were a differentiated bonus option that a developer may deem too expensive to consider, as has happened in other zoning initiatives. I am confident that DCP and ESDC have the tools to ensure that these improvements, which are necessary to offset the effects of millions of square feet of new development, occur.

As Community Board Four quite clearly expresses in its comments, the boundaries of the proposed Subdistrict are themselves potentially very problematic. This neighborhood is replete with zoning districts and subdistricts that combine to create a fragile network of communities and environments, including the Garment District, Koreatown, Upper Chelsea's senior residential community, the Herald Square retail center and Class B office space, the new Hudson Yards as well as the southern end of low-rise, residential Hellfs Kitchen. The dislocation of any one of these districts by the Subdistrict's intended development would not only affect that particular community but also disrupt the fabric of the surrounding network, and this effect should be studied in the DSEIS. One example is the already-threatened Garment District, which employs neighborhood residents and supports other local businesses and industries, and whose economic viability is already threatened by choking 7:00am - 7:00pm traffic, as well as by other factors. The DSEIS study area boundaries must include the whole of the Garment District and the businesses that remain there, as well as the connections it has to the rest of the city.

Of critical importance is that portion of the Subdistrict that overlaps with the recently rezoned Hudson Yards. Community Board Four, elected officials, DCP and the local community carefully negotiated the density that the Hudson Yards rezoning would enable, especially around the core of Hell's Kitchen that is Ninth Avenue. The community also received in return a number of community benefits appropriate for what they gave up in the rezoning, including mid-block parks and affordable housing. Disrupting this delicate balance through an upzoning of the 34th Street portion of the Hudson Yards District requires a very careful study of the implications for policy, traffic, and neighborhood character for these blocks particularly. Finally, until the specific receiving sites and likely density and uses of development spurred by the Moynihan Subdistrict are identified, it will be difficult to comment on what exactly its effects will be.

As with any large-scale planning initiative, the impact on historic resources and open space should be strongly considered. Of primary concern is the loss of the open space on Penn West, itself a decades-old bonus plaza. This should be studied extensively and replaced with a public amenity of equal or greater value not only because this neighborhood already has an appalling lack of public open space, but also because it would be a troubling precedent for a community benefit derived from a zoning bonus to disappear seemingly because enough time has passed. Regarding historic resources, the concerns of the historic advocacy organizations about whether MSG will overwhelm Moynihan Station West must be heeded. Unfortunately, there are no visual images of the proposed design in the Draft Scope and so comment on this aspect is impossible. I expect to come back to this topic once the designs have been released. Further, there were a number of buildings in this area identified during the Hudson Yards rezoning as having possible historic and architectural significance and therefore considered eligible for landmark consideration. I hope that as individual sites in the Subdistrict are studied, a list may be created of prospective landmark buildings at risk for demolition due to development pressures. Increased development of a neighborhood does not have to be detrimental, but to ensure that it is not, historic resources that define a neighborhood must be preserved and sufficient open space must be allotted so that the area is attractive and pedestrian-friendly.

Despite these concerns regarding, and additions to, the scope of study for the DSEIS, I once again offer my support for the basic elements of the Expanded Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project as laid out in the Draft Scope of Analysis for the DSEIS. Especially compelling, even in the preliminary format described in the Draft Scope, is the Moynihan Station Subdistrict Option. I hope that my suggestions regarding expanding the scope of study for the DSEIS will be taken into account and included. I also recommend thoughtful consideration of the Statements of Principles for development produced by the Friends of Moynihan Station, a coalition I belong to that includes preservation, construction and public planning advocacy groups and is dedicated to making Moynihan Station a reality of which we can all be proud.

I wish again to fervently urge ESDC, DCP and USPS to reconsider the relocation of USPS functions to Morgan Annex, and that the current worst-case scenario be removed and instead studied as an Alternative. I expect that as the Moynihan Station Subdistrict Option is refined in the coming months and through ULURP that my concerns regarding traffic and the renegotiation of the Hudson Yards rezoning will be addressed and that a mechanism will be found to ensure improvements to the transit system and the proposed pedestrian underground network. Finally, I advise that projected designs for Moynihan Stations East and West be released as soon as possible. This will not only allow landmark advocates to provide guidance on possible MSG encroachment on the historic Farley building, but also will energize what I expect to be widespread public enthusiasm for the project.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to comment on the Draft Scope. I appreciate your consideration of my concerns and suggestions as the Moynihan/Penn Station Redevelopment Project moves towards fruition.