Most of us take what a politician says with a grain of salt, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is no exception. He says that he doesn’t want to take control of the planning authority for Penn Station from City Hall, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
Some say, and many agree, that improving Penn Station should be handled by the State of new York, and that this project should top Cuomo’s list. After all, Albany has more money and clout to modernize the area than NYC does. The State also has the power to override local zoning regulations, which it seems is about to happen.
Governor Cuomo has said that “Penn Station is in imminent need. It’s a public safety hazard. You have 600,000 people there every day. We have a new age of terrorism and Penn Station could be a dangerous circumstance if we don’t find ways to do more access and egress.”
According to the governor’s proposal, the Empire State Development Corp. would create a development district or special Penn Station zone — from 34th Street to 32nd Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues as well to 30th Street west of Seventh Avenue. Cuomo’s plan to fund the Penn Station project is to promote large-scale office development. The only problem is that there appears to be little demand for new office towers in that area. (Aren’t there so many empty offices already?)
City officials have claimed that they were not consulted on the State’s proposal, and that they opposed any attempts by the State to wrest away their local control and remove environmental reviews.
Last week, Cuomo had a spending proposal that was approved by the Legislature. Those paying attention took note that there was no mention of giving the Empire State Development Corp. condemnation power or the right to override city zoning laws. Tucked into the budget, however, was the “Pennsylvania Station Public Safety Improvement Act” which made it clear that Cuomo is not giving up on the idea of eminent domain. Making unspecified changes to the station “is a major objective for the State to resolve and should be made a top priority,” it said.
According to reports, the budget says that the state “should coordinate and consult” with the community, business groups and federal and city government.” And that…“the State will provide funds to UDC [Urban Development Corp., the legal name for the ESDC] to begin with the planning of any such redevelopment.” What do we think? We think this smells like eminent domain is coming sometime in the future….
Who is in charge now? It looks like the State is holding the reins here. The ESDC has a lot of power over the city and local businesses, including the power of eminent domain when necessary. That means it can buy out owners of “blighted” (a highly subjective term) properties and demolish them, either voluntarily or through a forced sale (a/k/a eminent domain).
Does all this sound like eminent domain could be on the horizon? Perhaps yes. In a presentation given by Cuomo at the Capitol, it was there for all to see. And this is where things get sticky.
On top of all of this (literally) sits Madison Square Garden (“MSG”), which will have its operating permit with the city expire in seven years. We can leave that heated debate for another day’s post.
Sounds like things are going to be changing…