In a rebuke of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state lawmakers are seeking to give New York City more control over his Penn Station expansion and new development in the surrounding area.
A recently introduced bill would force the project to go through the city’s seven-month land use review process, rather than a state-led General Project Plan that overrides local zoning.
In January 2020, Cuomo pitched an expansion of Penn Station that would be funded, in part, by real estate development in the immediate area. The following year, the governor announced additional plans to add 20 million square feet of commercial space and 1,400 residential units.
The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Sen. Brad Hoylman, is the latest effort to slow down the governor’s plans. Hoylman, along with other elected officials and community board members, had opposed the inclusion of $1.3 billion in the state’s budget toward the construction of 10 commercial towers surrounding the station. The money was ultimately included in the budget but limited to below-grade transportation improvements.
The state could use the funds to acquire the 50-plus properties that would need to be demolished to make way for the station expansion.
A memo for the new bill says the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure would “ensure that residents, commuters, small businesses and other community stakeholders have meaningful opportunities to provide input and recommendations.”
Hoylman questioned the rationale for building 14 million square feet of office space with city offices largely empty and tenants flooding the market with sublease space.
“Someone needs to shine a spotlight on this because this is one of the most far-reaching development plans in the city’s history with no public votes being taken,” he said in an interview. “New York City should have a say in its future, in areas as crucial as Midtown.”
But Dan Biederman, head of the area’s business improvement district, said city control of the project would be a “blunt instrument to kill plans.” City rezonings are effectively controlled by the local City Council member; an election for that seat will be held this year.
Biederman said in light of the role Council members and local officials played in killing Amazon’s proposed Queens campus and Industry City’s Sunset Park rezoning, he doesn’t favor entrusting the future of the Penn district to a city-driven process. (Amazon’s project was going through the state process, however, and was withdrawn largely because of state Senate opposition.)
It is unclear if the state will use eminent domain to acquire properties surrounding Penn Station or if the owners will ultimately cut a deal. Under the governor’s plan, the expansion of the station, which includes eight new tracks just south of Penn, would likely be paid for using payments in lieu of taxes, which essentially earmarks property taxes for a specific purpose.
A representative for Empire State Development, the state agency handling the project, did not return a request seeking comment on Hoylman’s bill.
Just nine legislative days remain in this year’s session, and even if the bill passes, it may need to then overcome a gubernatorial veto.