SL Green’s proposed 1 Vanderbilt “unconstitutional”: law professor

Harvard scholar says taxpayers would be on the hook for $1 billion

From left: A rendering of One Vanderbilt and SL Green's Marc Holliday
From left: A rendering of One Vanderbilt and SL Green's Marc Holliday

A liberal constitutional scholar from Harvard called SL Green Realty’s proposed 1.6 million-square-foot tower by Grand Central “unconstitutional” during a City Planning Commission Hearing on Wednesday.

Laurence Tribe argued that SL Green, one of the city’s largest landlords, failed to buy the unused development rights from investor and Grand Central’s owner Andrew Penson, but would get them from the city instead after a $210 commitment to improve the subway platforms and stairwells under the station, according to the New York Times. Tribe said that a rezoning and the construction of the tower would saddle New York’s taxpayers with a $1 billion liability, the newspaper reported.

The proposed skyscraper would be located across Vanderbilt Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Street. SL Green’s proposal entered the city’s seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in November. Ultimately, the project’s fate will be up to the city council. TD Bank signed on to be the proposed tower’s anchor tenant.

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Grand Central was landmarked in the late 1960s, at the time preventing the construction of a 50-story building at the site. In turn, the station’s owner was able to transfer unused development rights to nearby lots, the newspaper reported.

“This is a ridiculous argument,” Marc Wolinsky, a lawyer for SL Green, said in response to the professor’s comments. “The Constitution did not give Andrew Penson a monopoly over redevelopment in the Grand Central district. The United States Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have held over and over again that government has the right to rezone an area to promote a public good and that no single landowner, no matter how desperate, has a right to expect that zoning regulations will stand still forever.”

A group led by Penson bought Grand Central in 2006 for $80 million. [NYT] — Claire Moses

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