Lawsuit: State mishandled Penn project, did Vornado’s bidding

Residents of nearby building, groups seek to nullify approvals

Vornado's Steve Roth and Gov. Kathy Hochul with plans of Penn Station (Getty, FXCollaborative)
Vornado's Steve Roth and Gov. Kathy Hochul with plans of Penn Station (Getty, FXCollaborative)

The Penn Station megadevelopment was hit with another lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Vornado Realty Trust has improperly influenced the project and that the state has sidestepped environmental regulations to push it forward.

Community groups and tenants living in buildings slated for demolition accuse Empire State Development of failing to answer basic questions about how the development of 10 new commercial towers will fund the renovation and expansion of the station.

The lawsuit asks the court to annul the state agency’s approval of the general project plan and of the final environmental impact statement, calling the decisions “arbitrary and capricious” and “an abuse of discretion.”

Read more

The development is expected to result in 18 million square feet of new commercial space and at least 1,172 apartments near Penn Station. Officials have said revenue generated by the projects will help pay for the station’s redesign and expansion to the south.

But the lawsuit criticizes the separation of the general project plan, which covers the commercial towers, from the broader vision for the Penn district, saying that reviewing the impacts of each in isolation violates the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The complaint, filed by the Penn Community Defense Fund, ReThink NYC, the City Club of New York and residents of 251 West 30th Street, a 16-story building that would be demolished under the general project plan, also takes aim at Vornado.

Steven Roth’s real estate investment trust controls five of the eight development sites and will likely develop the towers on those plots. The lawsuit accuses state officials of taking cues from Vornado while shaping the general project plan. It notes that Vornado and the state split the bills for various consultants on the project.

“This was not governmental action; it was a joint venture between a state agency and the chosen private company that would benefit — extravagantly — from the plan,” states the lawsuit, filed Wednesday by lawyer Charles Weinstock. “No one stands to gain more from the [plan] than Vornado. In fact, it is possible that Vornado will be the only developer to gain.”

A lawsuit filed in September by the same attorney alleges the state has been “zealous in concealing the central role played by Vornado Realty Trust” in the project. That complaint seeks documents detailing the REIT’s involvement.

In July, the state’s Public Authorities Control Board approved a plan by the city and state to partially pay for the renovation and expansion of Penn Station. State officials estimate that payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, from the private developments could generate up to $3.75 billion.

It is not clear how the state will pay for New York’s estimated $3.25 billion share of the bill. The state has yet to reach individual PILOT agreements with property owners.