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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

15 Penn Plaza

WHEREAS, 401 Commercial LP and 401 Hotel REIT LLC propose to redevelop the current site of the Hotel Pennsylvania with a new 67-story, approximately 1,190 to 1,216-foot tall commercial office building to be known as 15 Penn Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The development site is currently occupied by the 1,700 room Hotel Pennsylvania which was designed by McKim, Mead & White which Community Board Five has previously recommended for landmark designation but the New York Landmark Preservation Commission recently determined that the Hotel did not meet their criteria for designation; and

WHEREAS, The applicants are proposing two optional development scenarios for the site in order to have flexibility to respond to future market conditions: 

1) An office building for a single financial industry tenant with five floors of approximately 340,000 sq. ft. of trading floor use, plus approximately 18,000 sq. ft. of retail use, 509,000 sq. ft. of amenity, lobby, service and loading area space, 418,000 sq. ft. of mechanical space, and 1.53 million sq. ft. of office space for a total of 2.83 million gross sq. ft.; or

2) A slightly smaller office building for multiple tenants that would include approximately 1.89 million sq. ft. of commercial office use, 361,711 sq. ft. of retail space, 307,180 sq. ft. of mechanical space, and 97,131 sq. ft. of amenity, lobby, and service and loading area space for a total of 2.66 million gross sq. ft.; and

WHEREAS, The applicants do not yet have a tenant for the single-tenant scenario; and

WHEREAS, Both scenarios would potentially include 100 below-grade accessory parking spaces, widened sidewalks, various options for truck deliveries and pickups in response to the area's intensely busy traffic, and trees planted on 32nd Street; and

WHEREAS, The single tenant proposal includes a block through loading area and the multi-tenant proposal only includes a single-entry loading dock and neither proposal includes adequate measures to mitigate the small truck and black car traffic that will be generated at this site, and

WHEREAS, The design proposals for both development scenarios are by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and currently propose to incorporate green construction materials and systems with the goal to achieve or exceed LEED Silver certification; and

WHEREAS, The development site is located partly within a C6-6 zoning district and partly within a C6-4.5 zoning district that has a lower FAR requirement; it is also partially located within the Penn Center Subdistrict of the Special Midtown District; and

WHEREAS, current zoning would permit approximately 1.15 million square feet of floor space on the building lot and in order to build either scenario -- a single tenant at 2.83 million square feet or multiple tenants at 2.66 million square feet -- the applicants would move 245,542 square feet from the adjacent site through a zoning lot merger with the parcel they also own on 6th Avenue that is currently the location of Manhattan Mall.  For additional floor area, the applicants are seeking to:


WHEREAS, The applicants must also obtain:


WHEREAS, The development site shares its block with the 11-story Manhattan Mall and under both development scenarios, the development site and the Mall site will be merged into a single zoning lot and thus any approvals granted to this development proposal would apply to the merged zoning lot; and

WHEREAS, All the entities -- 401 Commercial LP, 401 Hotel REIT LLC and the Manhattan Mall site -- are controlled by Vornado Realty Trust which also controls 11 buildings and 8 million square feet in the area; and

WHEREAS, If the C6-4.5 to C6-6 upzoning is granted to this development proposal and if for any reason the applicants do not proceed with either of the proposed tenant scenarios, by dint of having merged the development site with the adjacent Manhattan Mall site, the upzoning FAR increase can be used for any future development that may take place on the merged lot; and

WHEREAS, As currently proposed, the project would take approximately 4 1/2 years to construct but no timetable has been set for construction to begin, absent confirmation as to which development scenario will be chosen; however any upzoning granted under this ULURP application would remain permanently in effect; and

WHEREAS, The applicant is requesting a 20 percent transit bonus in exchange for relocating and upgrading the existing subway entrances on West 32nd and West 33d Streets, adding a new street elevator at Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street, relocate two subway entrances at the Manhattan Mall site, add a new stairway from the mezzanine level to the IRT express train platform  and making other transit improvements either to mitigate the impact of this development, accommodate the new workers coming to the new office tower, or to provide improvements and alternatives to help meet the significant demands on the existing transit infrastructure from the millions of MTA-NYCT, Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH), Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Amtrak passengers and other residents, commuters and visitors who travel through this area daily; and

WHEREAS, With the granting of an easement to permit its widening, the applicants would renovate, including new public access to Manhattan Mall retail tenants, and reopen the pedestrian passageway, often referred to as the Gimbel's Passageway, under the south side of 33rd Street along the length of the merged zoning lot/development site, originally built by the former Gimbel's Department Store; and

WHEREAS, The passageway would be accessed by a stairway from the mezzanine level of the IRT station under 7th Avenue or stairways from the street level and be only 16 feet wide and would likely only be used to avoid bad weather rather than a attractive new way to move from Herald Square to Pennsylvania Station; and

WHEREAS, New subway entrances on 7th Avenue would be required by an as-of-right development and new subway entrances would also be required for any future development on the 6th Avenue site, and

WHEREAS, In the already densely developed area surrounding Penn Station there are several locations where the Zoning Map pointedly designates lower FAR, one of which is at this development project site; Community Board Five is concerned that the upzoning requested in this application would not only violate the intention of the Zoning Map and burden the area with excessive density but also set a troubling precedent and tipping point for future development in the area; and

WHEREAS, The impact of the development of nearby Moynihan Station on the density of the surrounding area, including the sale of Farley Building commercial development rights, is not yet known but could be significant as well as concurrent with the building of 15 Penn Plaza; thus any upzoning at this development site is not only premature given the area's redevelopment future but also a threat to the area's environmental quality while producing no redeeming benefits to the community; and

WHEREAS, The only rationale offered for upzoning the mid-portion of this lot is that the developer would like the option of developing more office space and the Board does not believe this is a sound basis for making decisions on what the permitted density for an area should be; and

WHEREAS, Some of the proposed transit improvements for which the applicants would receive a 20 percent development bonus resemble  repairs and maintenance associated with the applicants' own project and to their own benefit rather than added-value improvements meriting the bonus; and

WHEREAS, The biggest infrastructure problem in this area is the severe overcrowding of the sidewalks and, in particular, the entrance to Pennsylvania Station on 7th Avenue directly across the street from the development site, and

WHEREAS, The development of this site will be directly tied to Pennsylvania Station through a small entryway to the mezzanine under the 7th Avenue IRT and the applicant is proposing a much needed additional stairway from the mezzanine to the express train platform; and

WHEREAS, The development of such a large building on this site presents an opportunity for an additional major entrance to Pennsylvania Station which could lead directly to a single-level passageway to Herald Square and thus greatly improve accessibility to the station from the east and ease some of the existing overcrowding and additional traffic that will be generated by this and other planned developments in the area; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five requests that additional improvements be made to mitigate the environmental impacts of this development such as better systems for truck deliveries, trash pick-up, tree plantings, public space, and other streetscape amenities, including, as a starting point, a block-through loading dock for any proposal; and

WHEREAS, By proposing what would be the third tallest building in New York City and a major addition to the city's skyline, Community Board Five is disappointed that the proposed building/s designs are bulky, uninspired, massive, and fail to seize this opportunity to add beauty and distinction to the New York City skyline and streetscape; and

WHEREAS, By building such an enormous building in this location the applicants will place significant burdens on the neighborhood's traffic, noise, infrastructure, air quality and other quality of life conditions and therefore the transit bonus and upzoning are only justifiable if there are also equally significant improvements to the transit infrastructure in the area, as well as to the community's ability to seek relief from any exceptional increase in density including but not limited to green space, arts facilities, and other public amenities; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five recommends denial of the application for a Zoning Map Amendment and various Zoning Text Amendments, Special Permit for a Floor Area Bonus, Special Permit to Modify Height and Setback, and Acquisition of Easements to permit the development and construction of a new 2,052,667 office building on the current site of the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets.

The above resolution passed by a vote of 36 in favor, 1 opposed, 1 abstaining.

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