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Land Use, Housing & Zoning


At the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, February 14, 2013, the Board passed the following resolution by a vote of 36 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, MSG Holdings, L.P., seeks a series of actions including two special permits, a text amendment, and a chairperson certification to facilitate the continued use and operation of the arena as well as changes to its existing open areas and signage; and

WHEREAS, The current Madison Square Garden is the fourth of a line of facilities in New York since the late 1870s and the existing Madison Square Garden, opened in 1968, is located above the country's busiest railroad hub in Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, MSG is the subject of a special permit approved by CPC on January 16, 1963, (CP-17682) and the Board of Estimate on January 24, 1963, (Cal. No. 215) for an arena with a capacity in excess of 2,500 seats, pursuant to Section 74-41 of the Zoning Resolution; and

WHEREAS, The CPC resolution approving the 1963 Special Permit established a maximum capacity of 22,000 seats for MSG and included a term limit of 50 years. The Garden and 2 Penn were constructed in accordance with the 1963 Special Permit and were completed in 1968; and

WHEREAS, The Special Permit expired on January 24, 2013, requiring a new special permit; and

WHEREAS, MSG is currently undergoing an extensive renovation including a new entrance; wider concourses; new restaurants; improved sightlines; new scoreboard, suites and hospitality areas; and new pedestrian bridges.  The renovation is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2014; and 

WHEREAS, The area surrounding MSG is mapped primarily with commercial zoning districts. The C6-4 (HY) zoning district extends to the north and northwest and the C6- 6(MiD) zoning district extends to the east and northeast.  The area to the south includes M1-5, M1-6, and M1-6D zoning districts, and the area to the immediate southwest is located within a C6-3X zoning district. Critically, an area farther to the southwest, bounded by West 31st Street, Eighth Avenue, West 30th Street, and Ninth Avenue, is mapped as an R8B District; and

WHEREAS, An arena use cannot be located within 200 feet of a Residence District.  The nearest residence district is an R8B zoning district, the northern and eastern boundaries of which are located on the southern midblock portion of the block bounded by West 31st Street, Eighth Avenue, West 30th Street, and Ninth Avenue.  It is not clear based on the applicant's materials how far the use is from this district and how that measurement is made but the proximity of that residential district raises concerns about the illuminated signage; and

WHEREAS, The block across Eighth Avenue, is occupied by the James Farley Post Office building, which is a designated landmark; and

WHEREAS, MSG is located over Penn Station, a major transit hub with stations for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and the A, C, E, 1, 2, and 3 subway lines; and

WHEREAS, The C6-4 (HY) portion of the lot is subject to the sign regulations of the underlying C6-4 zoning district.  Illuminated and non-illuminated signs are permitted with a total surface area not exceeding five times the street frontage of a zoning lot, but no more than 500 square feet for interior or through lots or 500 square feet on each frontage for corner lots. Signs are not permitted to extend more than 40 feet above curb level. Advertising signs are not permitted at all; and

WHEREAS, There are several points of pedestrian access between MSG and Penn Station.  Primary access to Penn Station is provided by a stairway and escalators leading from Seventh Avenue, at the eastern end of 2 Penn Plaza, which lead to the central corridor connecting the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak facilities and the A, C, E, 1, 2, and 3 subway lines.  Eighth Avenue also serves as a critical access point for transit riders particularly those going on Amtrak and the A,C,E lines; and 

WHEREAS, There are a number of existing signs on MSG. Based upon the applicant's materials there is a 1,536-square foot illuminated sign located on the MSG's Eighth Avenue façade.  The interior lot portion also contains two 250-square-foot signs facing West 31st Street and West 33rd Street.  There are also two 700-square-foot signs facing Eighth Avenue.  In addition there are signs on the Theater, located on the MSG Complex's Eighth Avenue façade with a surface area of 415 square feet, and signs for a restaurant, located on the building's West 33rd Street façade with a total surface area of 62 square feet; and

WHEREAS, The proposed arena special permit would allow the continued use and operation of MSG on the site in perpetuity.  The proposed design changes to the open area would consist of improvements to the areas located at the northwest and southwest corners of the site, adjacent to the Penn Station entrances, improvements to the areas located along West 31st Street and West 33rd Street; and additional lighting; and

WHEREAS, Wayfinding signage, informational signage, and plaza identification plaques would be introduced and etched logos of MSG and its major sports teams would be set into the pavement. Semicircular benches with LED underlighting would be installed to create seating clusters. Existing round vent structures would be clad with a metal screen, depicting Garden events, and would be wrapped with additional bench seating; and

WHEREAS, An arena, auditorium, stadium or trade exposition with a capacity in excess of 2,500 seats is not permitted as of right within any zoning district. An arena is allowed by a special permit within certain zoning districts pursuant to Section 74-41 of the Zoning Resolution. Because the existing 1963 special permit expired on January 24, 2013, a new special permit is needed for the continued use and operation of MSG; and

WHEREAS, There are at-grade, pedestrian-accessible open areas on the lot, adjacent to MSG and 2 Penn Plaza which were developed in accordance with the 1963 Special Permit and filed as plazas under the plaza standards of the 1961 Zoning Resolution. The plazas consist of 70,958 square feet of plaza area on the former C6-2 portion of the site—composed of 67,330 square feet on the site and 3,628 square feet on the former C6-2 portion of 2 Penn Plaza—and 11,970 square feet of plaza area on the former C6-4 portion located entirely on the eastern portion of 2 Penn Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The proposed design changes to the open areas would consist of improvements to the areas located at the northwest and southwest corners, adjacent to the Penn Station entrances, improvements to the areas located along West 31st Street and West 33rd Street, improvements to the driveway, and enhanced illumination of the open areas. The design changes would also include accessory directional and building identification signs within the open areas surrounding MSG; and 

WHEREAS, The proposed signs on the building would consist of 20 mm LED display panels on the escalator towers, a 20 mm LED media wall on the building's Eighth Avenue façade, and non-digital pedestrian-level signs incorporated into the lower facades of the building's West 31st Street and West 33rd Street frontages. The 20 mm LED signs would provide video for multiple viewing angles and distances. The display panels on the four escalator towers would have surface areas of no more than 3,000 square feet each and would extend to a height of 80 feet above curb level. The Eighth Avenue media wall would consist of a series of different-sized display panels forming a band along the building's Eighth Avenue façade, with a height of 18'-8" and a width of 230'-0", and wrapping around the façade's northern and southern ends, with end panels of 18'-8" by 26'-6". The media wall would have a total surface area of approximately 5,300 square feet.  Content for the tower display panels and the media wall would include promotions for upcoming events, images of defining moments in Madison Square Garden's history, sponsorship messages, and third-party advertising.  The total amount of signage would increase from approximately 4,000 square feet today to 17,000 under the proposal; and

WHEREAS, These signs require a special permit pursuant to Section 93-171; and

WHEREAS, MSG sits on top of Penn Station constraining opportunities to make significant improvements.  Over the years many plans have been developed to build a dramatically improved Penn Station and a great new MSG; and

WHEREAS, Penn Station was designed for a capacity of approximately 200,000 people but now has approximately 650,000 daily users and is woefully outdated; and

WHEREAS, The three railroads – Amtrak, LIRR, and NJ Transit – have hired AECOM and James Carpenter Design Associates to look at ways of improving circulation within Penn Station and they have a number of modest interventions they're recommending including additional stairway capacity and better wayfinding signage.  This study is called Penn Station Visioning; and      

WHEREAS, CB5 recognizes the important economic impact of MSG to the City of New York; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 recognizes the improvements to the lighting around MSG and modest public space improvements; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 also recognizes that although not the subject of these land use actions MSG has been granted a property tax abatement which is not limited by a term of years and has meant a loss of approximately $350 million in property tax revenue since 1982; and 

WHEREAS, The New York City Council passed a measure in 2008 asking for the state legislature to remove this property tax abatement; and   

WHEREAS, It is CB5's understanding that MSG is unique in having a property tax abatement which is not limited by a number of years; and      

WHEREAS, CB5 believes that a world class train station and a great arena should not be mutually exclusive goals; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five recommends the denial of the proposed application unless:

1.      The length of the special permit is restricted to a 10-year period in order to allow for careful plan to be developed for the future of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden recognizing that Penn Station is the most important transportation hub in North America and is desperately in need of improvements to capacity, access, and overall experience.  MSG is the oldest stadium in the NBA and the NHL and ultimately CB5 believes a new stadium for MSG will be in its long term interests but more importantly in the long term interests of the tens of millions of people who travel through Penn Station every year and in the long term economic development interest of surrounding property owners, New York City, and the region as a whole.  Based on the findings of the special permit CB5 does not believe that "due consideration has been given to the proximity of bus and rapid transit facilities to serve such use".  Furthermore, the Board recognizes that the zoning text allows the City Planning Commission to prescribe appropriate conditions and safeguards to minimize adverse effects.  This request is the most important piece of this application and CB5 cannot think of more important safeguard for the future of our transportation system than to restrict the MSG special permit for 10 years in order to allow a careful plan to be developed working with all of the stakeholders.   

2.      Signage is limited to what is permitted by the underlying regulations – no waiver should be granted.  A careful reading of the zoning resolution suggests that some of the existing signage on MSG is not in compliance with the underlying zoning rules so CB5 urges MSG to remove any non-complying signage and encourage the Department of City Planning to notify the Department of Buildings of any violations.  CB5 is also concerned about the visual impact of new illuminated signage on the adjacent residential buildings and the landmark Farley Post Office across the street.  Furthermore, CB5 recognizes that 8th Avenue is an entrance to Penn Station and Amtrak in particular and not MSG and additional MSG advertising signage would likely confuse travelers and make this neighborhood even more difficult to navigate for tourists and commuters alike.  As DOT launches a wayfinding program it is critical that the City does not undercut its own initiatives by permitting additional signage clutter and confusion.  In addition, any new wayfinding signage should be harmonized with DOT's proposed wayfinding proposals and New York City Transit signage.  Additional public transit signage above and beyond what is allowed under the current zoning would be something the Board would be open to if presented with that request; and       

3.      The elimination of the tax abatement on the Madison Square Garden site.  CB5 understands that in 1982 a property tax abatement was granted to Madison Square Garden and in 2012 cost NYC $16.5 million dollars in lost revenue and over the life of the tax abatement has cost New York City approximately $350 million dollars.  We support the measure adopted overwhelmingly by the City Council in 2008 to reconsider this windfall given to the Garden and urge the State Legislature to correct this mistake.  We also urge the City Council to re-affirm its support for this critical issue.  It is our understanding that the Garden is one of the few sites in New York City that has a property tax abatement in perpetuity and given our constrained municipal budgets we believe now is the time to re-evaluate this measure.  

4.      The Penn Station Visioning team - LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak, working with AECOM and James Carpenter Design Associates - has suggested some useful improvements to the circulation in and around Penn Station.  CB5 looks forward to continuing to work with them to develop these ideas and we urge the Department of City Planning and Department of Transportation to engage in a constructive dialogue to ensure that no improvements that are recommended by the Penn Station Visioning Study – particularly with respect to improved ingress/egress to Penn Station - be precluded as a part of the approval for MSG.

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