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(MSCC) Ashley Clemente, April 27, 2021

SUMMARY: Updates on the Penn Station Proposal, plans to counteract it; Social service and hotel/shelter management of the homelessness


GUEST SPEAKER(S): Layla Demay, CB5: Britt Mewlinsky, Breaking Ground; Maria Ortiz, CB4


Layla, Community Board 5, gave updates on Penn Station plans for expansion

  • In 2020 the governor introduced a proposal action that constructs 10 large buildings which would call for the demolition of block 780. With this demolition is required to construct with additional train tracks in hopes that ridership will increase
  • Economic development authority has justified this by stating these new stations are needed for the increase in ridership
  • The plan is to convert the vacant taxi lanes into entrances to the new tracks
  • An additional 5 sites have been identified by the governors proposal to demolish, while only expecting a really low density return
  • Community board 5 held a hearing that rejected the proposal, community board 4 followed suit and did the same
  • Due to a lot of push back Empire State Development (ESD) agreed to paused the action and reengaged with stakeholders, and representatives to go over the plans
  • From the understanding block 780 is still planned for demolition and authority over this decision in still unclear
  • So many cooks in the kitchen: Amtrak owns the real estate, MTA (operator Long Island Railroad) NJ Transit, Metro North will have a connection into Penn, City Review. The Mayor has snot been involved with negotiations; so it is unclear who will make the final decision about this block’s fate scheduled for condemnation
  • CB5 is opposing eminent domain
  • It’s really important for community engagement
  • Layla proposed that ESD needs to explores other alternatives options to expanding Penn Station, said it is preposterous to take away housing to create office space
    • All agreed, especially now during (and likely post) COVID crisis
  • Bill Otterson made the point that everyone will likely stay working from home that new office space is a waste
  • This proposal in not subjected to any governmental approval so ESD can make any decisions regarding this matter
  • Peter shared that since ESD is financed by taxed dollars they should updated their ideas of what is actually economically developmental and is useful to New York citizens which should include affordable housing
  • The stakeholders say they need more tracks, need more infrastructure, and the only way is to proceed with demolition
  • There is going to be less need for office space and tracks in the aftermath of our pandemic
  • Governor and ESD made difficult: The project is segmented: Below grade is under the jurisdiction MTA, the three blocks to the south is under the purview Amtrak, the 5 sites are under Vernado’s proposed construction
  • It is not one proposal, it is several interconnected proposals
  • Penn station can be reconstructed under ground
  • There were no clear proof that office space was needed prior to COVID, and it is unlikely that we will have such a return to office space
  • Hudsons yards are struggling fill their office space
  • East midtown went through extraneous rezoning intended for tremendous office space, including JP Morgan head quarters and Grand Hyatt being demolition and redeveloped, MTA is slated for demolitions and reconstruction, 1 Vanderbilt just came on line, all building up to a real estate bubble that will likely to burst leaving us with nothing
  • John Mudd commented, We have a homeless in housing crisis and developers want to build to extract profits, people live there and they want to take more housing away
  • This will impact New Jersey, Long Island, New York, so this becomes a national issue
  • One side could be developed as residential with added affordable housing, only if the developer elects to do so; however, hotels become more profitable
  • Peter Cook, New York State council of Churches, absurd to build the 10 office buildings, why not a more mixed use development and what compensation to the displaced? What about affordable housing? ESD is run with NYS tax dollars, and does not have a broad enough view of what economic development is, which should include affordable housing
  • Public pressure has stopped ESD in developing Jet stadium where the Hudson Yards exists
  • CB5 have been working with House Reps Gerold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and Senate Schumer
  • Hearing directly from constituents would help and it suggested by Layla


  • Community engagement is critical to stop the Penn Station proposal


Breaking Ground Homeless Outreach Britt Melewski discussed their management of the crisis.

  • Britt explains his organization helps the homeless to access shelter, medical attention, food, etc; they have surface outreach contract from the city to canvas 24/7 from 59th to 21 street, river to river; they reach out to people who have been on the streets from 1 day to long term chronic
  • This week alone (March 17th to April 24th) in midtown alone made 2 dozens placements to Safe Haven – stabilization bed, shelter, drop in center, detox, hospital; 24 transitional placements and 3 permanent this month
  • Dedicated team in Macy’s Herald Square between public and private partnership

Maria (Co-chair of CB4 Health and Human Resource Committee) discussed hotel service providers

  • At the height of the pandemic they were 2000 hotel rooms being used to shelter people
  • Maria was involved with meetings on a weekly basis with community members, other agencies, and city officials
  • DHS puts together monthly meetings with all of the providers in the district to talk about management needs of the shelters, which started in October
  • The emergency hotel shelters are called reduction density sites
  • Play discuss social services they have in place, security, observation during perimeter and internal checks, the number of placements or move outs, vaccinations, complaints and outcomes
  • CB4 created a complaint form and they report the complaints at the monthly meetings
  • There was a meeting with the NYPD and that there has been a massive increase in undercover cops along eight avenue
  • The precinct has added more officers


  • Community members (1200 Broadway) were concerned about the homelessness issue and spoke on the drug use plaguing their block
    • The problems have been persistent through the years; there is an increase of late, and aggression from people who are homeless toward people living in the building; it is believed that they are collaborating with drug dealers
    • “There are drug dealers openly dealing morning to night every day on all 4 corners of 29th street and Broadway. They threaten and harass our residents routinely.” 
    • This current situation effects the quality of life for the people on her block
    • The members are consistently call 311
    • “We speak to police regularly, a lot of times the Police will say there is nothing they can do because of the current administration Mayor DeBlasio”
    • Clearly they are mentally ill and refuse services
    • There is a large encampment with build up of trash, criminal activity causing a huge quality of life issue @ Guilty House, 1200 Broadway, corner of 29th and Broadway
    • The problem is split between the two precincts (MTS and 13th) and Council districts (Corey Johnson and Kieth Powers)

Britt (Breaking Ground) will partner with Jim Hodgenson who run the outreach teams and follow up and put focus on the issue; John Mudd said he would put it on his homeless and housing meeting’s agenda an alert to New York city Council and Gale Brewer’s office to the problem so they can oversee and in sure police action if needed; someone from Keith powers office was present and took note; Chris LeBron suggested communications with Kieth Powers office would be effective, and invite walk throughs; Lesly (another community member) communications must be clear and coordinated with the councils and precinct

  • Debra, a tenant from 307 W 43rd Street, was there to express her concerns about the ongoing drug dealers and users on her block in front of her door, she echoed the comment of the members from 1200 Building; mentioning:
    • an assault, a drug dealer threatening to kill her dog, sex acts, 15-20 crack pipes are being picked up daily, called excessively, her son is seeing people with needles in their arms
  • Debra calls frequently, and is in touch with officer Barnes (NCO)
  • Ina Greenfield, owner and manager, 306 W 38th Street , Every morning the super is finding needles, excrement, blood trash in the alcove of the building 
  • Brian Strumwasser has been in touch about his living conditions and struggles with his landlord and feel he is being harassed. He wanted to speak with precinct about some of the issues he thought would be a policing matter

Maria: The precinct is receiving more officers. Sign up for List Serve to receive agendas for the CB4 Health and Human Services. It’s important to know who your NCOs.

Abe Junior : Gary Roth from 303 and Garry Rissman from 602 W 43rd Street, would like to invite the Assistant District Attorney Allan Valerio to meet us here in the building (no need for Breaking Ground to get involved). Gary R hasn’t heard back from the DA’s office regarding two cases: Two individuals who are regularly attacking other tenants; spitting, pushing, shoving; one person rides his bicycle in the building


Focus social services and ensure police are focused on the area. Allen


Council: John Mudd, Bill Otterson, Ashley Clemente,

Officials and Organization: Britt Melewski, Breaking Ground; Layla Demay, CB5; Maria Ortiz and Allen Oster, CB4; Leslie Espaillat, Senator Jackson; Allan S. Valerio, Manhattan District Attorney’s Office;

Resident: Debra Zichichi, Leslie Hendrix, Abraham, Gary, Peter, Franklin, and other members