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Opioids Decimated a Kentucky Town. Recovering Addicts Are Saving It.

The Free Press, Sam Quinones, February 6, 2024

After the collapse of coal mining and the rise of the opioid epidemic, Hazard, Kentucky, seemed finished. Then locals started to rescue it.

In early 2020, Mandi Fugate Sheffel, 42, opened a tiny bookstore in her hometown of Hazard, in eastern Kentucky. Everyone thought she was crazy.

Downtown Hazard was a forbidding place to start any business, much less a bookstore. The coal mines that once supported the area had closed over the past few decades. Many brick buildings from Hazard’s heyday were gone, bequeathing a gap-toothed look to Main Street. The rest were empty or occupied by attorneys and bail bondsmen.

What’s more, Fugate Sheffel couldn’t afford a website or employees. She had never run a business before. And she had a complicated personal history to wrestle with.

But she loved to read—particularly contemporary Appalachian authors like Silas House, James Still, and Gurney Norman, who told stories that felt real to her. She figured others in town were tired, like her, of driving two hours to Lexington to buy books. 

So, on January 30, she opened Read Spotted Newt in a 250-square-foot space—the size of a small bedroom.

I met Fugate Sheffel last spring when I visited Hazard (population 5,000) for the first time. I came to speak about my book, The Least of Us, about America’s drug-addiction epidemic. I had heard about the town, and had formed an image of it as the buckle on eastern Kentucky’s opioid belt. 

From Fugate Sheffel, though, I heard another story—one that I heard elsewhere in eastern Kentucky, and in West Virginia and southwest Virginia and the southern tier of Ohio.

“When you don’t have industry, you’re having ecological disaster and a drug epidemic—you would think all those things would get us to a place where the town would be uninhabitable,” Fugate Sheffel told me. “But that’s not what I’m seeing at all. I’m seeing a lot of people rally.”

The loping hills of eastern Kentucky are studded with scores of towns like Hazard—and nearby Prestonsburg and Pineville and Corbin—that, over the centuries, emerged in the valleys and along its rivers. 

The beginning of these places stretched back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century and the first coal mines, mostly in the Allegheny Mountains, in the eastern part of the state. By the early twentieth century, coal dominated the region, with roughly 700,000 men and boys toiling in the mines of Kentucky and neighboring West Virginia. 

For decades, there was stability. Lots of jobs, no drugs. (In fact, Kentucky’s state House of Representatives passed a bill banning alcohol in 1914, four years before Prohibition. The bill died in the state Senate.)

In the 1990s, “as one declined and things got worse, the other increased and things got worse,” Les Stapleton, the mayor of Prestonsburg (population 4,000), 35 miles northeast of Hazard, told me about the correlation between jobs and drugs.

Larger forces over which locals had little or no control exacerbated things: the rise of natural gas, new environmental standards, our shifting political and cultural landscape.

By the early 2000s, the region had become the epicenter of the new opioid epidemic, which spiraled out of the Big Sandy River and flowed through eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and southwest Virginia.

Downtowns emptied out. Buildings were abandoned. About the only new local businesses were “pill mills”—clinics that prescribed huge quantities of prescription painkillers. In the little evangelical churches, they prayedfor an end to “hillbilly heroin.” 

Hazard, the seat of surrounding Perry County, had thrived for over a century with the mines, but when the mines closed the town mostly closed down, too. By the late 2010s, Perry County was the worst hit county in the United States when it came to opiates. 

Hazard, like so many of these places, took on a haunted feeling, as if the whole world that used to be here—people, storefronts, churches, marching bands, Friday night football, bowling leagues, quilting clubs—just disappeared.

But then, weirdly and unexpectedly, at the same time that everything was falling apart, things started to get better—and that old world started, very tentatively, to build itself back up.

In the past few years, some 43 businesses have opened in Hazard, creating 171 new jobs, said Bailey Richards, the town’s coordinator of downtown development. That includes a toy store, a café, a women’s boutique, a quilt and apparel place, and a smoothie shop. A longtime restaurant just moved downtown.

The population, which declined for most of the latter half of the twentieth century, now appears to be inching up: in 2010, there were just south of 4,500 people in Hazard; by 2021, that figure had jumped by 500 or so people, and everyone thought it would keep rising. That growth was driven mostly by outsiders—new families, mostly from cities in Kentucky, in search of a better future, and immigrants, including a nascent Latino community.

Shane Barton, the downtown development coordinator at the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative, went so far as to call Hazard “a hip destination for young people.”

It was hard to say why this was happening. Gradually, people were becoming more aware of the crisis of Appalachia and were doing things trying to help. (President Bill Clinton paid a visit to Hazard in 1999 to bring attention to its mounting woes.) Covid pushed people to move out of the cities. And there were the recovering addicts; they weren’t expensive to hire if you needed a barista or someone to stock your shelves or paint your walls, and they were eager to work, to live.

Read More: The Free Press

Proposed State ‘Social Housing’ Authority Would Build Affordable Homes Outside the Private Market

City Limits, Chris Janaro, February 7, 2024

The latest housing proposal to hit the state legislature would create a new Social Housing Development Authority (SHDA) to oversee the development  of social housing—homes created “for the public good,” instead of profit. 

Albany saw the unveiling of a proposal on Tuesday by State Sen. Cordell Cleare and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher to help create thousands of affordable, union-built homes across the state—through a publicly-funded entity focused on social housing models.

The lawmakers’ proposed Social Housing Development Authority (SHDA) would aim to create 26,000 affordable homes using union labor, funded in part by an initial $5 billion dollar injection from New York’s budget and the issuance of bonds.

The state-run public authority would act as an alternative to private sector development, which the bill’s sponsors say has failed to create enough affordable homes to keep up with the state’s growth, citing the current housing shortage, rising rents and surging homelessness.

The SHDA would focus specifically on the creation of social housing—a wide-ranging term used to describe development that prioritizes permanent affordability, democratic resident control, and social equality. It is ​​often owned by public entities, residents, or mission-driven nonprofits, and can accommodate both renters and homeowners.

“Housing is infrastructure,” said Assembly sponsor Gallagher, who expressed the need for the state to take a more direct role in residential development.

“With other forms of infrastructure, whether it’s a new bridge, a subway station, a public school, the government doesn’t just hand over a tax break to a private developer and hope for the best,” she added. “Instead, we use the extraordinary powers of the state to finance, plan and get it built.” 

Outlined in the lawmakers’ proposal, the SHDA would have the ability to purchase and improve existing housing in the state to convert into social housing, as well as construct and maintain a variety of mixed income homes. These could include publicly owned rental apartments, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and cooperatives that prioritize affordability and community control. 

Residents in SHDA buildings would pay no more than 25 percent of their gross income toward their housing costs. Additionally, the authority would require that at least a quarter of the housing it creates is for households earning 30 percent or less of the local Area Median Income (AMI)—roughly $38,130 for a family of three. And no more than 30 percent of the SHDA’s units could be occupied by residents earning 100 percent or more of their local AMI, or $127,100 for a three-person household in New York City.

“My constituents want permanently affordable housing that stays 100 percent affordable across generations and allows for people to live, grow and stay in their communities for a lifetime,” State Sen. Cleare, who represents Harlem and is the bill’s main sponsor in the Senate, said in a statement Tuesday.

The legislation comes as political players continue to debate solutions to the state’s ongoing housing crisis. The shortage is particularly acute when it comes to homes for the lowest-income New Yorkers: according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the state has a deficit of 655,940 units for “extremely low income” earners—those making at or below 30 percent of the AMI—who make up more than a quarter of its renter households. 

Cleare, Gallagher and the bill’s supporters are pitching the SHDA as an alternative to the state’s controversial 421-a program, which gave a tax break for developers so long as they include a percentage of affordable units in their buildings.

The program lapsed in 2022, but Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed reviving some version of it this year—tentatively dubbed “485-x”—in an effort to boost housing development.

Read More: City Limits

MTA accepting final comments on congestion pricing plan

The Gothamist, Stephen Nessen, Dec 27, 2023

The MTA is accepting comments on the final recommendations for congestion pricing for one last time.

In December, the MTA board signed off on a tolling structure that includes charging drivers a base rate of $15 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, and $3.75 during overnight hours.

The board also agreed that drivers of small trucks should pay $24, while those of larger ones should pay $36.

State law requires the transit agency, which is overseeing congestion pricing, to hold a final round of public hearings before the tolls go into effect.

Right now, the MTA is accepting comments online, by email, regular mail, fax and even voicemail.

Hearings will be held online as well as at the MTA’s headquarters in the Financial District.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board, the advisory body responsible for recommending a fee structure, determined yellow taxi drivers should pay $1.25 per trip on top of the $2.50 congestion charge they have been paying since 2019.

The board also determined that drivers for ride-hailing apps, including Uber and Lyft, should pay an additional $2.50 for every trip made in the toll zone, beyond the $2.75 they currently pay.

Both yellow taxi drivers and ride-hailing app companies have opposed the new congestion pricing tolls.

MTA Chair Janno Lieber has said he’s sympathetic to the city’s yellow taxi drivers, whose industry has been in turmoil since ride-hailing apps arrived, but doesn’t think the fees should be changed.

Lieber said the fee structure is set to reduce traffic in the city and raise $1 billion a year for the MTA. Any alteration to the structure could affect one of those goals, according to the MTA chair.

“We’re going to continue to look at the yellow cab issue, but it is one of those things when you change any aspect, because there’s so many trips generated, that it does have these knock-on effects,” he said at an MTA board meeting in December. “There’s a really complex calculus if you change anything.”

Read More: The Gothamist

Activists call on Gov. Hochul to scrap stalled Vornado office plan for Penn Station area

The Daily News, December 20, 2023

A new coalition is calling on Gov. Hochul to scrap a controversial plan to bring offices to the Penn Station area in favor of building new housing instead, resurfacing simmering questions about the status of the long-stalled plan.

The original concept behind the state’s “General Project Plan” involved funding a revamp of the beleaguered Penn Station in Midtown by allowing developer Vornado Realty Trust to build several new office towers, a project that would have generated tax revenue. First unveiled under the Cuomo administration, it has since become mired in uncertainty and local criticism.

On Tuesday a group of community members and activists launched a campaign called “End Hochul’s Hoax” to push for the plan to be formally dropped in favor of a plan prioritizing housing. Members of the coalition include New York Communities for Change, the Midtown South Community Council, the office of the city’s public advocate and individuals from the local community board.

“There’s nothing that New York needs less than tons and tons of new luxury office space, and there’s nothing that New York needs more than tons and tons of deeply affordable housing,” Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, told the Daily News. “And Gov. Hochul has the opportunity right now to make that pivot.”

The General Project Plan has been in limbo for most of 2023 amid a shift from in-person work, a floundering office market and waning support for the project.

Hochul fueled confusion in June when she announced that the state would be “decoupling” Penn renovations from the plan. But a month later a lawyer for the governor said it was “completely untrue” that the plan was dead, and in September a judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits against the state and indicated that negotiations with Vornado were ongoing.

Hochul spokesman Justin Henry indicated on Tuesday that she still supports the plan, but did not provide specifics about Penn’s future.

“The general project plan realizes Gov. Hochul’s vision for a live-work-play neighborhood in the heart of New York City with as many as 1,800 units of housing, vibrant new open space, better transit access, and a new and improved Penn Station,” he said in a statement.

“Earlier this year, Gov. Hochul announced that she was decoupling the GPP from the station reconstruction to allow station improvements to move forward and the governor will continue to push forward and deliver a station worthy of New York.”

Vornado did not respond to multiple inquiries from The News.

Tuesday’s campaign launch comes as the city is experiencing an ongoing housing shortage while the office market continues to struggle — and Penn Station awaits firm redesign plans.

Source: The Daily News

Gowanus toxic fume probe expands to both sides of polluted canal

The Gothamist, Jordan Gass-Poore, Dec 18, 2023

An investigation into toxic fumes beneath the popular Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus, Brooklyn, has expanded to 273 nearby properties.

The Department of Environmental Conservation sent letters to the owners of properties on both sides of the fetid waterway in October, seeking access so investigators could test for hazardous chemicals like trichloroethylene, or TCE.

The state agency said in a statement that the properties were the subject of a “soil vapor intrusion investigation” that involves “sampling of sub-slab vapors, indoor air and ambient air.” The agency pledged to keep the public informed as the investigation proceeds through March of next year.

TCE, a cancer-causing chemical, was first detected at the shuffleboard spot in March 2021. Readings found TCE levels 20 times above state limits. The building’s owners, the Brodsky Organization and Avery Hall Investments, are building a 350-unit mixed-use development around the shuffleboard club.

The state posted its first public notice about the contamination at 514 Union St. five months later. In 2022, state environmental investigators began testing the air quality at 33 properties on nearby President, Union and Nevins streets. Royal Palms workers and many Gowanus residents said they didn’t learn about the discovery until Gothamist reported about it in March 2023.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and the club’s owners say the indoor air is safe to breathe thanks to a remediation system meant to capture vapors before they enter the building. The agency says the site has posed no significant health or safety risks during the state’s investigation and cleanup.

Read More: The Gothamist

Opinion: Four Steps to End the Impasse at Penn Station

City Limits, Sam Turvey, December 3, 2023

“This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to raise New York and the entire region to new heights of greatness by getting Penn Station right. We can and must do better.”

New York magazine’s Justin Davidson is right in calling the various plans for a new Penn Station “inherently confusing and nonlinear.” One could just as well call them chaotic. Many of those involved pursue agendas that have little or nothing to do with transit. If we are ever to get Penn Station right, decision-making at Penn Station must start with transit; after all, it is a train station. Below, we recommend four steps for how to get there.

But first, how did we get to this place? The biggest reason for the confusion and chaos at Penn Station is that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) put a mega real estate development first—a reprise of Hudson Yards just to the east—in an inversion of how the project should have proceeded. The ESD proposed to fund incremental improvements at Penn Station as a pretext for building commercial towers, most of them supertalls, from river to river.

The ESD called its development scheme the General Project Plan (GPP) and promptly declared the neighborhood adjacent to the station as “blighted,” giving Vornado Realty Trust’s CEO Steve Roth carte blanche to create what he called “Vornado’s Campus” where a large swath of Midtown West now stands. The collapse of the commercial real estate market has given the district a reprieve, but the plan has not been formally withdrawn and recently survived a challenge in New York’s lower courts, pending appeal. 

The neighborhood demolition plan or GPP has been “decoupled” from transit upgrades at Penn Station. In effect, the GPP was never really about improving Penn Station and the ESD was using the station as a Trojan horse.

Read More: City Limits

With Offices Sitting Empty, Landlords Are ‘Handing Back the Keys’

NY TIMES, Peter Eavis, December 2, 2023

Office landlords, hit hard by the work-from-home revolution, are resorting to a desperate measure in the real estate world: “handing back the keys.”

When this happens, the landlord stops paying the mortgage on the office building or declines to refinance it. The bank or investors who made the loan then repossess the building.

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Some of the biggest names in commercial real estate, like Brookfield and Blackstone, have defaulted on mortgages and have started or completed the process of handing back the keys on office towers. The tactic reveals both the depth of the problems in the office market and the ability of big property companies to push much of the financial pain onto others — in this case, banks and other lenders.

Since the pandemic began, office employees showed they could get their jobs done from home, and many have been reluctant to come back. And companies realized they could save a lot of money by renting less office space, making many office towers unprofitable for their owners and turning many business districts into ghost towns. About 23% of office space in the United States was vacant or available for sublet at the end of November, according to Avison Young, a real estate services firm, compared with 16% before the pandemic.

Handing back the keys is a drastic move, but it makes sense because it can limit a landlord’s losses on a building.

Take a property company that bought an office tower for $100 million just before the pandemic, investing $25 million of its own money and borrowing $75 million. If the building is hemorrhaging tenants and now has a value of $45 million, the landlord’s initial investment could be worth zero — and the lower rent income may not be enough to cover the building’s costs.

Rather than continue to pay interest and other expenses, the landlord can decide to default on the loan, which means the lenders get the beleaguered building. And in theory, the lenders could end up with a $30 million loss — the difference between the amount they lent ($75 million) and the resale value of the building ($45 million).

Today’s handing back the keys is reminiscent of the term “jingle mail,” which became notorious after the financial crisis of 2008 when homeowners abandoned their homes — and supposedly sent their keys back to their banks — because their homes were worth far less than what they owed on the mortgage.

But there is a difference: Big property companies can keep doing business after they default and are even considered savvy for jettisoning distressed buildings. But homeowners who stopped paying their mortgages suffered a huge hit to their credit ratings and had to find somewhere else to live.

Read More: NY TIMES

Lack of Public Restrooms in City is a Crisis that Nobody Wants to Talk About, Says Borough Pres.

Our Town, OSCAR KIM BAUMAN, November 29, 2023

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Teddy Siegel, the founder of got2gonyc, discuss expanding public bathroom access. NYC currently ranks 93rd among the 100 largest US cities in public bathroom availability per 100,000 people.

The lack of public restrooms in New York City, compared to other large cities is an ongoing “crisis,” according to Manhattan borough president Mark Levine. Everyone is concerned about it, he said, but nobody is making it a top priority.

“This is a public health problem,” he said. “This is an economic development problem. This is definitely an equity problem.”

He made his remarks earlier this month in an Instagram Live discussion with Teddy Siegel, the creator of got2goNYC, a social media account focused on public bathrooms in the city.

During the livestream, which lasted just over 35 minutes and averaged around 50 viewers, Levine and Siegel discussed recent legislative progress on expanding access to public bathrooms as well as ensuring existing ones are well-maintained.

“This affects everyone,” said Levine. “Maybe you’re a tourist coming to New York. Maybe you’re a worker out there in the street, you need a public bathroom. Maybe you’re a journalist out on an assignment. Maybe you’re someone with a disability or a medical condition, like Crohn’s or colitis, that means you’re going to need access to [a bathroom] frequently.”

Siegel, a Manhattan resident originally from Long Island, created got2gonyc in July 2021. While shopping in Times Square with her sister, Siegel felt the need to use the restroom but was unable to find a place to go, being turned away at several businesses, and eventually resorting to making a purchase at a McDonald’s to gain their bathroom code.

“Afterwards, I was just wondering, why did that happen?” Siegel said. “This is a basic bodily function. I just [went through] so much anxiety and spent money in order to go to the bathroom. I really wished there was a resource that I could have gone to that just showed me where this bathroom was.”

Got2go soon became that resource. Through the accounts, Siegel shares reviews and information regarding publicly accessible restrooms in parks, stores, restaurants, hotel lobbies, and more. She has also created a public, crowd-sourced map of over 2,000 such restrooms throughout the city. In the two years since Siegel created got2gonyc, she’s racked up over 230,000 followers on Instagram and 150,000 on TikTok. With her sizeable audience, Siegel has gained allies in the city government, who hope to expand the city’s public restroom infrastructure to a point that New Yorkers will no longer need resources like got2gonyc to find a place to relieve themselves.

Last year, Siegel appeared at a press conference with Levine and testified before the City Council to advocate for Int 0258-2022, the so-called “Bathroom Bill.” The legislation mandates the Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks and Recreation to identify a location where a public bathroom could be constructed in every ZIP code throughout the city. The bill was introduced by Levine and Brooklyn Council Member Rita Joseph and was enacted last November.

The bill, notably, does not mandate the construction of any new public bathrooms, simply the identification of potential locations. Nonetheless, Levine explained that he sees this as a valuable first step. A 2019 report from the Comptroller’s Office found that, among the 100 largest cities in the United States, New York ranks 93rd in public bathrooms per capita. St. Paul, Minnesota ranks first, with 210 bathrooms per 100,000 residents. Buffalo has 84. New York City? A measly 16.

“I’ve talked to government players for years [about building more restrooms], and [they say] it’s too complicated, there’s no way to do it,” Levine said. “We wanted to call the question, to force the city to find options.”

Read More: Our Town

The Vision of a Renewable Rikers Island in NYC

YES MAGAZINE, Claire Greenburger, November 18, 2023

This community-developed plan could serve as a model for how to simultaneously decarcerate and decarbonize.

Along, narrow bridge spanning the East River in New York City is the sole link between two realities. To the south, the familiar city skyline stands tall. To the north, walls of barbed wire enclose the site of an ongoing human rights crisis: the Rikers Island jail complex. This bridge, known to justice-impacted New Yorkers as “the bridge of pain,” is a constant reminder of their isolation from loved ones. 

Rikers, located on an island between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, is one of the largest jail complexes in the United States. It houses nearly 6,000 people, the vast majority of whom are pretrial defendants who have not been convicted of a crime. 

Rikers is notorious for its dire conditions and high death rates. “Almost everybody is worse off for spending any amount of time at Rikers,” says Zachary Katznelson, policy director at the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. “It’s an incubator of violence and misery.” 

Since the beginning of 2022, 28 people have died on Rikers. Correctional officers doled out 400 head strikes since the beginning of last year, compared to 52 at Los Angeles County jails during the same period, despite L.A.’s larger jail population and notoriety for use of excessive force.

Hope Sanders. Courtesy of Freedom Agenda, photo by Edwin Santana

“It’s a dark and dank and dreary place,” says Hope Sanders, who was sent to Rikers in the mid-’90s at age 16. It was clear to her as soon as she arrived that “[Rikers] was unsafe for children” like herself. “The officers called us ‘animal-lescents,’” she says. Sanders vividly remembers the stench of rotting garbage, as well as mice, roaches, and the “terrible” air quality. 

Beyond the well-documented issues of violence and neglect, there is another hidden danger that looms at Rikers: The jail was built on a landfill, and its decomposing garbage emits methane gas. “We know that methane does very bad things to human beings, in addition to what it does for the climate,” says Rebecca Bratspies, law professor at the City University of New York School of Law and director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform

But some advocates envision a different future for this island. In response to the shocking reports of violence and toxic conditions at the facility, justice-impacted individuals devised a plan to shut down the jail and repurpose the island. The Renewable Rikers plan aims to transform the facility into a hub for renewable energy—a source of hope amid the ongoing threats of violence and climate change. The proposed project seeks to benefit the people and communities that Rikers has historically harmed. 

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A Toxic Foundation

In 1884, the year New York City bought Rikers Island, it occupied less than 88 acres. In the following decades, the city hauled in garbage and ash to expand the landmass, with the landfill labor performed almost entirely by incarcerated people. By 1932, when the jail opened, the island had more than quadrupled in size to 413 acres. 

The landfill is a weak foundation for the buildings on Rikers, contributing to crumbling infrastructure. Katznelson describes seeing blankets covering the floors to absorb the rainwater flooding one building during a recent visit. He says the buildings are “so far gone” that they are not fixable and even serve as a source of weapons at Rikers, posing yet another safety risk to those inside. “You can just break [a piece] off almost anywhere, and you can use it as a weapon. It’s just a living, dangerous thing,” Katznelson says. 

Isolating toxic waste and polluting industries in minority and lower-income communities is a common practice in this country, and that inequity is exacerbated in prisons. As in the greater U.S. prison population, Black and Latinx individuals are disproportionately incarcerated at Rikers, which pulls 90% of its population from these groups, who represent just 52% of NYC’s general population.

One-third of state and federal prisons in the U.S. are located within 3 miles of a federal Superfund site. Exposure to these hazardous waste sites poses a threat to incarcerated people’s health, but due to the terms of their incarceration, they have no way to escape this threat. 

Read More: YES MAGAZINE

Community Letter: To Hochul: New York Needs A World-Class Penn Station

(Community Alliance) September 25, 2023

The Honorable Kathy Hochul Governor of New York State NYS State Capitol Building Albany, New York 12224

Dear Governor Hochul:

The undersigned organizations all agree with you: New York needs a world-class Penn Station. The Station is vital to the City and region’s economy. Its users, and all New Yorkers, need to know that they are getting the station that the City, State, and region deserves.

Penn should welcome residents, commuters, and visitors with an excellent experience and abundant transit capacity. This is clearly the moment when that goal can be achieved. But there is conflicting information, and confusion, about what is happening and what could happen at Penn. With so much public money involved, we believe the public deserves full transparency and explanation on several issues.

Penn Station Design: Will there be a public bidding process for the design? Will the State comment on the other designs that have been made public? The MTA has announced its own plan. How would that coordinate with a new design? With the future of Madison Square Garden’s location in question, how will any plan accommodate for its potential move?

Transit Improvements: Many experts support through-running to expand capacity, but prior documents from the railroads have dismissed it as not feasible. Yet, another analysis of through running is being conducted now by the railroads. The public deserves a full explanation of why it is or isn’t suitable, with all studies released in full to the public, including detailed information about their methodologies.

General Project Plan: While we acknowledge the recent decision by State Supreme Court Judge Billings dismissing challenges to the GPP, there is still confusion. You publicly “decoupled” the GPP from Penn improvements. Yet Judge Billings’ decision noted that Empire State Development said the State is in talks with Vornado about certain sites. To what benefit, if there is no longer a connection to Penn? Why does the State still keep the GPP when other plans for Penn do not?

Why has the GPP not been withdrawn?

The loss of historic Penn Station left a scar that generations have tried to heal. If this is the moment when this loss is rectified, New Yorkers must be a part of that discussion. We look forward to a robust public dialogue that leads to the Station which New York needs and deserves.

Respectfully,

Art Deco Society
City Club
CNU NYC
Community Board 5
Council of Chelsea Block Associations Environmental Simulation Center Historic Districts Council

Human Scale NYC
Limited Equity and Affordability at Penn South (LEAPS) MidTown South Community Council
Murray Hill Neighborhood Association
New York Landmarks Conservancy
Penn Area Residents Committee
Preservation League of New York State
ReThinkNYC
Save Chelsea
Take Back NYC
29th Street Block Association
Union Square Community Coalition
Untapped NYC
Victorian Society