Andrew Penson, the owner of Grand Central, does not want the 1,500-foot megatower One Vanderbilt to rise next door. He's argued that the public is getting ripped off, and even offered to buy the land from developer SL Green for $400 million. Now, as the tower progresses through ULURP and wins needed approvals, Penson brought in someone he clearly hoped would turn the tide in his favor: Laurence H. Tribe, a man the Times describes as "a liberal constitutional scholar from Harvard." During a City Planning Commission hearing yesterday, Tribe testified on behalf of Penson, but it did not seem to go well. The Times reports that Tribe "seemed unfamiliar with the zoning proposal and the area surrounding Grand Central," which, uh, are kind of important factors.
Penson, as part of a larger investment group, bought Grand Central in 2006 for $80 million. The crux of Tribe's argument is that proposed Vanderbilt corridor rezoning and construction of One Vanderbilt "would amount to an unconstitutional taking" of Penson's property. Penson owns all of the unused development rights above Grand Central, but SL Green never bought them from him, even though One Vanderbilt will be twice as large as zoning allows.
Instead, SL Green worked directly with the city to negotiate a deal that required the developer to make $210 million worth of transit and infrastructure improvements instead of acquiring the necessary development rights. So, naturally, Penson is pissed that he wasn't able to sell the rights; he says they are worth $600 per square foot, which amounts to $100 million more than SL Green will pay for the promised improvements.
The whole system of landmark owners being able to transfer unused development rights was created to "avoid charges that landmark restrictions on a building were an unconstitutional taking of private property," as the Times puts it.
In an emailed statement, Marc Wolinsky an attorney for SL Green called Tribe's argument "ridiculous." "This is a ridiculous argument bought and paid for by a speculator looking to line his own pockets at the expense of commuters – the constitution does not give Andrew Penson a monopoly over redevelopment in the Grand Central district. The United States Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have held over and over again that government has the right to rezone an area to promote a public good and that no single landownerno matter how desperatehas a right to expect that zoning regulations will stand still forever."
After all, Penson is still free to sell his development rights to other developers in the district. Carl Weisbrod, chairman of the Planning Commission, told Tribe, "It's hard to understand how your client's rights have been rendered useless."
· Law Professor Opposes Grand Central Tower Plan [NYT]
· Landlord Wants To Buy One Vanderbilt Site To Prove a Point [Curbed]
· All One Vanderbilt coverage [Curbed]