Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York

Decision Date16 December 1975
Citation377 N.Y.S.2d 20,50 A.D.2d 265
Parties, 6 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,251 PENN CENTRAL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY et al., Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. The CITY OF NEW YORK and the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City ofNew York, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Nina G. Goldstein, New York City, of counsel (Stanley Buchsbaum and L. Kevin Sheridan, New York City, with her on the brief, W. Bernard Richland, Corp. Counsel, New York City), for defendants-appellants.

John E. F. Wood, New York City, of counsel (John M. Friedman, Jr., Peter H. Jacoby, and Philip H. Hedges, New York City, with him on the brief, Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, New York City, for plaintiff-respondent UGP Properties, Inc. and White & Case, New York City, for plaintiffs-respondents Penn Central Transp. Co., The New York and Harlem Railroad Company and The 51st Street Realty Corp.), for plaintiffs-respondents.


MURPHY, Justice.

Defendants have thus far been more successful, at the appellate level, in repelling a direct frontal attack on the constitutionality of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law (New York City Charter and Admin.Code, ch. 8--A) than in applying it to a given factual situation. (Cf. Lutheran Church v. City of New York, 35 N.Y.2d 121, 359 N.Y.S.2d 7, 316 N.E.2d 305; Mtr. of Trustees of Sailors' Snug Harbor v. Platt, 29 A.D.2d 376, 288 N.Y.S.2d 314.) A majority of us now feels that the time for its full implementation has arrived.

The specific issue presented in this case is whether, as applied to these plaintiffs, the City's Landmarks Preservation Law and the action of defendants thereunder with respect to certain property commonly known as the Grand Central Terminal are unconstitutional. Trial Term responded affirmatively on the grounds that plaintiffs' private property was taken for public use without just compensation and that they were deprived of due process and equal protection of the laws. We disagree.

In recent years, as we have become painfully aware that 'the frontier' has been disappearing and our natural resources are rapidly being depleted, there has been an increasi national growth of interest in preserving irreplaceable buildings and sites which have historical, aesthetic or cultural significance.

These changing attitudes now acknowledge that '(u)rban landmarks merit recognition as an imperiled species alongside the ocelot and the snow leopard. Over fifty per cent of the 12,000 buildings listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey, commenced by the federal government in 1933, have been razed. The threat to the remainder continues undiminished as the recent loss of Chicago's Old Stock Exchange and the precarious status of New York's Grand Central Terminal attest. If this trend is not reversed the nation at its bicentennial in 1976 will mourn the loss of an essential part of its architectural and cultural heritage rather than celebrate the visible evidence of its past.' (The Chicago Plan: Incentive Zoning and The Preservation of Urban Landmarks, 85 Harv.L.Rev. 574--5.)

Since 1966 Congress has passed major new laws furthering historic preservation. (See Gray, The Response of Federal Legislation to Historic Preservation, 36 Law & Cont.Prob. 314.) The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 found and declared 'that the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.' (16 U.S.C. § 470(b).)

Though 'fraught with trouble' (Lutheran Church v. City of New York, 35 N.Y.2d 121, 131, 359 N.Y.S.2d 7, 15, 316 N.E.2d 305, 311), the preservation of landmarks in urban areas is of special importance. Great cities have always been havens for educational and cultural activities. New York's rich history is reflective of the great deal of time, money and talent invested in building its own architectural heritage. Structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal are important and irreplaceable components of the special uniqueness of New York City. We have already witnessed the demise of the old Metropolitan Opera House (see Matter of Keystone Assoc. v. Moerdler, 19 N.Y.2d 78, 278 N.Y.S.2d 185, 224 N.E.2d 700) and the original Pennsylvania Station. Stripped of its remaining historically unique structures, New York City would be indistinguishable from any other large metropolis.

Following the evolving national trend, New York City, in 1965, provided for landmark preservation by adding Chapter 8- a To its adMinistrative Code, pursuant to enabling legislation adopted by the State nine years earlier (former Gen. City Law, § 20(25--a), now Gen.Mun.Law, § 96--a.) The Council 'declared as a matter of public policy that the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of improvements of special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value is a public necessity and is required in the interest of the health, prosperity, safety and welfare of the people'; and established, as the purpose of the chapter, Inter alia: 'the protection, enhancement and perpetuation of such improvements and of districts which represent or reflect elements of the city's cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history,' the safeguarding of 'the city's historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage', the fostering of 'civic pride in the beauty and noble accomplishments of the past,' the protection of 'the city's attractions to tourists and visitors' and the promotion of 'the use of historic districts and landmarks for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the city.' (Admin.Code, § 205--1.0.)

Briefly stated, the Landmarks Preservation Law provides for the establishment of a commission which, after a public hearing, proposes to the Board of Estimate the designation of landmark properties and historic districts. The Board approves, disapproves or modifies the designation after receipt of a report from the City Planning Commission. (Id., § 207--2.0.)

Once a landmark is so designated it must be kept 'in good repair' (Id., § 207--10.0) and any alteration, construction or demolition of an improvement on the site is regulated. (Id., § 207--4.0.) Comprehensive procedures are provided for changes. A landmark owner may seek a 'certificate of no exterior effect' or, if there will be such exterior effect, a 'certificate of appropriateness.' (Id., §§ 207--5.0--207--7.0.) There is also a procedure for seeking a certificate of appropriateness on the ground of insufficient return in the case of taxpaying commercial properties; and a similar procedure, but a different form of relief, for certain tax exempt properties used for charitable purposes. (Id., § 207--8.0.)

Related to the Landmarks Preservation Law are certain amendments to the New York City Zoning Resolution which permit the transfer of unused development rights over landmark properties located in certain high density areas of the City to other nearby sites. (Zoning Resolution, Sections 74--79 to 74--793.)

Grand Central Terminal is unquestionably one of New York City's best known buildings. Along with the Empire State Building and the Statute of Liberty, the image of its facade symbolizes New York City for millions of visitors and residents. The Terminal as a whole includes a variety of architectural and engineering elements: railroad tracks and platforms; space and facilities for marshalling and handling railroad equipment; passage-ways and ramps affording access to adjacent streets, office buildings and subway stations; and concourses courses for the use of passengers and pedestrians passing through the Terminal. The Main Concourse, probably the Terminal's most striking feature, is a large room, 120 375 feet, with a ceiling 125 feet high at its apex.

From its formal opening to the public in 1913 (as a replacement for the 'Grand Central Depot' built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1871) the Terminal has been recognized not only for its architecture, but as a superb example of comprehensive urban design. The complete submergence of all the tracks and a double level track system not only resulted in the accommodation of more trains without the acquisition of more land, but permitted construction of revenue-producing buildings on air rights over the railroad tracks and the development of Park Avenue as one of this nation's most prestigious residential communities. (See, Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center: A Historical Critical Estimate of Their Significance, by Fitch and Waite, published by the New York State Parks and Recreation Division for Historic Preservation (1974).) Today, although somewhat neglected over the years, Grand Central Terminal still remains a splendid edifice and a major part of the cultural and architectural heritage of New York City.

On August 2, 1967, after a public hearing and over objection of plaintiff Penn Central Transportation Company ('Penn Central'), the Landmarks Preservation Commission proposed the designation of Grand Central Terminal as a landmark, predicated on the following findings:

'On the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture and other features of this building the (Commission) finds that Grand Central Terminal has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.

'The Commission further finds that, among its important qualities, Grand Central Terminal is a magnificent example of French Beaux Arts architecture; that it is one of the great buildings of America, that it represents a creative engineering solution of a very difficult problem, combined with artistic splendor; that as an American Railroad Station it is unique in...

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