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Court Challenge to the MoMA Monster: Alleged “Failure to Comply” with Requirements UPDATED

Michael Sillerman, attorney for the planned MoMA/Hines tower (pictured behind him), speaking on its behalf at a NY City Planning Commission hearing

More bad news for MoMA: In a Feb. 24 petition filed in New York State Supreme Court, the West 54-55th Street Block Association, long-time opponents of the planned 1,050-foot-tall, Jean Nouvel-designed mixed-use tower in their neighborhood, has asked the court to stop the project. The building would include space for the next
of the Museum of Modern Art.

The petition cites alleged deficiencies in developer Hines’ environmental impact statement, which, the opponents say, does not adequately assess the tower’s impact on nearby buildings, including the landmark 490-foot-high CBS Building, designed by Eero Saarinen, as well as other historic structures.

The court filing also challenges the proponents’ assertion, in the petition’s words, “that this expansion will not result in one additional visitor to the Museum and will have no impact on pedestrian and vehicle congestions. This is unsupportable.” In testimony during the approval process, MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, unconvincingly argued that MoMA has already maxed out its attendance with its previous expansion.

The petition also alleges that development rights were illegally transferred to the project:

The transfer of unused development right [from St. Thomas Church] to a receiving location nearly 500 feet distant from the landmark was neither contemplated nor authorized by the Zoning Ordinance….The provisions allowing zoning lot mergers were never intended to permit, and the language of the Zoning Resolution does not allow, the combination of lots for the purpose of moving large amounts of bulk long distances, so that the underlying zoning is stood on its head—here represented by an FAR [floor-area ratio] of 33 [a very high density, even in New York City].

You can read the entire 34-page petition here. The respondents named in the petition are New York City, the City Planning Commission and the developer, Hines. (MoMA is not named as a respondent.)

My requests for comment—sent at 12:35 p.m. today to both MoMA’s press office and Michael Sillerman, attorney for the MoMA/Hines project—have not been answered at this writing. I will update if I receive a reply.

If I were a betting woman, I’d wager that the project’s proponents will eventually declare that the opponents’ legal arguments lack merit. Whatever the legalities, I agree with the objectors’ objectives. Why does MoMA have to get involved with a major commercial development project every time that it wants more gallery space?

—This just in from MoMA’s press office:

We are aware of the petition but are not going to comment at this time.

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