MTA Should Position Planned Substation Somewhere Past Penn South

Site of the proposed MTA Substation at W. 28th Street & 8th Ave. looking east with FIT in the background, between Penn South Building 9 on the left and Building 8 on the right. | Photo by Mark Bloch

BY MARK BLOCH | I write the readers of Chelsea Community News out of serious concern about what I am hearing with regard to the MTA’s plan to build a substation in the middle of the community I live in at Penn South—in particular, right next to two residences (mine and one across the street, as I understand it).

I question how necessary it is to build on that particular spot. I understand it has been repeatedly protested in the past, and the plan was scrapped as recently as a couple of years ago, when formerNew York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (whose District 3 includes the Penn South area) stepped in and seemed to have put this to rest. Am I to understand the MTA will keep pressuring us until they win—or could you and I put an end to this once and for all and figure out a better place to build this substation?

As you may know, Penn South is a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community). Many of us are opposed to having this built so close to where senior citizens live—literally yards away. We understand that a substation is needed, but to locate it so close to our residences is extremely narrow-sighted and is putting seniors and our younger neighbors, including children, at risk. Not only will there be ongoing electromagnetic energy leaking into our midst, but also noise, air pollution, and underground rodent disruption during the construction phase. This aspect of the proposed project alone will negatively impact our day-to-day existence, and then continue into the future when the substation is emitting waves of electricity in huge quantities. This will cause a health risk to all who live here as well as all who pass by here. This is a highly active residential area and the plans to expand Penn Station and Madison Square Garden will only make it more so.

Speaking of which, could the substation be part of that whole plan and the rethinking of this neighborhood? Surely it would be wise to consider the big picture of neighborhood use before, not after, the substation plan takes shape. If the plan could be re-thought, perhaps a substation should be placed a few blocks to the north, which is now more of a commercial district, and which is a less densely populated community with far fewer residences. Considering it would certainly be a good start. It is a very bad idea for the city to start executing their plan as I hear they are about to do —a plan which has been rejected again and again by residents here in the middle of a heavily residential area that has been an important part of this community when it was created by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The Penn South project was recommended for federal funding in 1956 and was dedicated on May 19, 1962 with President Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt in attendance.

These buildings were built for middle-income housing, not the MTA—to help support residents of this community who in turn do service for others. Yes, I am thinking not only of transportation workers, but also civil servants, teachers, and other middle-class families with working class jobs who have worked tirelessly for decades in NYC and deserve a break where we live. Penn South continues to stand for those ideals. They do not include a hazardous electrical facility a few feet under the ground, just off Eighth Avenue between two buildings full of middle-class families. Surely there are other possibilities.

Let’s all please add our voices to the effort to protect our homes, our peace of mind, and our physical well-being by locating this MTA substation somewhere else.

Note:  Upon request for comment, Chelsea Community News was sent this statement by Jesse Bodine, District Manage of Manhattan Community Board 4. The meeting he refers to may take place on September 21, 2002. We’ll update this section when more information becomes available. Bodine wrote, “The MTA’s Sub-Station project is a critical project and the community deserves to understand the different aspects of the project and whether or not MTA has done their due diligence. That is why we have requested the MTA to attend MCB4’s Transportation Planning Committee to provide a thorough presentation and answer all questions.”
Site of the proposed MTA Substation at W. 28th St. & Eighth Ave. looking west, with other Penn South buildings and Hudson Yards in the background. | Photo by Mark Bloch
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One Response to "MTA Should Position Planned Substation Somewhere Past Penn South"

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