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  • Preservationists upset about series of Landmarks bills to go before City Council

    May 01, 2012 04:30PM By Katherine Clarke

    From left: City Council member Leroy Comrie, who chairs the City Council's land use committee, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney and Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council
    The New York City Council is set to review a package of 10 bills relating to the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission tomorrow morning, according to the council’s website, some of which have garnered significant support from the Real Estate Board of New York but elicited concern from preservation groups. A few of the bills seek to impose a timeline on the LPC’s deliberation of potential landmarks and historic districts, including one that introduces a time limit of 180 days for LPC to respond to requests for evaluation and another that institutes a fixed deadline of 33 months for landmark and historic district designations. Detractors such as Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council said the restrictions are “almost ensured to create paralysis at the agency.” It’s not all bad, the Historic Districts Council said. If passed, three of the bills would empower LPC to intercede in cases where unused Department of Buildings permits are still active on landmark buildings and require better monitoring of construction near landmarked buildings — both bills supported by the Historic Districts Council. But other bills, which address the timeline for designation, mandate a publicly accessible online database of requests for evaluation and allow for replacement materials on landmark buildings to be those present at time of designation, have caused some discontent within the preservationist community. “If these bills are adopted in tandem as written, they would risk overwhelming the LPC’s scant resources and could result in thousands of potential buildings in dozens of historic districts being rejected,” Bankoff said in an email blast to members of the Historic Districts Council yesterday. He argued that the success of the bills “would result in thousands of buildings being permanently prevented from becoming landmarks based on a mandated schedule rather than merit.” A spokesperson for the Real Estate Board of New York, which supports a selection of the bills, argued that the proposals, including one which mandates the City Planning Commission to analyze the potential economic impact of designation on the development potential of proposed landmarks, are necessary in order to prevent the LPC from becoming a tool for preservationists in regards to planning. Preservationists are inclined to use the bill to prevent new development in prized areas, he said, as opposed to protecting existing beauty or history. “The landmarks laws are in place to protect cultural heritage, but we’ve been seeing [the landmarking] of properties of questionable merit,” said Michael Slattery, a senior vice president at REBNY, referencing the recent designation of an “unexceptional” gas station at West Houston and Lafayette streets. “[The laws] are being exploited by the preservationist community. It seems clear to us that planning agendas have been directing [the activities of Landmarks.]” In a statement issued earlier this month to the New York Post, Landmarks spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon defended the move to designate the gas station: “As the gateway to Soho, West Houston Street was determined to be so critical to its character that the vacant lots there… ought to be under [LPC's] purview,” she said. The replacement materials bill proposes revoking an LPC requirement stipulating that building owners making changes to their properties use historically appropriate materials even when those materials were not in place at the time the owner purchased the building. It has been particular contentious, sources said. Preservationists argue it undermines the basic benefit of LPC oversight in helping to gradually return areas to their historic condition, while building owners and some members of REBNY contend that the provision currently in place makes it too costly for owners to renovate or alter their properties. While De Bourbon declined to comment on the bills pre-hearing, she said the commission would discuss the merits of the legislation at tomorrow’s event. Meanwhile, City Council member Leroy Comrie, who chairs the Council’s land use committee, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
     

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  • What the City Council Proposals Really Mean

    Posted by on Monday, April 30, 2012 · 1 Comment
    The City Council is holding a public hearing at on Wednesday, May 2 at 10am at 250 Broadway to contemplate 11 bills which, if passed, will greatly change the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in some very damaging ways. The first batch of bills are ones which were previously proposed and have been sitting in committee for a number of years. They are as follows: Intro 20 (CM Mendez, lead sponsor) – which empowers LPC to intercede in cases where unused Buildings permits are still active on Landmark buildings.  HDC supports this bill. Intro 80 (CM Koppell, lead sponsor) – requiring better monitoring of construction near landmark buildings.  HDC supports this bill. Intro 220 (CM Lappin, lead sponsor) – requiring the LPC to maintain a survey department. HDC questions if this bill is especially necessary, as many of the departments within LPC are not mandated by law and there is no funding necessarily attached to it. Intro 357 (Public Advocate De Blasio, lead sponsor) – allowing more flexibility about “green” rooftop mechanicals on landmark buildings.  HDC does not support this bill since we feel that all rooftop mechanicals on landmark buildings should be positioned to be as minimally visible as possible.   Then there are four bills which together seek to impose a strict timeline on the LPC’s deliberation of potential landmarks and historic districts. Intro 222A (CM Lappin, lead sponsor)– requires LPC to respond to Requests for Evaluation within a maximum of 180 days (6 months). Intro 532A (CM Garodnik, lead sponsor) – mandates a publicly accessible online database of RFEs and dictates language for LPC’s responses to requests Intro 849 (CM Lander, lead sponsor) – creates an appeals process for denied RFEs Intro 850 (CM Lander, lead sponsor) – creates a 21/33 month maximum timeline for landmark and historic district designations.   These bills would seem to answer the longtime community complaints about lack of attention to community requests.  In truth,  if these bills are adopted in tandem as written, they would risk overwhelming the LPC scant resources and could result in thousands of potential buildings in dozens of historic districts being rejected out of hand. Currently, there are literally thousands of buildings in potential historic districts across the city including:
    Bainbridge Avenue Kew Gardens
    Bedford Stuyvesant  Madison Square North
    Boerum Hill  Morningside Heights
    Broadway Flushing Moshulu Parkway
    Bruckner Boulevard Mount Morris
    Carroll Gardens  Murray Hill
    City Island  Park Slope
    Clinton Hill  Parkway Village
    Crow Hill Richmond Hill
    Crown Heights North Ridgewood
    Far Rockaway  Riverdale
    Fort Greene the Bowery
     Fort Hill the Grand Concourse
    Greenpoint the Upper East Side
    Greenwich Village  the Upper West Side
     Inwood Victorian Flatbush
    Jackson Heights Wave Hill
     Jamaica Estates Westerleigh
    to name only the ones which spring immediately to mind.  Imagine if the LPC HAD to make decisions and designate all those districts in 33 months.  They couldn’t even if they wanted to – and that would result in thousands of buildings being permanently prevented from becoming landmarks based on a mandated schedule rather than merit. Please also note that there is no funding guaranteed to actually provide for the staff necessary to enact this scheme. This plan is almost ensured to create paralysis at the agency. If this timeline was currently in place, one could easily imagine that Crown Heights North,  the Park Slope Extension, the Grand Concourse, Douglaston Hill, Murray Hill NoHo,  and Dumbo would have never been designated since all of those designations took longer than 33 months to complete. This is clearly a case of an attempt to legislate around a concern where the cure is much more damaging than the problem. For a full timeline of what we think this will look like, see here. Finally, there are two bills which seek to inhibit LPC’s powers to designate or regulate properties. Intro 845 (CM Comrie, lead sponsor) – allows for replacement materials on landmark buildings to be those present at time of designation. Intro 846 (CM Comrie, lead sponsor) – mandates City Planning Commission to analyze economic impact of designation on the development potential of proposed landmark and instructs City Council to strongly regard this analysis in their deliberations.  The bill also requires the LPC to issue very detailed draft designation reports  early in the public hearing process and promulgate rules for historic districts immediately after designation. These bills are aimed at making the LPC ineffectual and providing faulty intellectual rationales for the Council to reject designations at the behest of developers. Intro 845, the Replacement Materials Bill, undermines the basic benefit of LPC oversight in helping to gradually return areas to a more historically-appropriate condition.  With the advent of new material technologies and the growth in skilled building artisans, it is easier and cheaper than ever before to replace failing building materials with appropriate replacements of high quality.  What this bill would result in would be the endless replacement of white vinyl windows in designated historic districts with more of the same. Intro 846, the Economic Argument Bill, deliberately misconstrues the economic value of landmark designation by emphasizing the false value of “property strictly as development ”. By enabling the sole criteria of economic value to be the highest use of a site,  the bill strives to denigrate the economic value of landmark designation to property value. The most highly valued and most desirable property in New York City falls within historic districts. There are a number of factors why these areas are so successful and one of them is their landmark protection.  People want to live where there is certainty and protection.  Under this bill, the recent Park Slope extension could be found to have an negative economic effect on the neighborhood because it could potentially affect the FAR of rowhouse blocks, whereas commonsense and actual real world data will show the opposite to be true. This is a deliberate attack on the Landmarks Law , which was intended by its drafters to “stabilize and improve property value; protect and enhance the city’s attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business and industry thereby provided; and strengthen the economy of the city”.  This is how Landmark designation worked in 1965, and it’s how Landmark designation works today. That the City Council is hearing all these bills with almost no notice is very disturbing.  That each speaker is only going to have THREE MINUTES to comment on 11 bills is outright appalling. Regardless of the merit of these bills, the concerned public of New York City’s neighborhoods deserves a real opportunity to discuss the issues raised by these bills.  Under these circumstances, any germ of good policy in these bills simply cannot have a fair hearing or thoughtful discussion whereas the bad ideas risk slipping through unchallenged. HDC urges you to come to 250 Broadway on Wednesday, May 2 at 10am and tell the City Council firmly – this is bad public policy, bad for preservation and bad for New York! Written testimony is also permitted and should be brought to the hearing or sent to CM Comrie and Speaker Christine Quinn at 250 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. You can contact Speaker Quinn on the Council website at http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/home.shtml or send your testimony to gbenjamin(at)council.nyc.gov

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