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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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  • Best-Kept Homes

    Taking Guardianship of a Historic Home

    By Iyna Bort Caruso for Sotheby's International Realty Entering a home from a bygone era is like crossing a threshold in time. “Historic residences are profound works of both art and craft,” says Katherine Malone-France, director of outreach, education and support at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. “They tell us a lot about ourselves, what people liked, what was important to them and how their lives were structured.” Across the board and around the globe, buyers have long been drawn to the pleasures of owning a moment in time. Not every older home can measure up. Only those deemed to have historical, cultural or aesthetic value are eligible for special designation. That “value” can be based on architecture, of course, but it can also be tied to an event associated with the home or to an individual who once lived there. More than anything, owners of historic homes buy for love. Love of the artisanship, architectural details and even the quirks. Still, it’s a smart investment. A landmark plaque on a residence increases property value. It assures buyers the qualities that attracted them to the home in the first place will endure over time. What’s more, “historic homes are incredibly sturdy and solidly built,” says Malone-France. “They have so many more hand-driven fasteners, they contain woods that are no longer available to us but were specifically selected because of their strength and properties for different elements, whether as rafters or floor joists. They were built to breath, to adapt, to last.” Yes, there are some unconventional layouts in older homes and, yes, owners must follow certain prescribed guidelines when making changes or improvements. That comes with the territory. Preservation guidelines are intended to safeguard character-defining elements and protect against inappropriate alterations. Owners are tasked with keeping the structure in good repair and obtaining prior approval before performing work. Based on the governing body, the guidelines can be as specific as the choice of paint colors and the selection of foliage. Would-be buyers are sometimes intimidated by the prospect, feeling they may be required to spend exorbitantly on the maintenance of a landmarked home. Not so, says Malone-France. “The best preservation work is often the most economical. You basically strengthen the places that need to be strengthened and make sure the exterior envelope is solid. It doesn’t have to be a tremendously expensive or invasive process.” Historical preservation organizations are a good source for architect, contractor and artisan referrals. Eran Chen is the founder and creative director of ODA–Architecture in New York, a firm with an extensive portfolio of historic projects. He considers the city’s preservation commission a partner in the design. The firm worked on a Union Square condominium building discovered to have been designed for Tiffany & Company in the late 19th century. Encased—and forgotten—behind brick walls were beautiful cast-iron arches. That finding “changed everything” about the development of the project, Chen says. “There’s always a lot of discovery,” he says. “The process is full of surprises. In some old structures, there are really treasures hidden in the walls and in the floors.” There are historic homes and then there are homes located in historic districts like the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, Calif., and the French Quarter of New Orleans, La. In New York City alone, there are dozens of historic districts. Louise Beit of Sotheby’s International Realty in New York frequently handles properties with landmark designation. The homes are typically located on gracious, tree-lined streets. Many were designed by prominent architects of the 1920s. “They are a fabulous investment,” Beit says. “They go up in value exponentially.” While buyers don’t necessarily seek out landmarked properties, she says they consider it a bonus when a home they love happens to be designated as one. It means that a governing entity, in this case the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, is looking out for the property’s—and neighborhood’s—best long-term interests. “Buyers can be assured the residence will always be saleable and in excellent architectural and aesthetic taste.” Most countries have programs intended to protect buildings of architectural or historic distinction. Like the U.S., homes of exceptional interest in Mexico, for instance, have registries at the federal, state and local municipal levels. Residences in historic districts such as Mexico City’s downtown Zócalo neighborhood, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mérida and Querétaro are in especially high demand, says Graciela Zamudio Conde of Guadalajara Sotheby’s International Realty in Mexico. Read more... http://online.wsj.com/ad/article/sir-insights?WC=HPInsThumb  

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