Monday, September 14, 2015

Arbitrary Deadlines for the Landmarks Preservation Commission - Intro 775

The city council is considering bill Intro 775 that would impose limits on the amount of time that the Landmarks Preservations Commission (LPC) has to designate individual landmarks, as well as historic districts. The bill would also bar reevaluation, for five years, any building that is not processed within a year and any district that is not processed in two years of their initial evaluation. Supporters argue that the bill is needed to deal with the LPC's backlog, as well as make the landmarking process more efficient. Virtually every preservationist group including the LPC has vocalized opposition to this bill. The bill's strongest supporters are those in the development community who stand to gain financially from a weaker LPC. I vehemently oppose the passage of this unnecessary bill.

The LPC's backlog includes 94 buildings, some of them backlogged for as long as 20 years. The LPC, under its new head, has devised its own plan for dealing with the backlog. The commission plans to deal with the items in public hearings organized by borough. Imposing arbitrary deadlines to deal with a mere 94 potential landmark sites is overkill and the LPC should be allowed to process applications thoughtfully and without interference from outside entities.

According to the New York Times, Councilman David G. Greenfield of Brooklyn, the chairman of the council's Committee on Land Use, and the bill's co-sponsor, argued that the commission does not deserve special treatment from any other government body. "We have timelines at the City Council, City Planning, the Department of Buildings". "If we can do it, the Landmarks Commission can do it, too". That argument implies that the LPC isn't doing their job as well as they should or could be. It is hardly a fair argument. You know what else would speed up the landmarking process? Staffing the LPC commensurate with their workload. According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the Landmark's Preservation Commission is the city's smallest agency with the fewest resources and smallest staff despite having to oversee more than 33,000 properties in addition to considering new landmark designations. It is one of the most understaffed agencies in the city. Moreover, the GVSHP states that 80 percent of designations already take place within the proposed time frame. "The bill swats a fly with a sledge hammer". 

The LPC is not an institution designed to impede real-estate development. It exists to protect the architectural heritage of New York City. The vast majority of buildings in the city are not considered landmark worthy within the confines of the LPC's guidelines. Non-architecturally important buildings can be repurposed, modified or demolished as property owners and developers see fit. This developer friendly bill should not jeopardize the precious few buildings that the LPC considers worth protecting in perpetuity.

Intro 775 should not be allowed to pass. Imposing arbitrary deadlines could mean the loss of a piece of history. Maintaining the architectural integrity of our neighborhoods is what connects us to them and creates the city's sense of place. What would this city be like without its historic buildings like Grand Central Station, the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings? It would be a placeless city, anywhere U.S.A.

If you feel as I do, then I encourage you to contact your city council member to voice opposition to this bill. It’s not too late. You can look up your council member and their contact info under "Who We Are" on the New York City Council website.

Below are some landmarked buildings from around Brooklyn that have been featured on this blog. Without their landmark status many would be torn down while the rest would be at risk.


Domino Sugar Refinery
Above is the Domino Sugar Refinery, an icon of Williamsburg's industrial vernacular architecture. The building on the left has landmark status. The building on the right did not receive landmark protection and was demolished to make way for high-rise luxury condos.

Public Bath No. 7
Public Bath No. 7 aka the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope is the only remaining municipal bath building in Brooklyn that hasn't been demolished or heavily modified. It sits on prime real-estate that could easily be redeveloped.

McGovern Weir Greenhouse
One of the common arguments against granting landmark status to buildings is that they are sometimes left to rot. However, those cases are rare and eventually many abandoned landmarked buildings are purchased and rehabilitated. A case in point is the McGovern Weir Greenhouse pictured above. It has been purchased by Greenwood Cemetery and is currently undergoing renovations.

Pencil Factory
The building above, with the terra-cotta pencils, is the most iconic of the several Pencil Factory buildings that make up the Pencil Factory Historic District. The buildings are part of what defines the character of Greenpoint and represent a significant piece of Brooklyn's history. Near the East River waterfront they are in prime redevelopment territory and would be at serious risk of being lost where it not for their landmark status.

Our Lady Queen of All Saints Church
The Our Lady Queen of All Saints Church falls within the Fort Greene Historic District. Many churches have been lost over the years. It would be a shame if some day this one were allowed to be replaced by condos or commercial buildings.

Hunterfly Road Houses
Hunterfly Road Houses
To many these humble residential structures known as the Hunterfly Road Houses may not look like much but they are of significant historic value and losing them would be a travesty. Sitting on the border of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, they are all that remains of Weeksville, one of the first free African American communities founded in New York.

Looking at the front of the Dime Savings Bank
Former Dime Savings Bank - Downtown Brooklyn Branch
The property the former Dime Savings Bank sits on was recently sold to a pair of developers known for their high-rise residential buildings. Fortunately, the bank building is landmarked and will have to be included in whatever design the developers have envisioned for this spot. 

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