A Brief Report From A Rather Long Hearing

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Wednesday’s Joint Meeting of the City Council Committees on Buildings and Land Use  lasted as long as it did, starting around 10:15am with the last speaker finishing sometime after 2:15pm.  Fully half of the City Council and the Public Advocate were in attendance during the hearing although unfortunately, Land Use Chair Leroy Comrie was the only Council member who stayed to listen to all the public testimony. Fifty-three (53) people signed up to speak but only three dozen or so were left by the time they were called.  All but one speaker from the Real Estate Board of New York expressed, at the very least, extreme concern about all but two bills – Intro 20 (which enhanced landmark protections over buildings under consideration) and Intro 80 (which enhanced oversight on construction projects close to landmark properties). These two bills were supported by almost all speakers although the Landmarks Commission and the Department of Buildings did not support them in their current forms.

We’re still digesting everything that was said but both the Landmarks Commission and the Department of Buildings were in attendance and had a fruitful conversation with the Council about the proposed bills – mostly focusing on the transparency and accountability concerns. Intro 850 (which mandates a timeline for designation) and 532A (which mandates that the LPC provide a complete list of all RFEs with their current status on the website) were discussed heavily.  The implementation of a designation timeline may relieve some concerns about how LPC responds to requests, but the reality of the bill is it stifles the opportunity for the LPC to properly evaluate requests and set priorities. Landmark eligibility and agency priority were referred to several times, with the LPC making the strong point that the two are separate issues. An example was given of the Woolworth Building; the LPC knew it was landmark-eligible for years before the agency designated it.  Among the other concerns raised about this issue were the constraints of the LPC’s budgetary resources, especially in the face of a firm schedule,  and the Council’s inability to guarantee needed resources for the agency. The very frightening Replacement Materials and Economic Argument bills (Intros 845 & 846) were not deeply discussed but were almost unanimously opposed by public testimony.

No vote was taken Wednesday as this was the first hearing. Many people, HDC included, still have many questions in regard to the 11 bills. Council and the agencies both stated they were willing to work together on the issues these bills hoped to correct.  As new information about the progress of these and other legislation affecting historic buildings comes to light,  we will be sure to get the information out.

Most importantly,  thank everyone who came and everyone who gave testimony.  An partial list of neighborhoods represented included Auburndale, Bayside, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bowery, Brooklyn Heights, Carnegie Hill, Chelsea, Crown Heights North, DUMBO, East Village, Flushing, Greenpoint, Greenwich Village, Harlem, Lower East Side, Mount Morris Park, New Brighton, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Sunnyside Gardens, Tribeca, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Vinegar Hill as well as our citywide colleagues and interested design professionals concerned about New York City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods.  Special thanks go out to former Council members and current State Senators Tony Avella and Bill Perkins for their strong statements of support for preservation and the work of the LPC. If we missed you in this list – please let us know and don’t take offense, it’s only a testament to the amount of people spilling through the doors and flooding the rooms.

Just being there,  we showed the Council Members how concerned and involved the preservation community is, and ensured that the bills will not be easily passed without full and open discussion with all the community stakeholders.  As an example of this,  CM Comrie offered to come to an HDC meeting and discuss these issues with the community.  He also offered to accept online testimony to comrie(at)council.nyc.gov, please copy to gbenjamin(at)council.nyc.gov  and hdc@hdc.org  (we’re building a record of testimony about this).

Eyewitness Coverage from Brownstoner: http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/05/opening-shots-fired-with-bills-involving-landmarks-law/

The Real Deal: http://trdny.com/IJWyh4

DNAinfo: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120502/new-york-city/proposed-bill-deliberate-attack-on-landmarks-law-opponents-say

New York Observer: http://www.observer.com/2012/05/a-quiet-war-on-landmarks-or-fixing-the-problems-with-the-preservation-commission/

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