Give LPC a Bigger Slice of the Pie!

By Shane Miller

Brooklyn Downtown STAR
Dateline : Thursday, May 17, 2007

It only amounts to a miniscule portion of this year’s $50 billion-plus city budget, but preservationists say $1 million would make a huge difference for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

“We have a Landmarks Commission with a hard-working and dedicated staff that is under-funded to do the job,” said Councilmwoman Jessica Lappin, chair of the Council’s Landmarks Committee.Last year, Lappin and colleagues Tony Avella and Diana Reyna were able to secure a $250,000 increase to LPC’s budget, which is approximately $4.3 million annually. With that additional funding, LPC was able to hire five more researchers who surveyed over 15,000 buildings.

According to Lappin, because of the staff, LPC is on track to designate over 1,000 buildings in 2006, a 2,000 percent increase over fiscal year 2005.”The money was well spent, but it was not enough,” the councilwoman said.

It certainly won’t be enough this time around, because the $250,000 boost was a one-time shot and won’t be renewed for the 2008 budget, which the City Council and mayor are negotiating right now. In addition to restoring the $250,000, preservationists are calling for the city to fund LPC to the tune of an additional $750,000.”If we give another million to LPC, that will be .002 percent of the total budget, but represent a 25 percent increase in LPC’s budget,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Stringer argued that there was more to lose than a few city jobs or programs. “What is at stake here is the cultural and architectural history of the city,” said Stringer. “Visitors to this city want to see the new New York and the old New York together.”Avella agreed. “We have the best landmark law in the country, but I think we can all agree the commission has been underfunded,” said Avella. “Once they’re [potential landmarks] gone, we’ll never get them back.”

As more and more buildings and neighborhoods are landmarked, LPC is forced to becoming increasingly occupied with enforcement of regulations, meaning less man hours can be devoted to researching potentially new landmarks.”LPC is the only city agency specifically charged with preserving the history of our city,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “They are doing a great job, but they could do better.”Frank Sanchis was Executive Director of LPC until he stepped down in 1986. He says over the last 20 years LPC has been experiencing systematic cuts. “When I was Director, we had over 70 staff members,” he said. “Now that number is somewhere in the 40s.”No one would like to see LPC receive more funding than Denise Brown. Brown lives in Crown Heights, and has been working to have her neighborhood declared a historic district. She and her neighbors succeeded in getting North Crown Heights declared a historic district recently, achieving designation in a relatively quick two years. However, the neighborhood was first considered for designation back in 1978.

“Surprisingly, it hadn’t changed that much,” said Brown. “But over the last few years, as gentrification starts to encroach on the area, there have been a lot of changes.” The designation for North Crown Heights included approximately 480 buildings, but it was only Phase 1 of a four-phase landmarking process. Phase II includes an additional 600 to 800 buildings, but when or if it will be designated a historic district is up to LPC.

“We are working on Phase II, and additional funding would help us do that,” Brown said.

Posted Under: City Council, HDC, Legislation, LPC

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