HDC's Best of 2008: Despite Owner Opposition, City Council Upholds Historic District Boundaries!

An increasingly important part of the landmark designation process is the affirmation of landmark status by the City Council. While Council action has always been the final step in the process, ever since the denial of the landmark designation of St. John the Divine in 2003, the Council has gotten more involved in deliberations over designations, inserting an overtly political perspective on preservation concerns. Combine this with the increased designation activities of the Landmarks Commission, and you can get a volatile mix, particularly when there is owner opposition to the landmarking.

This past year, there were two instances where hard-fought boundaries to new historic districts were imperiled at the Council level; in the long-sought NoHo Extension and West Chelsea. In NoHo, new owners of the White House Hotel, the oldest existing lodging house on the Bowery, fought against designation, wanting instead to build a new, taller hotel building on its site. Responding to this threat, HDC gathered a broad network of preservationists to work in tandem with local activists and local Council member Alan J. Gerson. In the end, the Council affirmed the designation and further pledged to work with the current tenants of the existing building to better their living situations. In West Chelsea, a property owner of two buildings within the district admitted that although one was worthy of preservation, its neighbor, the oldest building in the commercial historic district, shouldn’t be protected. Again, local preservationists partnered with the local representative, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, to explain the importance of this small, old building – which occupied a mid-block site – to the Council. Again, the Council weighed the arguments and decided in favor of upholding the LPC’s decisions and the community’s wishes.

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