LPC Chair Robert Tierney's Statement about the LPC Budget

This is Mr. Tierney’s statement before City Council at today’s Preliminary Budget Hearing. It serves as an interesting self-summation of the agency’s work in the past year.

MARCH 8, 2007

Good morning Chairwoman Katz and Honorable Councilmembers. I am Bob Tierney, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before your Committee about the Commission and its FY 2008 preliminary budget.

As you know, the Landmarks Commission is the city agency responsible for identifying and protecting the city’s historical, architectural and cultural heritage. The Commission carries out its mission by designating individual landmarks, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts; and by regulating proposed work on buildings under our jurisdiction. To date, the Commission has designated 1,155 individual landmarks and 85 historic districts, with 12 district extensions, for a total of more than 23,000 buildings.

Our Fiscal 2008 budget is approximately $4.3 million dollars, with $3.7 million in city funds and $586,000 in community development funds. Although the Landmarks Commission is one of the smaller New York City agencies, we remain the largest municipal preservation agency in the country, with a total of 65 staff members.

First, let me thank you all for the additional $250,000 we received from the Council this past fiscal year. With this money, we hired five new staff members for the Research Department which, combined with the Commission’s already-existing staff, has resulted in the largest Research Department the Commission has had in almost ten years. We have been able to reinstitute a major survey effort and increase the number of designations. This work will continue and be further enhanced should this funding be renewed.

Let me give a preliminary report on our survey work to date and take you through the process we are using to carry out the surveys. Since September 2006, when the additional survey staff came on board, the Commission has surveyed more than 15,000 buildings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Senior staff and the Research Department determined the areas to be surveyed based on its own knowledge and expertise about the city’s historic areas, requests from the public, elected officials, preservation groups, and other interested parties, as well as the need to update previous surveys conducted by the Landmarks Commission staff. The majority of the areas we have surveyed have been in Queens, including the neighborhoods of Addisleigh Park, Ridgewood, Flushing, the northeastern section of Queens and potential individual landmarks in downtown Jamaica. We have also surveyed Prospect Heights, Ditmas Park West, Alice and Agate Courts, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in ‘Brooklyn; Harrison Street and Vanderbilt Avenue on the north shore of Staten Island; and midtown Manhattan, from 141 Street to 57th Street, river to river. We have also commenced a survey of 20th-century apartment buildings in the Bronx.

These surveys are the first step in the Commission’s review of a particular neighborhood or individual building. More importantly, they serve as planning tools that enable us to establish priorities and set goals. In the case of large areas that we’re studying for potential historic district designation, the staff takes streetscape photographs and drafts recommendations for district boundaries. For proposed individual landmarks, the survey staff collects basic information, including the construction date, style, architect and any other relevant information and takes a new photograph of the building. The Research Department reviews every building and determines whether it is a first priority, second priority, a historic district level building, or not a priority at this time. The senior staff of the Commission then reviews the first priority buildings. We are currently in the process of evaluating all of the information, and concrete results in the form of new historic district and individual landmark designations will follow. We have already started outreach to owners in all five boroughs as a result of this year’s survey work.

In addition to the surveys, the expansion of the staff in the Research Department has had the immediate effect of increasing the number of buildings we’ve designated. In the first eight months of this fiscal year. we are well ahead of where we were at this time last year, and expect many more designations over the next four months. As many of you know, one of the goals of my tenure as Chairman has been to designate buildings in all five boroughs and we have continued to do that since I testified before you last year. In the Bronx, we designated the interior of the Loew’s Paradise Theater, one of the most important “atmospheric” motion pictures theaters in the United States; the Estey Piano Factory, a prominent industrial building in Mott Haven; and the Orchard Beach Bathhouse, the major waterfront recreation complex for Bronx residents, built with funding from the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s. We also held a public hearing on the interior and exterior of the Crotona Play Center, another WPA pool.

In Brooklyn, the Commission designated 70 Lefferts Place, an Italianate villa with a rich cultural heritage associated with the followers of Father Divine; and 1375 Dean Street, an 1850s free-standing country house in Crown Heights. The Commission held a public hearing on the proposed Crown Heights North Historic District, consisting of 472 buildings, this past September. We have had strong support from Councilman Vann and the Crown Heights North community, and we expect to bring this proposal back for a vote in April. If approved, it stands to be the first historic district designated in Brooklyn in more than a decade.

In Manhattan, the Commission recently designated the Church of All Saints and St. Aloysius. These two distinguished Harlem churches, designed by James Renwick and William Renwick respectively, are the first Catholic churches to be designated in almost 30 years. We also re-designated two buildings in the City & Suburban Homes, First Avenue Estates on the Upper East Side, which had been turned back by the Board of Estimate, and the impressive interior and exterior of the former AT&T Building, designed by William Welles Bosworth. Next week, we will hold a public hearing on the proposed Manhattan Avenue Historic District, a 40-building enclave between 104th and 106th Streets.

In Queens, the Commission designated the Sohmer Piano Factory, one of the most prominent structures along the waterfront in Long Island City. The renowned American songwriter Irving Berlin owned three Sohmer pianos with transposing keyboards that he used to write his music. And this week we calendared the proposed Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, one of the most significant planned residential communities in the country. With over 600 buildings, this neighborhood has achieved international recognition for its low-rise, low-density housing arranged around landscaped open courtyards. We expect to hold a public hearing on this proposal in April.

And finally, in Staten Island, the Commission designated the Staten Island Savings Bank, designed by the noted architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich; 665 Clove Road, an intact Craftsman-style home; and 134 Main Street, a nineteenth-century cottage representing the South Shore’s early building traditions. As a result of our Staten Island survey, we have already calendared seven nineteenth-century buildings throughout the island, including 173 Main Street, a rare, intact example of a nineteenth-century South Shore commercial structure; and 190 Meisner Avenue, a villa on Lighthouse Hill. We expect to calendar several more buildings shortly a
nd hold public hearings next month.

At the same time that our Research Department has been working on surveys and historical research, our Preservation Department has been meeting the challenge of greater economic activity in the city by issuing permits at a record pace for work on designated buildings. In the first eight months of this fiscal year, we received 5,839 applications for work and took 6,180 actions. Some of the highlights of our regulatory work have included the restoration of 745 Fox Street in the Longwood Historic District in the Bronx and the construction of a new “green” building on the site. Once completed, the complex will serve as affordable senior housing for currently homeless grandparents who have primary custody of their grandchildren. In Brooklyn, the restoration work was completed on the French Renaissance Revival-style Imperial Apartments. We are proud of our partnership with HPD to provide low-income apartments in this impressive apartment building designed by Montrose Morris and built in 1892. In Manhattan, we worked with the non-profit community organization, West Harlem Environmental Action, to approve major “green” renovations and additions to a rowhouse in the Hamilton Heights Historic District. We continue to work on the enhancement of the beautiful Douglaston Historic District in Queens. And in Staten Island, we approved the restoration of the Nurse’s Residences in the Farm Colony-Seaview Hospital Historic District for its conversion to new senior housing.

The Commission has continued to increase its outreach efforts to owners of landmarked properties to let them know of their rights and responsibilities as landmark owners and the importance of working with the Commission to obtain the necessary approvals before proceeding with work on their buildings. We continue to improve and update our website to make the filing process easier for homeowners. Users can download the Commission’s Rules, public hearing and public meeting agendas, application forms, instructions for filing, and get information about what materials will need to be submitted in order to obtain a permit.

Our Enforcement Department continues to aggressively enforce the law. We investigated 494 complaints in the first eight months of this fiscal year. In this same time period we have issued 381 warning letters, 127 Notices of Violation and 19 Stop Work Orders. Approximately two-thirds of the warning letters result in owners applying expeditiously to the Commission to address their violations. Last month, we won a major settlement against the owners of a Greenwich Village restaurant who had built a rooftop structure in non-compliance with permits issued by the Commission. This settlement should serve as a deterrent to those who would knowingly and intentionally violate the law. As many of you know, in February 2005, the Council passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed the Demolition by Neglect Law, which has greatly enhanced the Commission’s enforcement capabilities. In January 2006, the Commission initiated a lawsuit against the owner of 135 Joralemon Street, a Federal-style house located in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. As a result of this litigation, the building has been saved and completely restored. We are also poised to commence another major lawsuit against the owners of the Windemere Apartments in Manhattan, who have willfully neglected this important landmarked building.

Finally, as many of you may recall, in July 2004 the Commission adopted a fee schedule for work on landmarked buildings that also requires a permit from the Department of Buildings. In the first eight months of this fiscal year, the city has collected approximately $737,204 in revenue from the fees.

I would like to thank you all again for your continued support of the Landmarks Commission. Through your efforts, you have enabled us to continue our mission of designating and protecting New York City’s treasures. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

Posted Under: City Council, LPC

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