URGENT: Proposed Riverside-West End Extension II On The Chopping Block By LPC !

Skulls indicate approximate locations of buildings to be removed by the LPC from the originally proposed Riverside-West End Extension II map boundaries, heard at LPC Public Hearing on Oct. 25, 2011.

June 18, 2015Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
One Centre Street
New York City, New York 10007Dear Chair Srinivasan,

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) has several serious concerns about how the Landmarks Preservation Commission is choosing to proceed with its deliberations over the designation of the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II.  The process, as we understand it, is that the LPC will hold a vote on Tuesday, June 23rd at a Public Meeting concerning the district.  This district was previously heard by the LPC at a Public Hearing on October 25th, 2011.  We understand from speaking with LPC representatives, elected officials and advocates that the agency recommendation to the Commissioners will be to designate a smaller area than what was presented at the earlier meeting.  Recently, furthermore, agency staff has characterized the heard but not designated area as a “study area”.  The same “study area” term has also been used in reference to the pending Bedford Stuyvesant Historic District, whose boundaries have also been proposed by the agency to be contracted.

There are now several elements of this hearing/process that are troubling for the city’s landmark procedures and its preservation community.  In the past, changing the boundaries of a proposed historic district after it has been heard at a Public Hearing has been a very rare occurrence.  It has principally happened because of mapping reasons involving improperly surveyed property lot lines[1]or because of existing building alteration permits that would potentially negate the benefits of landmark designation[2].  In the latter case, regarding existing building permits, the Commission has more often included these sites in the newly designated district than excluded them[3].  As far as HDC knows, neither of these instances is the reason behind the proposed contraction of these historic districts.

Given the LPC’s stated concerns about the previously considered properties on the agency’s backlog, and the constructive conversations that these concerns fostered, it would seem only fair and equitable to bring this modified proposal back to a Public Hearing so that community stakeholders can be better involved with this public process.This is especially appropriate in this instance.  As many of the present commissioners were not on the LPC at the time of the previous hearing, they did not have the opportunity to hear the information and support that the community shared with the LPC. At this juncture, it seems improper for these commissioners to deliberate on changes to the plan without having had the opportunity to gain primary information from the people it directly affects.

HDC is also gravely concerned with the newly emerging naming policy and assertion that makes properties that are pending designation implicitly – “study areas”.   While we understand that LPC authority over considered but undesignated properties is much weaker than over designated properties, in practice and under existing municipal procedure, once a property or site is scheduled for consideration as a potential landmark, the agency becomes a party to public and private land-use decisions affecting that property.  This is a power that HDC supports and applauds.  Indeed, we have in the past proposed institutionalizing this safeguard into the City Charter as we feel that it is a useful tool in fulfilling the agency’s mission to identify and protect New York City’s historically significant buildings. Regardless of its current status as an inter-agency agreement, it would seem that this power elevates properties under consideration to a rank or standing greater than “study areas”, which is an accepted land-use planning term implying merely observational status.  Perhaps we are reading too closely into a simple phrase, but it is troublesome, as “study areas” in land-use planning also indicates a process and a scope which city planning rarely exceeds and usually only refines.

As you are aware, designation of a New York City historic district is a complex and very-involved planning process that takes years and engages a vast array of stakeholders.  By the time the LPC officially acts to calendar a proposed historic district for a Public Hearing, a great deal of outreach and groundwork has already been done by the agency.  Public information meetings have been held, private owners have been consulted, official notice to all property owners have been sent out, site visits have been made and a great deal of preliminary building research has been done and accumulated – and that is only on the agency side.At the present juncture, to think of the current proposals put before the Commissioners for a vote to proceed as mere “study areas” disregards all that preliminary work.Thus, if this is a change in the LPC designation procedures, then that should be made clear to all parties.

Moving forward, all proposals to potentially designate historic districts should continue to be heard with the full public engagement of all the participants at the Landmarks Commission meetings.  If the meetings are kept open to the public, the boundaries of the “study areas” can be discussed and refined.Through this methodical open process, one might imagine that the boundaries of such “study areas” can be introduced and discussed so as to encompass the totality of an historic neighborhood, which could then be better refined, rather than the carefully-drawn, property-by-property boundaries which current practice introduces for votes to be calendared.

Regardless of any proposed future changes, this is not how currently pending historic districts were considered, and it should not be the one under which they are processed.  Fundamentally, HDC believes that if the LPC is considering shrinking the boundaries of the heard but not designated Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II, that the public hearing should be reopened and that public testimony by permitted on this new proposal.Thus, moving forward, HDC requests that the Landmarks Preservation Commission should continue to make its designation process transparent and open to public engagement in an equitable and accountable manner.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter and for all the important work you do for the City of New York.


Simeon Bankoff
Executive Director

CC: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
CM Rosenthal, District 7, Manhattan
Peg Breen, The New York Landmarks Conservancy
Josette Amato, West End Preservation Society
Claudette Brady, Bedford-Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation

[1]  East Village/Lower East Side Historic District (2012).
[2]  Madison Square North Historic District (2001).
[3]  NoHo Historic District Extension (2008), Upper East Side Historic District Extension (2010), and East 10th Street Historic District (2012).

The Reach of the Landmarks Law: A Balancing Act
Thursday, June 18 at 6:30pm

When New York’s landmarks law took effect 50 years ago, it forever changed the course of the city’s history. But has its proponents’ full vision been realized this past half century? In some cases, the law may have in fact been surpassed by newer legislation in other cities. Could ours be strengthened, or are additional preservation tools needed to complement the law? At this panel, preservation experts will discuss these and other questions exploring the possibilities, limitations, and challenges of the landmarks law. This program delves into the themes of our exhibition Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarkson view through September 13.

Reception to follow!

  • Alison G. Greenberg, HDC Board Memeber, Partner, Calcagni & Kanefsky
  • Leonard Koerner, Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel, NYC Law Department, Office of the Corporation
  • Paul W. Edmondson, Chief Legal Officer/General Counsel, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Sami Naim, Vice President, Law and Policy, Municipal Art Society of New York
  • Michael T. Sillerman, Partner, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
  • Meredith J. Kane (moderator), Partner, Paul Weiss

Co-sponsored by Bryan CaveBryant Rabbino, and Carter Ledyard & Milburn

1.5 LU AIA CES will be offered for attending this event.


Free for Museum members; $12 for students/seniors; $16 for general public.

Register Here