August 26, 2015
MEMORANDUM OF OPPOSITION TO INTRO. 775
Dear Council Member,
We write to express our serious concerns about Intro. 775. We share the desire for a swift, predictable and transparent landmark designation process and have given much consideration to how the current process could be improved to accomplish those goals. However, the bill as currently written would achieve the exact opposite. It would discourage the consideration of complicated or controversial sites and encourage obstruction rather than designation. In fact, if the provisions of Intro. 775 had been part of the Landmarks Law, some of our city’s most cherished and valued landmarks and historic districts would not have been designated (see attached). Furthermore, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) would have been prohibited from considering them again for a period of five years, during which time they would likely have been compromised or destroyed.
Intro. 775 is unnecessary.
The impetus for this bill appears to be the 95 sites currently on the LPC’s backlog which were calendared more than five years ago without a final decision yet rendered by the Commission. The LPC has committed to a plan to hear and make final decisions on all of these sites by the end of 2016, thus making this bill superfluous.
Our research shows that the LPC has a solid track record of timely designation, if not within the strict limits described by Intro. 775, then nonetheless within a reasonable period of time.
Intro. 775 makes an existing problem worse.
In the instances where LPC has failed to act within the proposed limits, this failure has been in part a result of the Commission’s limited resources. Designations require heavy investment of staff time towards extensive research, in-depth examination of boundaries, a full airing of all information and viewpoints on a subject, and the production of highly-detailed reports.
Intro. 775 would do nothing to expand the resources of the Commission, New York City’s smallest agency charged with regulating more than 33,000 structures. Nor would it make complicated designation proposals easier or less time-consuming to vet. Instead, it would force LPC to make decisions about boundaries before they have fully considered all issues. It would prevent LPC from dedicating adequate time to complete the highly-detailed designation reports requested by property owners. At minimum, it would force LPC to make decisions before all information has been contemplated and all discussions have taken place. Far worse, LPC may simply avoid considering sites with complicating factors that might not allow a final decision within the prescribed timeframes.
Intro. 775 creates a new problem.
Intro. 775 would also encourage an owner who is strongly opposed to designation to seek delays in the process in the hopes of “running out the clock” and avoiding landmark designation. The owners of some of our city’s most prized landmarks , from Grand Central Terminal to the interior of Radio City Music Hall, opposed designation and likely would have exploited this “do or die” timeframe.
In summary, Intro. 775 as currently written should not be approved because:
- The bill imposes an unnecessary, unrealistic, and retroactive 18-month timeframe in which to consider every property on its docket.
- The proposed timeframes for hearings and final votes are not reasonable for all cases, especially those which are complicated and controversial.
- It provides no additional resources to ensure that LPC can consider calendared sites or districts within the proposed timeframe.
- It does not allow LPC the option of continuing to consider a landmark or historic district after the deadline has been reached, regardless of the stage of consideration, negotiation, or discussion, or if new information has been introduced.
- The five year moratorium on the reconsideration of landmarks and historic districts would unduly hamper LPC and is not reflected in the regulatory frameworks of other city agencies.
(signed) LIST IN FORMATION – email us to add your name/group to the list!
FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Historic Districts Council
10th & Stuyvesant Streets Block Association
29th Street Neighborhood Association
Art Deco Society of New York
Bayside Historical Society
Bay Improvement Group
Beachside Bungalows Preservation Association
Bedford-Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation
Bowery Alliance of Neighbors
Broadway Flushing Homeowner’s Association
Brooklyn Heights Association
Carnegie Hill Neighbors
Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation
City Club of New York
Coalition for a Livable West Side
Coalition to Save the East Village
Committee for Environmentally Sound Development
Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side
Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society
Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District
DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
East Harlem Preservation, Inc.
East Village Community Coalition
Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance
Friends of Brook Park
Friends of the Lower West Side
Friends of Petrosino Square
Friends of Steinway Mansion
Friends of Terra Cotta
Friends of the Lower East Side
Fulton Ferry Landing Association
Gramercy Park Block Association
Greater Astoria Historical Society
Greenwich Village Community Task Force
Historic Park Avenue
Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association
Jackson Heights Garden City Society
Kew Gardens Civic Association
Lower East Side Preservation Initiative
Morningside Heights Historic District Committee
Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association
Mud Lane Society for the Renaissance of Stapleton
Municipal Art Society
National Trust for Historic Preservation
New York Marble Cemetery
New York Preservation Alliance
North Shore waterfront Greenbelt
Park Slope Civic Council
Parkway Village Historical Society
Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Queens Preservation Council
Richmond Terrace Conservancy
Save Harlem Now!
Senator Street Historic District
Society for the Architecture of the City
Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance
Sunset Park Landmarks Committee
Victorian Society of New York
Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association
West Brighton Restoration Society
West End Preservation Society
West 80’s Neighborhood Association
Analysis of the Effects of Intro. 775 on Landmark Designation
As proposed, Intro. 775 mandates for the consideration of historic districts the LPC has:
- 12 months from a vote to calendar to hold a public hearing
- 12 months from the public hearing to vote to designate
or the district cannot be acted upon for five years.
While the City Council’s own dataset shows that only 20% of historic districts have exceeded the thresholds proposed by Intro. 775 since 1998, a look back to the creation of the Landmarks Law 50 years ago demonstrates that more than one third (38%) of all districts would not have made it through the proposed timeline. Particularly troubling is the breadth and diversity of the historic districts which would have been rejected – or, at best, deferred for five years.
Under Intro. 775, the following historic districts could not have been designated when originally proposed:
Carnegie Hill & Expansion
Central Park West – 76th Street
Cobble Hill & Extension
Fiske Terrace/Midwood Park
Morris High School
Mott Haven East
Riverside Drive-West End & Extensions I & II
St. Mark’s & Extension
Tribeca South & Extension
Further analysis suggests that larger, more expansive historic districts take the longest for the LPC to consider for designation as they require more community education, architectural research and consensus-building. These 53 historic districts encompass more than 17,900 buildings, approximately 54% of the total number of buildings currently protected by the Landmarks Law.
If Intro. 775 had been in effect since 1965, half of New York City’s landmark properties would not be protected and New York City would be infinitely poorer for it.