It seems that just yesterday, we were celebrating the successful fight against “decalandering,” a proposal from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in late 2014 to remove proposed landmarks and historic districts that had sat on the list for over five years without a vote. Now, a bill, Intro 775, proposed by New York City Councilmen Peter Koo and David Greenfield, would be even more extreme: putting that period at one year, with no possibility for reconsideration for five years following.
To give an idea of what that means, the Historic Districts Council has made a list of 53 historic districts that would not have been landmarked had Intro 775 been active prior. This list includes Greenwich Village, Gramercy Park, Soho’s Cast Iron Historic District, Park Slope, the Upper East Side, Central Park West-76th Street, and Grand Concourse in the Bronx. In total, they represent over 60% of the historic districts in New York City. Including physical landmarks, nearly half of the total landmarks in New York City would not have received designation, including Grand Central Terminal, the Empire State Building, the Woolworth Building and Rockefeller Center. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, found that “nearly 18,000 buildings in historic districts took more than two years to be approved.” You can express your opposition in a ready-made letter to the NYC Council with one click here.
The Woolworth Building lobby
As Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation writes, “The Real Estate industry is firmly behind Intro. 775, which would greatly benefit demolition-minded developers.” The New York Times writes that the “bill’s sponsors, as well as local business and real estate leaders, argue that it simply brings much-needed responsibility and transparency to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.” Greenfield also argues that the bill would be “empowering the commission, not weakening it.”
Yet, Berman argues that the bill fails to provide any additional resources to support the Commission, the smallest of the city’s agencies:
“Rather than encouraging smooth and timely decision-making, the bill would actually encourage delaying tactics and obstructionism by powerful developers opposed to landmarking, by offering the option of ‘running out the clock.”
Furthermore, if the bill is meant to clear the backlog (currently at 95 proposals), the Landmarks Preservation Commission already has hearings set beginning October 8th for this purpose, a direct response to the decalendaring issue from last year.
Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the 95 sites on the Landmarks Preservation Commission backlog, to be decided in the fall hearings
As we’ve seen in New York City, even with landmark status, threats to many historic districts remain, like the current battle for South Street Seaport, listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 11 most endangered historic districts this year. It seems that in a year that has seen much celebration regarding the 50th Anniversary of the Landmarks Law in New York City, including a successful exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, the push and pull between preservation and development in the city remains as divisive as ever.