Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stables Voting Day at LPC

Voting Day at LPC: Yes to Cab Company, No to Dakota Stables

The votes are in. And the Landmarks Preservation Commission would like us to start with the good news. The bad news is that there really is no good news.

At a public meeting yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously approved the designation of the former New York Cab Company stable, an 1888-90 Romanesque Revival building designed by C. Abbott French & Company, at the northwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 75th Street. The Cab Company - on LANDMARK WEST's designation "wish list" since 1985 - is now the 2,707th landmark on the Upper West Side.

As much as the Cab Company deserves to be a landmark, this victory is soured by the LPC's nearly simultaneous vote to take the former Dakota Stable, another "Stable Row" survivor at Amsterdam and 77th Street, "off the calendar". The measure passed 8-2, despite impassioned pleas from Commissioners Roberta Brandes Gratz and Christopher Moore to make the Dakota Stable a landmark.

What does this mean, to take a building "off the calendar"? Our understanding is that it is a mechanism, devised by the LPC's legal counsel, for withdrawing the Dakota Stable's "calendared" status, which the LPC confers on properties as a preamble to a public designation hearing. Calendaring is supposed to prevent the Department of Buildings (DOB) from issuing alteration or demolition permits on a building while the LPC holds a hearing and considers the building's merits for designation. This only works if the LPC actually calendars the building prior to DOB's issuing permits.

In the case of the Dakota Stable, the LPC waited - for what? permission from the developer? a nod from City Hall? - until late September to calendar the building, over a month after DOB issued the permits that allowed destructive work to the facade. Workers promptly began dismantling the building. Nearly another month went by before the LPC held a public hearing (on October 17). Now, yet another month later, with the building and the public's faith in the integrity of the landmarks process lain in waste, the LPC decides to "take backsies", pretend it never happened, take half a loaf, and move on.

Preservationists in communities across the city are already calling for legislation to give the LPC more power in situations like this (which are all too frequent - this is by no means an isolated incident). If the LPC were empowered to move as quickly and effectively as developers do, perhaps buildings like the Dakota Stables would stand a fighting chance. Yet, in response to past community-driven legislative initiatives, the LPC has complained that such power would be too onorous and impose too heavy a burden on its overextended staff. Apparently, Mayor Bloomberg and his appointed Chair Robert B. Tierney prefer to keep the LPC one step behind the wrecking ball rather than in front of it.

For another first-hand account of yesterday's public meeting, visit the Historic Districts Council's Preservation Perspectives blog at

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