Thursday, December 14, 2006

Threats to Landmarked Buildings in DOB Database

Read on for a New York Times story about major errors in the Department of Buildings database. As you will see, seemingly minor errors can lead to major problems for landmarked buildings. LANDMARK WEST! would like to address this problem and is looking for a volunteer to take on the project. We would love to hear from you!

The New York Times
December 3, 2006
New York Up Close
For Want of an 'L' ...

IN the dossier of information for each property listed with the city's Department of Buildings, there are arcane references that might mystify themost seasoned New Yorkers. Is the building "Little E Restricted" or "UB Restricted"? Does it have a grandfathered sign or qualify for "Legal Adult Use"?

But some people pore through such documents avidly, among them Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. This fall, Mr. Berman's organization conducted a survey of allthe buildings within the 100-block Greenwich Village Historic District, created in 1969.

In doing so, members of the group discovered that of the 2,200 buildings inthe district, the records for 337 of them had not automatically been given the notation "L - Landmark," the indication that a building is a protected property. As a result, at least in theory, there was nothing to prevent them from being altered or even torn down."

We were shocked by this," Mr. Berman said. "Even in a 35-year-old historic district, about 15 percent of the buildings had never been marked as landmarks."

Officials of the group first noticed a problem after the nearby Gansevoort Market Historic District was established in 2003. While many properties inthe new district were immediately given the "L" notation in the city's Buildings Information System, some weren't; in one case, on Little West 12th Street, that resulted in the installation of a billboard on the side of a building.

Mr. Berman and his colleagues set out to see if the same was true in the larger Greenwich Village district. They discovered that among the buildings not properly identified as landmarks were a row of 1840s Greek Revival houses along Washington Square North. Along West 11th Street, 28 buildings were not identified as landmarks, nor were 18 of 25 stables-turned-residences on Washington Mews.

Two weeks ago, after receiving a list of the 337 properties, the LandmarksPreservation Commission said that all of them had since been properly designated. The Buildings Department also said that it was working to correct the problem."

Landmarks brought this to our attention," said Jennifer Givner, a Buildings Department spokeswoman, "and we're working to make sure that all designated buildings have that notation in our system."

Concerns about the issue are not limited to the Village. In the waterfront neighborhood of Douglaston, Queens, similar problems were noted as soon as part of the area became a historic district in 1997."

Every once in a while a property would come up," said Kevin Wolfe, vice president of the Douglaston/Little Neck Historical Society, "and the owner would see that it was not listed as a landmark and get permits, and off he'd go."

Random checks of historic districts in other parts of the city confirmed that the problem exists elsewhere. In Brooklyn, for example, on Garfield Place in the Park Slope district, 8 of the 91 properties that should have been logged as landmarks were not. The problem, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit advocacy group, often lies with the Buildings Information System, which is not necessarily equipped to handle streets and addresses from centuries past.

"Once you get off the standard grid, which in many of the historic districts you do, it becomes increasingly possible to miss an address - or it was never entered correctly," Mr. Bankoff said.

An examination of the Department of Buildings records for the GreenwichVillage district last week showed that only two of the properties in question remained unmarked. Nevertheless, 17 properties that had previously been identified as landmarks did not bear that designation. Mr. Berman's response was simply to sigh. "

I'm almost speechless," he said. "This should be the easy part."

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