Friday, December 12, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg's Landmarks Problem

As 2008 winds to a close, it's time to take stock of a banner season in New York City landmarks preservation history.

THE HIGHS: A 6-month examination of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) by the New York Times. Four investigative articles. Two hard-hitting editorials. A breakthrough legal victory.

THE LOWS: A Mayor and Landmarks Chair who fail to recognize and address New York's landmarks crisis. Too many buildings and neighborhoods destroyed or hanging in the balance.

NEXT STEPS: To really know what we're up against, make sure you've read the Times pieces and decisive court decision, which the City plans to appeal. Then write immediately to Mayor Bloomberg. Use language from the latest Times editorial ("Improving the Landmarks Process," 12/6/08) to send him the message loud and clear, "Instead of appealing, fix the LPC!"

If we are ever to turn back the destructive tide, it must be now. And it must be YOU and US and ANYONE who ever gave a thought about the heritage of our city and the character of our communities. Together, we've made our voice heard, and we may be closer than ever to real change. But the biggest challenges are still ahead.

Required Reading for the Revolution

The Landmarks Preservation Commission should be a vital part of the planning process in New York City. Instead, it has become a bureaucratic black hole, the place where requests for evaluation — the formal nominations of buildings or districts to be landmarked — go to get filed and forgotten.
“The Missing Landmarks Commission,” NY Times editorial, 10/18/08

The judge called the agency’s inaction “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered it to start making timely decisions on every designation request. To allow such proposal’s “to languish is to defeat the very purpose of the L.P.C. and invite the loss of irreplaceable landmarks.”
“An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Building Status,” NY Times, 11/26/08

Preservationists say the phenomenon [of pre-emptive demolitions] is only one sign of problems with the city’s mechanism for protecting historic buildings … In the case of the Dakota Stables, some preservationists have accused the landmarks commission of deliberately dragging its heels.
“Preservationists See Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole,” NY Times, 11/29/08

..many preservationists and at least one commission member argue that the landmarks commission has not been aggressive enough in protecting churches from the overheated real estate market of the last few years.
“Houses of Worship Choosing to Avoid Landmark Status,” NY Times, 12/1/08

…preservationists and politicians assert that, under a mayoral administration that has emphasized new construction – from behemoth stadiums to architecturally bold condo towers – big developers have too often been allowed to lead on the dance floor. Some accuse the landmarks commission, charged with guarding the city’s architectural heritage, of backing off too readily when important developers’ interests are at stake.
“Preservation and Development in a Dynamic Give and Take,” NY Times, 12/2/08

We urge Mayor Michael Bloomberg to give preservation more weight in city planning. The next landmarks chairman should come from preservation circles. The commissioners need more independence and authority. There needs to be better communication with the Buildings Department to prevent the confusion that has sometimes resulted in the destruction of a building slated for landmark consideration. ... Landmark decisions should be made expeditiously and transparently with a clear public record of the commission’s decision-making. "Improving the Landmarks Process," NY Times editorial, 12/6/08

New York State Supreme Court decision, Justice Marilyn Schafer, ordering the Landmarks Commission to "promulgate procedures whereby: (1) all RFE’s are submitted to the RFE Committee within 120 days of receipt thereof; and (2) all Committee’s recommendations, whether positive or negative, be reported, on the record, to the full LPC." Click here for the original petition.

Send letters to:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

The New York Times

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