Volume 75, Number 14 | August 24 - 30, 2005

Perkins bill to let Council calendar landmark reviews

By Albert Amateau

City Councilmember Bill Perkins last week introduced a bill to require the Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar landmarks designation hearings on individual building or historic districts declared eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places.

The bill, Intro 705, was hailed by East Village Community Coalition members, who last February won a declaration of eligibility for the state register for P.S. 64, the embattled 100-year old school building and former home of the CHARAS/El Bohio cultural center on E. Ninth St.

“It’s a very important bill that could win us a designation hearing if passed in a timely manner,” said Roland Legardi-Laura, an E.V.C.C. member who helped research the history of the property, which the owner, Gregg Singer, is seeking to redevelop.

The bill, introduced Aug. 17, would also allow the City Council, by a majority vote, to require the Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar designation hearings for eligible properties. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is an enthusiastic supporter.

“Our board of directors voted last week to support this new legislation to provide alternate ways to calendar landmarks designation hearings for endangered buildings,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director.

The L.P.C. currently has the sole discretion, often after requests by preservation groups and sometimes owners, to calendar buildings or districts. A spokesperson for L.P.C. said this week that the commission is evaluating Intro 705. But the agency’s negative response to an earlier bill that involves properties eligible for listing on the state register indicates that Intro 705 will not get L.P.C. support.

Perkins, a Democratic primary candidate for Manhattan borough president who represents Central Harlem and heads the Council Governmental Operations Committee, said, “This is a simple bill that says, ‘Let there be a hearing.’ It’s the result of several committee hearings and a report on opportunities to review, reflect and reform 40 years of landmarks preservation. It does not require the L.P.C. to designate the properties.”

An earlier landmarks bill that received a Council airing last week would provide an automatic delay in demolition permits for buildings 50 years and older. That bill also involves eligibility for listing on the state register.

Introduced in February by Councilmember Michael McMahon of Staten Island, Intro 317A has 27 council co-sponsors and the support of more than 70 preservation groups, including the Historic Districts Council, and a qualified endorsement by G.V.S.H.P.

The bill would require the Department of Buildings to notify the Landmarks Preservation Commission when an owner applies for a permit to demolish a 50-year-old building. Within 15 days, L.P.C. would have to make a written determination whether the building is significant.

If L.P.C. determines the building is not significant, the Buildings Department may issue the demolition permit. If Landmarks finds the building is significant, L.P.C. would hold a hearing on whether the property should be “preferably preserved.” The bill also provides that any building found eligible for inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places would automatically qualify as significant and become the subject of a “preferable preserved” hearing.

If L.P.C. determines the building should not be “preferably preserved,” D.O.B. may permit demolition. If the property were “preferably preserved,” no demolition would be issued for 12 months unless L.P.C. agrees. At the end of 12 months, if the property has not been calendared for a designation hearing by L.P.C., the Department of Buildings may issue a demolition permit.

Berman said the G.V.S.H.P. support for both bills is conditioned on adequate funding for the Landmarks Commission to perform the additional work required by the bills.

L.P.C. last month said the intent behind Intro 317A was “laudable,” but it would not support the bill as currently written.

The agency has a problem with the bill’s requirement to review buildings eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places. “The Commission consists of a body of experts that is vested with the authority to decide which buildings should be designated New York City landmarks,” said a July 22 response to an inquiry from an H.D.C. member about Intro 317A.

L.P.C. also noted that the legislation would only apply to demolition permits and not “Alt. 1” alteration permits that allow radical changes that could be equivalent to functional demolition. Determining the age of many buildings might also entail a review of thousands of demolition applications, according to L.P.C. The resulting increased workload on the agency was another concern.

Perkins said this week that he recognized that his bill would increase the workload of L.P.C. and indicated that he would call for adequate funding for the agency. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of H.D.C., a prime supporter of Intro 317A, known as the Demolition Delay Bill, also acknowledged that more funding would be needed for the additional work.

Other properties that are not designated city landmarks or districts but are eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places would get a measure of protection from the two bills. The Soho Cast-Iron Historic District listed on the State Register of Historic Places is larger than the city-designated Soho Cast-Iron Historic District.

The city Soho historic district extends between Houston and Canal Sts. from the east side of W. Broadway to the west side of Crosby St., while the state register district extends from the west side of W. Broadway and includes the east side of Crosby St between Broome and Howard Sts.

The Soho district on the state register also includes several buildings that are not in the city district on the south side of Howard St., the east side of Broadway and the north side of Canal St. on the block bounded by Lafayette and Howard Sts., Broadway and Canal St.

In addition, a larger area of the Meatpacking District is eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places than the city Gansevoort Historic District. The entire Chelsea Market, former National Biscuit Co., complex from 16th St. south is eligible for the register but is outside the city district. South of 14th St., buildings between West and Washington Sts. are not in the city Gansevoort district but are eligible for state register listing.

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