Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

New historic district could be present in the very near future

By Lincoln Anderson

Putting two new proposed historic districts on track to being designated, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved to calendar a hearing on the proposed Greenwich Village Historic District expansion and proposed Weehawken Street District.

The vote is a major step toward protecting a part of the unlandmarked Far West Village and Greenwich Village waterfront. The addition to the Greenwich Village Historic District would be the first expansion of the district since its creation in 1969.

Though no date has been set, the hearing will probably be held in a couple of weeks, according to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Designation could then follow after that in another few weeks, though L.P.C. might want to schedule a second hearing.

“I would say, realistically, within several weeks we could have these two landmark districts,” Berman said. “And it would be the first-ever expansion of the Greenwich Village Historic District in 36 years — and that’s a long time coming.”

Councilmember Christine Quinn said Landmarks had been considering designating only one of the districts and leaving the other for later; but she lobbied L.P.C. to do both at once, fearing designating only one district would put more intense development pressure on the undesignated area.

“I’m very excited about it, and I’m particularly excited that both areas are being calendared at the same time,” she said. Robert Tierney, Landmarks commissioner, personally wrote Quinn a letter advising her that Landmarks would calendar the two districts simultaneously.

The proposed Weehawken district includes 13 buildings on Weehawken, West and Christopher Streets. The Greenwich Village district extension includes 35 buildings on the three square blocks between Perry, Christopher, Washington and Greenwich Streets.

Calendaring the proposed districts for a hearing already adds a layer of protection: Any alteration or demolition permits submitted to the Department of Buildings will now be given to Landmarks, which has 40 days to change the plans or to designate the property as a landmark.

“It’s far from a guarantee,” said Berman, “but it’s a bit of a safety net.”

In addition, Landmarks added 139 and 143 Charles Street, 689 Washington Street and 177 Christopher Street to the proposal. The society, Quinn, the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and hundreds of Villagers lobbied both to push up the calendaring date and to include these three previously “carved-out” buildings in the proposed historic district.

“We’ve been pushing them to push it up,” said Berman of the calendaring. “We’ve been doing our typical mailing and mass e-mailings to speed up the process. I would say it’s a good victory. The timing was a grave concern to us — and we’ve pushed very hard to get this date pushed up.”

However, not all were ecstatic at developments, notably, Doris Diether, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Landmarks Committee, who was caught off guard by the calendaring. Although G.V.S.H.P. sent out a press release announcing the Tuesday meeting on calendaring, Diether did not get one. Diether has said she feels the entire unlandmarked Far West Village, not just two chunks of it, should be considered as a proposed new historic district. She wanted Tierney to make a presentation of the proposal to her committee first and to the community board before the calendaring. Tierney did present the plan to the board in June, but this was at the C.B. 2 Zoning Committee meeting in conjunction with Commissioner Amanda Burden of City Planning unveiling the Far West Village rezoning plan.

“How can they vote on it unanimously when they never came to the community board?” an incredulous Diether asked. “I have invited him to three different meetings to discuss it,” she said of Tierney. “His secretary kept saying he couldn’t make that meeting, ‘a little bit later.…’ The last call I got was he would come to the meeting in November. If they already calendared it, November is too late. I’m furious!”

However, Berman said, in his understanding, no procedures are being skirted, that L.P.C. has no obligation to present the proposals to community boards before or after calendaring. The L.P.C. hearings are the chance for the public to have input, he said. Berman was backed up by Ed Kirkland, chairperson of the Landmarks Task Force of Community Board 4 and co-chairperson of the Historic Districts Council’s Designation Committee.

“With H.D.C. I’ve done designations all over the city. It’s never a process like ULURP,” Kirkland said, referring to the city’s seven-month-long uniform land-use review procedure, which involves community board review of development plans. “They work with community groups — but they make these decisions on their goddamned own,” Kirkland said of Landmarks.

Berman said C.B. 2 used to have a Landmarks Task Force that talked regularly with L.P.C. at meetings, at which information on the progress of designating new historic districts was shared. But the task force hasn’t meet with L.P.C. for about a year, he noted.

G.V.S.H.P. continues to lobby L.P.C. to consider other immediately endangered sites, such as the Superior Ink building on West Street between Bethune and West 12th Streets and 389 West 12th Street.

Regarding Superior Ink, the Board of Standards and Appeals is to hold a hearing next week on the variance proposed for Related Companies’ planned 195-foot-tall development on the site. The hearing will be Wed., Sept. 28, at 10 a.m., at 40 Rector St., in the B.S.A.’s sixth-floor hearing room.

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