Volume 78 - Number 49 / May 13 - 19 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


On notification and designation

On Tuesday night, Landmarks Preservation Com-mission officials were giving an information meeting to hear concerns of property owners in what L.P.C. is calling an extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

However, to the preservationists and advocates who have been pushing for this area’s designation, it’s not an extension but a district in its own right — the South Village Historic District. Although a larger district was initially proposed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, L.P.C. is starting with one-third of the study area — likely bounded by roughly Sixth Ave., W. Houston St., Hudson St., Leroy St., Seventh Ave. South and West Fourth St. This area features the beautiful Our Lady of Pompei Church and Father Demo Square.

This district is indeed distinct from Greenwich Village and, in fact, unique as a potential historic district, because of its rich Italian-immigrant history, tenement buildings and historically working-class character. To lump it in with the Greenwich Village district seemingly would make it less likely that the other two-thirds of the proposed district — east of Sixth Ave. and south of Washington Square Park — would ever achieve landmark status.

There’s also the issue of notification of property owners. By law, L.P.C. only has to give five business days’ notice that it has scheduled a vote on whether to calendar a hearing on a potential historic district. Afterward, there is a 40-day stay on issuing building permits during which L.P.C. can block any building alterations. But in recent years under its chairperson, Robert Tierney, Landmarks has given landlords notice well in advance of this mandated period — in some cases weeks, even months.

Of course, property owners have rights. But this particular historic district designation has been in the works since 2002 when G.V.S.H.P. first proposed it. Two years ago, the society presented Landmarks with a detailed report on all the buildings in the proposed district. The Villager has frequently written articles on the effort. In short, this landmarking really should not be taking anyone by surprise.

The worry is that so-called “bad actor” landlords will, once formally apprised of the pending designation, move to demolish or significantly alter their buildings.

Last week, at a radio-show taping on the topic of preserving neighborhoods at WNYC’s new Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on Varick St., hosted by Rosie Perez, Tierney was a panelist. A Village resident in the audience, saying she was concerned about demolitions in the South Village before its landmarking, asked Tierney for reassurance. Tierney said Landmarks will “do everything we can” to prevent demolitions from happening. “There are relativity few” cases where it is a possibility, “but any one is a problem,” he said. That doesn’t exactly sound like a rock-solid guarantee, however.

A few weeks earlier, Tierney told The Villager, “It’s important for the commission to build strong productive partnerships with the owners of these historic buildings and to encourage community participation in government actions. It’s bad government and worse, bad judgment, to take an action concerning hundreds of buildings without notifying the people who own them.”

Clearly, projects are moving forward, notably N.Y.U.’s rebuilding of most of the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments on MacDougal St., though the iconic theater is being saved. A building at 178 Bleecker St. is also to be razed.

In the end, an appropriate balance between rapid designation and owner notification must be struck. But, above all, we urge Landmarks to move quickly on the South Village.

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