Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Landmarks chief tells Chamber, ‘Can’t freeze built environment’

By Albert Amateau

Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson Robert Tierney told the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce that he sees the Village as “the epicenter of historic preservation.”

At the chamber’s monthly lunch meeting last month, Tierney spoke about the most recent Village issues before the commission, although he said he had to be “somewhat circumspect” about the St. Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment because it was still pending.

The hospital project proposed for the Greenwich Village Historic District has been on the L.P.C. agenda for the past 16 months, and like all issues before the commission, requires careful consideration, Tierney said.

The Village historic district, the first in the city — established in April 1969, four years after the L.P.C. was created — has 2,500 buildings, and demolition or alteration of any of them must be approved by the commission. Tierney noted that the commission had confirmed on May 12 the demolition of the St. Vincent’s O’Toole building to make way for the new hospital. L.P.C. is now considering whether the residential conversion of the present hospital site is appropriate.

“We cannot freeze the built environment, but it has to change in an appropriate way,” said Tierney. He noted that L.P.C. recently gave final approval to the changes involved in the redesign of Washington Square Park. And he pointed with pride to the designation last year of the West Chelsea Historic District with 24 industrial buildings between 25th and 28th Sts. between 10th and 12th Aves.

Tony Juliano, the chamber’s new president, urged Tierney to protect the 19th-century buildings between 333 and 359 W. 29th Sts., known in the 1800s as Lamartine Place, by putting them on the designation hearing calendar. The row of houses were way stations on the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad and are threatened with demolition, Juliano said.

At a meeting of business leaders and property owners, the issue of the burden of landmarks designation was bound to arise. Rocio Sanz, who runs Tio Pepe restaurant on W. Fourth St. with her husband, Jimmy, and owns several buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District, said the cost of repairing a historic-district building is four times that for ordinary buildings. She also said it took her a year and a half to get L.P.C. approval for replacing windows.

The proposal to extend the Village historic district into the South Village would put more pressure on landlords, she added.

Tierney said the length of time for the windows approval was unusual and that he would look into it. He added that L.P.C. staff tries to find ways for landlords to make appropriate changes as low cost as possible, but the commission cannot give financial assistance or loans to repair landmark properties. But Tierney said he believes there should be more tax benefits at the city and state levels for repairing designated historic buildings. He noted that the nonprofit Landmarks Conservancy has loan programs for landlords.

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