By Madina Toure
Although the City Council passed a bill introduced by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) imposing timelines on the designation of landmarks and historic districts, historic preservationists and some Council members say the bill could hurt the character of the city’s historic districts and properties.
The bill, which passed the City Council June 8 by a vote of 40-10, was introduced last year on the 50th anniversary of the city Landmarks Law. Nearly 100 properties remained on the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendar for as long as the law existed.
The vote was moved up to June 8 from June 9, which Koo said took him by surprise.
“We should have a timeline for landmarking: either landmark or don’t landmark it,” he said. “My bill is very straightforward, it’s only one page long.”
The original bill set a one-year deadline for the LPC to designate individual landmarks and two years for historic districts as well as to bar properties from reconsideration if the deadline was not met.
But following a full-day public hearing seeking input from the community and the LPC, Koo and Greenfield revisited the timelines to allow for greater flexibility and extensions. They also decided to ax the moratorium against recalendaring, or putting properties on the calendar again.
Borough Council members who voted in favor of the bill were Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst), Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) did not vote for medical reasons.
Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the only Queens Council member to vote against the legislation, said the creation of the Jackson Heights Historic District took more than the two-year deadline set by the bill.
He said the bill had a rushed vote, calling the process “troublesome and worrisome.”
“We’ve seen in Jackson Heights an attempt to build on top of the existing one-story buildings on 37th Avenue,” he said.
Flushing resident Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant, said the bill came directly from the Real Estate Board of New York to weaken the landmarks law.
Graziano said the bill originated out of a series of about 20 bills pertaining to landmarking, zoning, planning and building about five years ago.
The bills were heard but they did not go anywhere because the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg “was dead opposed to them and the Council was much more split on them,” he said.
At a hearing last October, Graziano said “hundreds and hundreds of people” spoke out against the bill.
The preservation community had asked for a three-year deadline but he said it was ignored. He also said the LPC is overburdened and understaffed and that Council members have a de facto veto over a landmark bill, which Koo said is impossible given City Council term limits.
Graziano was especially bothered by the fact that for an individual landmark, if the designation is not done in a year, they can extend the calendaring for one year but only with the consent of the owner.
“You have the introduction of owner consent into the language and while it is only for an extension of the calendaring process, I fear that this will be brought up in the future that owner consent must be used in other parts of the landmarks process,” he said.
Historic preservationist Jeffrey Kroessler, who lives in Sunnyside Gardens, said Mayor de Blasio and his City Council allies are supporting real estate interests.
“The Bloomberg people, his City Planning Department worked with neighborhoods to get contextual zoning,” Kroessler said. “This administration is working to overturn it. So who’s working for the people?”
John Banks, III, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, credited civic, labor, clergy and community leaders such as the NAACP, the Rent Stabilization Association, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing and Building Trades Employers Association for calling for a “smart and sensible way” to help property owners know what to expect and ensure future backlogs are avoided.
“We want to thank the New York City Council for adopting legislation that will create reasonable timelines for the process of designating new landmarks,” Banks said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour