By Mark Hallum
As Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan plans her departure from the city agency, organizations are hoping for a better outlook for the future of historic places.
Srinivasan announced her resignation April 19 following the recent citywide backlash over a proposed rule change within the agency to remove public input from decisions regarding approval of work on designated property.
“I am honored to have served as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the past four years and to have had the opportunity to serve the city for the past 28 years. I am proud of what we have accomplished — promoting equity, diversity, efficiency and transparency in all aspects of LPC’s work, and working with the administration to make preservation a critical part of the city’s planning process,” Srinivasan said.
Loycent Gordon has been attempting to have his business, Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, designated for years to no avail despite widespread political and community support.
“Until a person truly from the ‘outer boroughs’ who understands our plight becomes the chair, our periodic efforts momentarily ‘coming up for air’ every other year to fight for landmark recognition will go down as another statistic of the oligarchy of the Manhattan-centric system,” Gordon said. “How else can you explain Queens County being five times larger than Manhattan but has one-fourth of the landmarks compared to Manhattan.”
Built in the 1820s at 87-48 78th St., Neir’s represents what little remains of the Union Race Course, which was Woodhaven’s main attraction at the time. The tavern was adjacent to the track.
The LPC decided in May 2016 that the establishment, which was used for a scene in the Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas,” did not have the significance needed to warrant landmark status.
Queens has 80 individual landmarks, 4 interior landmarks and 12 Historic Districts recognized by the LPC. But a map from the agency shows massive concentrations of protected sites in Manhattan compared to a sparse scattering of spots in Queens.
Members of the Historic District Council, an organization which advocates for preservation, have been vocally opposed to the de Blasio administration’s stance on landmarking which they believe only serves the interests of developers as opposed to honoring the city’s past.
Srinivasan said her last day will be June 1 and she will spend the upcoming weeks working with her staff during the transition.
She was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 to oversee the city organization, which protects 36,000 architecturally, historically, and culturally important sites. Before her tenure at the LPC, Srinivasan was chair of the Board of Standards and Appeals under the Bloomberg administration.
“Meenakshi Srinivasan is a talented, dogged public servant and a leader with know-how, and she’s proved that time and again,” de Blasio said. “At the helm of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, she’s slicing through decades of regulatory red tape and modernized the commission. We congratulate her and thank her for the important reforms she instituted, and we wish her well in her future pursuits.”
Srinivasan faced intense backlash over the last two months with preservation groups and activists calling for her resignation in March over the proposed rule changes.
Community boards, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer joined the effort to pressure the LPC to reverse its course on a rule change that went along with others designed to “increase transparency.”
Community Board 11 voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to oppose new rules at its April meeting, joining others such as the Municipal Art Society, Historic District Council, The City Club, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and others.
Johnson issued a letter to Srinivasan praising the agency’s efforts to bring changes to comply with other potential needs, such as barrier-free access, energy codes, and resiliency mandates, but asking the city agency to back down from the this particular rule change.
Srinivasan will be going to the private sector and candidates to succeed Srinivasan have not been named.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall