Historic Preservation Bill in NYC Council Needs Your Support



Last Friday, I received the monthly E-Bulletin from the Historic Districts Council, which is run by its fine, industrious executive director, Simeon Bankoff. Part of the email covers efforts in Brooklyn to save an important public school:

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This Tuesday, June 23, the City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will hold a hearing on the School Construction Authority (SCA)‘s plan to demolish historic PS 133 in Park Slope (375 Butler Street at 4th Avenue) to make way for a new, much larger school structure.

Neighbors and local groups such as the Park Slope Civic Council, the Fifth Avenue Committee and Park Slope Neighbors have gathered together to try to save their school building and hold SCA accountable to community concerns. This coalition is advocating for needed additional school seats while retaining their beloved community anchor. Unfortunately, the SCA has not been open to considering this alternative and furthermore, is stone-walling about detected toxic contamination in the ground. The SCA has been rushing forward with this plan, hoping to begin demolition this summer.

The second part of the email, meanwhile, offers a fascinating background on a piece of legislation that is extremely important in terms of New York City historic preservation and the currently legal ways in which landlords and real estate developers can effectively thwart the will of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If you believe in the cause of preservation, take action. Call! Email! Write! Quoting from the email:

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The “Landmarks Protection Bill“, intro 542-a, will also be heard at the same subcommittee hearing. The bill, originally introduced by Council member Rosie Mendez in 2007 in response to the post-designation defacements of PS 64 and the City and Suburban First Avenue Estate, seeks to address the loophole that allows property owners to sit on issued permits in order to avoid landmark designation. Under current law, once Department of Building permits are issued for a project, they remain valid for a set number of years regardless of subsequent landmark designation – resulting in a situation where potentially a fa√ßade could legally be stripped off a landmark building despite the LPC’s best efforts. This is particularly egregious when a permit is granted and then sat on for years, resulting in a kind of dead man’s switch against designation. The bill, as drafted, would automatically cause all current DOB permits which affect the exterior of a building to lapse upon landmark designation, and provides an outlet for appeal with the Board of Standards & Appeals. It also instructs LPC to give written notice of calendarings to DOB (which puts an existing policy into law) and instructs DOB to audit all existing Building permits upon landmark calendaring.

Please come to City Council on Tuesday, June 23 at 11am and show your support of this bill and PS 133. If you can’t make it, please send a message to Chair Jessica Lappin (lappin@council.nyc.ny.us) and Speaker Christine Quinn supporting these efforts.

I should add that while this particular item below is unrelated to the problem being addressed with the proposed legislation above, this is yet another action item that is terribly worrisome. Did the National Guard intentionally neglect this historic property in order to thwart any effort to preserve it? The Historic District Council also sent out an emergency preservation alert on this, read below:

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Dereliction of Duty: National Guard Allows Admiral’s Row to Collapse

The Historic Districts Council was dismayed to learn earlier today about the collapse of one of the NR-eligible properties in Admiral’s Row, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (http://curbed.com/archives/2009/06/19/curbedwire_am_special_collapse_on_admirals_row.php)

We are outraged that the National Guard has allowed this to happen in direct violation of their own policy. Since the beginning of the environmental mitigation process to supervise the transfer of these buildings to the City, HDC has repeatedly and publicly insisted that the buildings be secured against further deterioration http://www.nan.usace.army.mil/business/buslinks/admiral/pdf/aug08/minutes.pdf.

The unwillingness to protect publicly-owned historic properties, in direct opposition to Department of Defense Regulations (http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r200_1.pdf or http://www.achp.gov/army.html), casts serious doubt on the independence of the environmental consulting process and suggests that the fate of these important historic resources was already determined outside of public purview. HDC demands that the National Guard Bureau explain why the mandated measures to protect these buildings were not taken.

Please email the National Guard at AdmiralsRowBNY@usace.army.mil to request that they explain their lack of action in securing these historic structures.

Then again, according to this WNYC story, it would appear demolition was already in the cards. There are great photos of what once was and what could have been once again, but for this, at this site.

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