Historic preservation is not without controversy. Is it elitist? Does it hasten gentrification? Now, three new studies have looked at the facts.
As city agencies and community members continue to weigh the pros and cons of the East New York rezoning plan, the New York City Department of City Planning earlier this month released the final environmental impact statement, shedding light on the proposal’s potential effects on some of the area’s most landmark-eligible structures.
In a stunning turnaround and victory for preservationists in Brooklyn, the Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday voted to save six of the seven Brooklyn sites on its “backlog” list of 96 sites citywide. Initially, the commission’s new chair, de Blasio appointee Meenakshi Srinivasan, had planned to dump the whole bunch with no public hearings. Many had been on the commission’s calendar for more than 20 years.
Most notably, one of Brooklyn’s oldest structures, the Lady Moody House at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, got the green light for designation. The privately owned and occupied English farmhouse dates from Gravesend’s earliest days.
A young junior architect who grew up in East New York is leading the fight to landmark more than two dozen of the neighborhood’s architectural icons.
Spurred into action by the destruction of the historic East New York Savings Bank and Mayor de Blasio’s controversial rezoning plan, Zulmilena Then founded Preserving East New York (PENY) last year. Now with six members, the fledgling organization has caught the attention of the preservation nonprofit Historic Districts Council, which named East New York one of its 2016 “Six to Celebrate” earlier this month.
Just to be clear, getting the recognition of the Historic Districts Council is like finding out you have a landmarks fairy godmother — HDC’s mission is to help out local groups like PENY, and they’ll work with developers, the Landmarks Commission, and community members to protect spaces that need it.
Brownstoner caught up with the 29-year-old to hear more about her plans to work with the Mayor’s rezoning plan — not against it — to revitalize the area while preserving its historic character.
Residents and preservationists are pushing for landmarking in two previously unprotected neighborhoods, Crown Heights South and East New York.
A highly controversial bill that would regulate the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Intro 775, did not come to a vote Wednesday as expected but rather was “held over in committee,” the City Council website reveals. But the hearing was epic: It went on for six hours and was mobbed, mostly by opponents of the bill.
Opponents said the legislation would “strip the LPC of power to preserve our city’s landmarks,” in the words of one such opponent, preservation nonprofit Landmarks West, in an email Thursday. The LPC itself came out against the legislation during the hearing — an unexpected development.
The Park Slope Civic Council has put out a call for applications for the second annual Evelyn and Everett Ortner Park Slope Preservation Awards, which honor local projects compatible with the neighborhood’s architecture and efforts to preserve the area’s historic character.
Awards will be given in categories such as exterior restoration, adaptive reuse, storefront design and more. All projects must have been completed between January 1, 2010 and September 1, 2015, and applications are due November 2.
The clock is ticking for more than one proposed landmark. A bill setting time limits on how long the Landmarks Preservations Commission can take to consider landmarking a proposed site is coming up for a City Council vote Wednesday, September 9.
The American Institute of Architects, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Municipal Art Society, Historic Districts Council and more than 60 preservation groups recently voiced their opposition to the bill, known as Intro. 775, with memos and letters addressed to the City Council. And today the Times had a story looking at various sides of the issue.
What the Bill’s Backers Want
The review period for a proposed individual landmark could not exceed 360 days. A hearing would be required within 180 days. Historic districts — much more complex — would require a hearing within a year and a decision within two years.
Does historic preservation create “special rich people neighborhoods”? Not according to Brownstoner commenter fiordiligi, who shared his experience in Tuesday’s post about preservation and elitism. We thought his comment had an interesting perspective and is worth a closer look:
Homeowners in landmarked neighborhoods are not by definition “rich.” For example, I own a house in a landmarked neighborhood. I bought it in 1988 when there was almost no market for houses in this area despite the fact that it was landmarked. I bought it because after saving up for a down payment for many years, it was what I could afford; because I thought the neighborhood was beautiful; and because it had decent access to public transportation. I wasn’t rich then, and I’m not now — aside from the fact that the building has appreciated considerably. But I certainly never expected it to do so. And the building’s value means little to me at this point aside from the fact that I couldn’t afford to live in NYC if I hadn’t bought it when I did. And I am just as entitled as rich people to enjoy historic architecture — as are my tenants. My mortgage is paid off, and for me, this house IS affordable housing. Besides, the percentage of landmarked areas in NYC is too small to impact affordable housing in any case; and developers’ efforts to blame landmarking for their own greed in failing to build more affordable housing is nothing but laughable. Did they want to build in landmarked areas before rents and condo prices went through the roof? No, they cared nothing about landmarking. But now, suddenly, landmarking is a villain? Give me a break. Preservation of historic architecture is just as important as preservation of historic artwork — and that’s not an elitist statement. Human life is too short not to enable new generations to learn about, and appreciate, the history of architecture.
Left to right: Panelists Fedak, Powell Harris, Lodhi and Brady
Is historic preservation elitist? It depends who you ask. Six experts and a very well informed audience — many of them professional or grassroots preservationists — convened Monday night at the Museum of the City of New York to ponder the question. Here are the answers:
Sometimes. But the bigger problem is it doesn’t help housing.
Even the two pro-development speakers didn’t exactly argue that preservation is elitist. Nikolai Fedak, founder of pro-development website New York YIMBY (it stands for “yes in my backyard”), blamed zoning restrictions for the affordable housing crisis.
The nut of his argument is that if restrictions were eased, and developers could build higher and more densely throughout New York City, we would have enough units to meet demand, and prices would fall.
Nope. But it should be used sparingly.
Real estate trade association Real Estate Board of New York favors landmarking but in moderation. Only worthy buildings should be designated, said REBNY Vice President for Urban Planning Paimaan Lodhi, who was previously a district manager for a community board in Manhattan.
Irresponsible landmarking — such as of empty lots and gas stations — restricts development, he said. (REBNY has supported recent designations, including Chester Court in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.)