Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sunnyside Landmarking Debate


More on the Sunnyside Gardens landmarking fight from Thomas Cogan's December 10th article in the Queens Gazette:

Just after Thanksgiving, officials of the Landmarks Preservation Commission led a meeting at the Sunnyside Senior Center suggesting that landmark status for Sunnyside Gardens was a near-certainty, and could perhaps be in effect before springtime. There were a few voices among the attendees who said that though they were Gardens residents and vitally concerned with preserving the neighborhood's integrity, they were against landmark status because it would encode bureaucratic restrictions that would hinder residents' attempts at home improvement. They did not carry that meeting, but at the Board 2 meeting, held also at Sunnyside Senior Center, they restated their objections - though not without eliciting replies from landmark proponents and drawing a "Boo!" or two.

At the November meeting, 47th Street resident Michael Meola said that trying to preserve a perfect mid-1920s atmosphere was foolish, and said so again at the Board 2 meeting. Meola, a resident of the Gardens for the past two years, said the alterations he made on his home were carefully thought out and executed. He said he sought the opinion of John Young of the Department of City Planning in Queens and eventually got a letter from Young expressing approval of the work that had been done.

But Laura Heim, an architect and Sunnyside Gardens resident, said that current restrictions, if they could be called that, do nothing to prevent questionable construction in the Gardens. Deck building, for instance, should require a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, but decks have been built there without it, she said. She was dismissive of City Planning's actions in the matter. Her husband told Meola in front of the meeting that his renovations violate the spirit of Sunnyside Gardens.

But a man from 48th Street, who said his house is paid off, expressed contempt for LPC officials who would try to tell him how he should repair it. He added that the LPC was "just another city agency, and how do any of them merit our trust?" Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley brought the debate to a close by saying that the Sunnyside Gardens landmark issue is obviously fervent, and would be taken up again at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, when not only officials from LPC but City Planning and the Department of Buildings also, would conduct a meeting - at Sunnyside Senior Center, of course.

30 comments:

verdi said...

A N.Y.C. Landmark Designation is the best way to protect the value of your home. We've all seen enough tear-downs of fine homes replaced with "monstrosities". These leave an ugly hole in the appearance of our neighborhoods and, if enough materialize, they can actually de-value your block! Do you want a "hole" in your neighborhood? Would you leave home with a gaping hole in the back of your clothes? No! I certainly wouldn't! Does a perspective home buyer look at this "hole" and pass up your house for another in a more intact beautiful neighborhood? Usually! Any agent will tell you that "curb appeal" accounts for 90% when it comes to real estate! We are seeking the same (Municipal Landmark District Status) for our neighborhood, Broadway-Flushing, after our listing as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, which now is complete. It has been proven over and over (and don't let any malcontents, land- developers or ignorant nay-sayers tell you otherwise) that City Historic Districts recieve better delivery of city services, (i.e. improved schools, transportation, police protection, sanitation etc.) with better re-sale values for your home! The best homes throughout the city are located in historic districts and are in high demand! The restrictions placeed upon your property are not as stringent as you may be led to think and are worth the trouble in the long run. The Landmarks Preservation Commission actually provides enough flexibility and works with each and every homeowner. They provide valueable resources and guide you through any alterations or additions that you may be planning for your home. It's like getting an expensive architectural consultant for free. I believe, that there are also tax abatements for Landmarked homes. So there's little to lose and plenty to gain. Don't let a few of those "strident voices" at various local meetings scare you or try to convince you that Landmarking is bad for you! They, probably, harbor some hidden agendas. Listen instead to the people who have benefited from owning a Landmarked home.

Anonymous said...

Verdi and fellow presevationists, just stop your pro-landmarking arguments! Everyone knows them at this point: you just have to talk to someone who lives in those districts to find out the truth.

We also know by now, that it's something the local press refuses to do. The public is knowingly and maliciously misled by their leadership (media and politicians) through the spread of rumors and innuendo. When you have monopolized power and information for so long you grow fearful when people within a community take just a little power into their hands.

Well, no longer! From now on, when something like this is printed, it will be critiqued by bloggers in Queens Crap.

I am certainly glad the newspapers are writing these pieces. Every time they do, they will add another inch to the ‘credibility gap’ between themselves and the public.

Phil said...

Sunnyside Gardens is likely to be designated sometime this year for landmark status, an issue which can still cause debate any time it is brought up in western Queens.

Lets reopen the issue and create the climate that it is ‘controversial.’ Of course, decking the Sunnyside Yards next door and bringing in 10,000s of people is reported as a good thing and a done deal in another issue of this same paper.

Phil said...

At a recent Community Board 2 meeting … Alex Meiklejohn … encouraged the board to allow further discussion of the matter because he perceives there to be substantial opposition toward landmarking in Sunnyside Gardens. “I would like to think there is a better way to accomplish this goal.”

Well, yes, that man would have that opinion considering his wife did the Hunter College study slamming landmarking and (should I whisper this?) got paid for it. Details! Details!

Phil said...

Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley agrees with Meiklejohn about the idea of continuing discussion in future meetings and being able to resolve the matter… “Lets talk again about the myths and facts,” he said.

Oh, Mr. ‘politically appointed’ Conley, must we say that? You do not help your case by talking about facts and landmarking, nor do you intend to skew the information so that ‘facts’ become ‘damned lies.’ BTW, don’t you have some involvement in real estate? Oh sorry, that’s for another thread.

Phil said...

“The main dilemma some local residents have against landmarking is the concern of a spur of unwanted gentrification … which would force homeowners to get the … commissions approval for any future changes to building exteriors.”

Well, I do not recall this coming up in my many conversations with residents, but perhaps its not them, but the machine that has the concern with a gentrification (what ever that means) might bring in a new sense of community. Perhaps once tasted, this new found freedom that the community has on its future will engender further demands for more quality of life issues. And for the machine, used to providing chickens in pots, this is a problem. Besides, once you give community empowerment an inch, and God knows what they will do with it.

phil said...

John Gard, a long time Sunnyside Gardens resident, joked at how he fortunately bought his house before it became a landmark. He emphasized his love for living in the neighborhood for so many years and that he strongly opposed the designation.”

Lets target the older residents and tell them that they will be hurt by this. This reminds me of many conversations with other long term residents in Old Astoria Village who always tell people (1) they love their homes, (2) they had to sell out when they got old and their kids did not want it, and (3) it’s a shame their 160 mansion got torn down for Fedders crap.

phil said...

Another Sunnyside Garden resident spoke on how the hostility around landmarking should be dealt in a more “democratic process,” so the board can move on in dealing with more serious issues. The resident maintained that heavy focus on the issue is divisive”

Yes, it's not important that a community is making baby steps toward empowerment. ‘Big Daddy’ wants you to focus on the important things like rubber stamping the big development programs and endless list of headline grabbing programs (that get funded for only a few months) that he wants to give you (as the quality of life in the rest of Queens continues to decline around you).

phil said...

“[Another resident] spoke on the importance of allowing everyone in the diverse community to become aware of the issue “If our goal is preservation then we should translate in multiple languages.

One of Mieklejohn’s mania: immigrants, immigrants, immigrants. Is the city doing racial steering towards Queens, or is the machine concerned, as in Hunters Point, that big wealthy development could change the ethnic racial composition of the community making life for them more difficult?

phil said...

Once word got out to the community about this consideration, many neighbors became skeptical. Most residents feared that designation might cause economic and ethnic diversity to be threatened.

The Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance has discussed this with the community over many months. It has hundreds of members. It has spear headed this effort.

Of course, that is not important. Only the opinion of a politically connected newspaper is important.

Oh and waving the bloody shirt on diversity? You got that right, its Mickeljohn again (who is on record as insulting a local block that has working class people and immigrants and who when challenged to move there, refused saying she is quite happy with the (middle class and less immigrant) Gardens thank you.)

BTW, she has a long standing challenge (that she has dodged to date) to debate on why she believes immigrants are unworthy of landmark communities.

phil said...

There were a few voices among the attendees who said that though they were Gardens residents and vitally concerned with preserving the neighborhood's integrity, they were against landmark status because it would encode bureaucratic restrictions that would hinder residents' attempts at home improvement. They did not carry that meeting, but at the Board 2 meeting, held also at Sunnyside Senior Center, they restated their objections - though not without eliciting replies from landmark proponents and drawing a "Boo!" or two.

Translation: Most of the people talked among themselves and discovered the truth: landmarking restores collective control to the residents of a community and enhances property values, but it does not stop us from trying to sew dissention and misinformation in their ranks.

phil said...

At the November meeting, 47th Street resident Michael Meola said that trying to preserve a perfect mid-1920s atmosphere was foolish, and said so again at the Board 2 meeting. Meola, a resident of the Gardens for the past two years, said the alterations he made on his home were carefully thought out and executed. He said he sought the opinion of John Young of the Department of City Planning in Queens and eventually got a letter from Young expressing approval of the work that had been done.

Oh, I feel so much better. They got John Young to ok things. Maybe they will write a paper to fight a war with no army and get Don Rumsfeld to ok that to!

‘Carefully thought out?’ I am not sure what that means, but there are plenty of examples of things ‘carefully thought out’ in history: invading Russia, the New Coke, the Edsel, well, I guess you get the picture.

phil said...

But Laura Heim, an architect and Sunnyside Gardens resident, said that current restrictions, if they could be called that, do nothing to prevent questionable construction in the Gardens. Deck building, for instance, should require a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, but decks have been built there without it, she said. She was dismissive of City Planning's actions in the matter. Her husband told Meola in front of the meeting that his renovations violate the spirit of Sunnyside Gardens.

Now, to insure this is fair and balanced (where did I hear that before?) we have the opposing view presented. The fact that this woman has worked for Byer Blinder Bell and has an impressive resume (but is for landmarking) should put her on equal footing with a local that has no experience (but is against landmarking). Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the Queens press.

phil said...

But a man from 48th Street, who said his house is paid off, expressed contempt for LPC officials who would try to tell him how he should repair it. He added that the LPC was "just another city agency, and how do any of them merit our trust?"

Good question. Let’s see if this paper remembers this point the next time they breathlessly report on the latest outrage from city planning – like shoe horning a Co-op City and a Stuyvesant Town next door to the Gardens.

phil said...

Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley brought the debate to a close by saying that the Sunnyside Gardens landmark issue is obviously fervent, and would be taken up again at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, when not only officials from LPC but City Planning and the Department of Buildings also, would conduct a meeting - at Sunnyside Senior Center, of course.

Oh great, now that we have created controversy through a climate of misinformation, lets see if we can take this a step further. Lets bring in the handmaidens of the developers and see if we can push this off the edge. Let the LPC people see there is controversy so they can back off, (it doesn’t take much for them to get the hint when it comes to Queens) and spend more time to ‘study’ the issue, and ‘study’ the issue and … does Richmond Hill ring a bell, (oh sorry, that’s for another thread.)

Anonymous said...

The landmarking issue has been talked about for years! Why is there NOW a sudden need for "discussion?" I guess people have ignored the meetings, letters, tables at street fairs, etc. What else do they want? If they can't get their act together to organize for their position (a legal right), why should we wait for them?

Meola's attitude about preserving a 1920s community is fooling. Has he not seen Brooklyn Heights, where they have preserved a 19th Century community? Has he seen the beautiful Federal houses in the North Heights? Has he seen Society Hill in Philly? If people can preserve such old buildings, then those of SG should be a snap.

Anonymous said...

Except that you are dealing with Queens, and if people in eastern Queens downzone (where all the boro hall people live) while those in western Queens are told that development is great, how in the hell are Queensites going to hear about Brooklyn Heights?

Oh I know, the preservation community based in Manhattan will tell them.

Yea, right.

Anonymous said...

I stand with Verdi! This makes a lot of sense!

Anonymous said...

What's the alternative to demanding the one and only "genuine" best home protection that you can get which is "blue chip" LPC Landmark Designation? A ton of newly constructed Queens Crap surrounding you! And please don't try to sell me on the"down-zoning" option (by itself ) as a substitute to save my "hood" or ensure that my "quality of life" will be there tomorrow! Nobody's trying to live in the past. We're only all trying to keep all that beauty from passing away!

Anonymous said...

Look, guys, the point is that everyone knows these points (although until recently we could not get a cogent argument from the preservation community on why landmarking is good (thanks again, guys! I see my dues to the city wide organizations are being put to good use)

But the point here is institutionalized misinformation. No matter how good your arguments, something must be done to address this Kafkaesque environment in Queens.

This thread also outlines another problem in the preservation community, the desire to be goody goody. How much of this thread is from the Gardens? If 100s are for it, where are they? Do they expect others to do their battles, then once they are landmarked, like Jackson Heights and Douglaston they will say 'thank you' and disappear?

Anonymous said...

Well, perhaps the prevoius poster was a bit too harsh, even for the gentle standards of this board, because the folks from LIC and Douglaston and Jackson Heights and other areas that are landmarked will give active support in meetings and in the press, right? Come to think of it, perhaps a few letters to papers on the topic can't hurt now, can it?

Its nothin' like listen' to someone whose already there!

Anonymous said...

Wow, filled up with "Phil" a full "baker's dozen"! Somebody's got a "rant" in his pants!

Susan Meiklejohn said...

I just would like to clarify a few points here.

I am a preservationist -- with over ten years experience as a professional historic preservation planner in both the private and public sectors (before I went back to school to get my doctorate).

The report that purportedly "slams" landmarking was actually part of a much larger project I took on with my students (for free -- I am not paid for any of my planning efforts -- and this one took probably several hundred hours of my time) looking for ways to comprehensively address a variety needs of Sunnyside's very diverse residents. The preservation aspect of the plan is a very small part of it.

Anyone can download the plan by going to Hunter College's Department of Urban Planning website (www.hunter.cuny.edu).

I have never sought to undermine neighborhood preservation -- the report addresses preservation alternatives including enhancing current controls and/or seeking federal "Cultural Landscape" status.

I can't imagine what someone was referring to when writing I "insulted a local block that has working class people and immigrants...."

My primary concern about City landmarking is that:

1. it has not been a very democratic process and that we need to discuss what needs to be preserved and how to do it as a community -- on the local level.

2. City Landmark status may pose particular costs for working class and immigrant residents.

3. Rescinding the Special District may make it far easier to overdevelop -- particularly on what is now open space (think about the lot on 48th Street -- City Landmarking would have NO jurisdiction over that unless a developer was adding on to existing buildings. Zoning law is far more consistent and has more teeth than decisions by the Landmarks Commission.

Anonymous said...

Oh Susan, everyone in the community heard about your derogatory comments on that block with immigrants. We are still waiting to hear you debate that lady from that block who challenged your somewhat curious views.

And speaking of ducking the consequence of your actions, instead of sending in your husband to masquerade as an independent resident, perhaps you should have showed up yourself at that community board meeting.

What are you afraid of? For one person the doors open wide and the time given you at public forums is generous.

And finally (for now), you are certainly aware that when you gave your reports in different communities, the residents always ask you about little things like schools and the like. I guess, as an educator, students are important as little soldiers for your studies. How about a comment on all those kids that do not have desks now that you encouraged the massive over zoning of Dutch Kills? I guess they will just have to suffer? After all, they are just students of immigrants and working class parents.

Lets hear from you neighbors in the Gardens, where we understand, your views are very popular, too.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, I'm not up to date on this. Isn't Jennifer Raab (former chair of the LPC under Giulliani) the current president of Hunter College? The same place that "this study" is housed? Raab, in my opinion (I'm also a preservationist with credentials ) was one of the worst chairs that LPC ever had! She was strictly a mayoral "go-fer" ! I'm getting a little tired of PHDs waving their documents of expertise, in the air, particularly when it comes to what constitutes "hardship" for the working classes of our city! This Hunter College "connection" is all too '"highly suspect" for me! Hunter is not well known for their role in offering a strong curriculum in the disciplines of historic preservation as is Columbia or NYU. A footnote: The latter 2 institutions of learning, however, have unfortunately destroyed some Landmark worthy architecture in their quest for expansion!

Anonymous said...

In telling us she is not getting paid while working on these studies certainly confuses us. Isn't Prof. Mieckeljohn getting paid as an employee of Hunter College while those of us that are fighting for the Gardens doing this for free?

Why is she misleading the public, yet again?

Why is she getting all this attention from our Community Board and the local papers? We have been working on this project, at this point, for years.

How can one person, who is trying to undermine the efforts of an entire community, get any credibility?

Anonymous said...

In the exacting field of academic research, anyone who conducts a study (even on their own time gratis) and publishes it for a university while and where they are a PAID EMPLOYEE might be considered a "flawed study" which may contain prejudiced viewpoints or "opinions" that cannot be properly scientifically evaluated! Such a research project would be questioned and open to far too much criticism to be considered as truly independent in the world of Academia!

Anonymous said...

Why is she getting all this attention and the wishes of the community twisted if not down right ignored?

That is a no brainer. She is for development.

Next question.

Anonymous said...

Hey.... Doctor S......have you got any more of your real estate & building industry promoted studies to shove in the faces of the majority of those who want an LPC historic district here in Sunnyside Gardens? I'm sure that Hunter College has plenty to provide. After all, it's "The"urban planning studies mecca of NYC. And urban planning studies are always used to make the cases that approve of and preceed overdevelopment. Statisticts never lie but liars, often, use statistics!

Anonymous said...

Again --

I am not pro-development at all -- my research tends focuses on racism and discrimination. My community level work (completed with my students) is participatory in nature, and tends to focus on the economic and social needs of poorer residents. I have worked on the neighborhood level for almost thirty years and began my career as an anti-redlining community organizer.

So what are these anti-immigrant statements I am accused of?!

I am using my name here and all my credentials are on line (including my full resume).

It is amazing that these anonymous comments are so misleading!

Please feel free to write me yourselves if you have questions or comments --all my information is posted on the Hunter website.