Ruling on a lawsuit filed in March against the landmarks commission’s top officials by a preservationist coalition, the judge called the agency’s inaction “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered it to start making timely decisions on every designation request. To allow such proposals “to languish is to defeat the very purpose of the L.P.C. and invite the loss of irreplaceable landmarks,” the judge, Marilyn Shafer, wrote.
An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Status
The city says it will appeal. Still, the ruling was a significant victory for preservationists and politicians across the city who have long accused the commission of lacking the responsiveness and accountability that citizens expect from a watchdog of the city’s architectural history.
A six-month examination of the commission’s operations by The New York Times reveals an overtaxed agency that has taken years to act on some proposed designations, even as soaring development pressures put historic buildings at risk. Its decision-making is often opaque, and its record-keeping on landmark-designation requests is so spotty that staff members are uncertain how many it rejects in a given year.
Defenders and detractors alike agree that, with 16 researchers, the commission does not have the manpower to accede to that demand.
Yet in 2007 Mr. Tierney declined a budget increase of $750,000 approved by the City Council; instead the commission ended up getting an increase of just $50,000 for a total Council allocation of $300,000. (The current budget is $4.7 million.)
Preservationists say the larger issue is the manner in which Requests for Evaluation are handled at the agency. Currently they are funneled through the commission’s staff and Mr. Tierney, a former counsel to Mayor Edward I. Koch, who was appointed in 2003 despite having no background in architecture, planning or historic preservation. (Mr. Tierney, whose second three-year term ends in June 2010, earns an annual city salary of $177,698; the other commissioners are unpaid.)