Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Landmarking advocates vs. real estate interests
Major players on both sides of the long-running debate over the future of landmarking in New York City repeatedly butted heads at a forum Tuesday morning, but on one thing they surprisingly agreed: The landmarking process itself is in sore need for reform and improvement.
For decades the city's development community has complained about a range of issues regarding the city Landmarks Preservation Commission's operations, including an extreme lack of certainty about timeframes of the decision-making process—some items have been under consideration for decades—as well as the commission's criteria for either designating a building or a district as historic. But since the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has focused on increased housing development—particularly the affordable variety—that process has come under heightened scrutiny. It comes as the mayor's choice to chair the commission, Meenakshi Srinivan, is about to take over the commission, and perhaps suggest changes of her own.
But other than a common desire to make some fixes to the commission, including possibly paying its volunteer commissioners in order to bring a higher degree of professionalism, the forum was largely dominated by drastically different viewpoints.
Ms. Breen and the Municipal Art Society's Ronda Wist argued that far from hindering the city's economic advancement, landmarking is a plus not just for drawing tourists but also new hi-tech firms. Both noted that older, quirky buildings not modern glass-box office buildings are in high demand from young tech companies and their employees.
On the other side, Mr. Spinola along with Kenneth Jackson, a long-time professor of New York history and social science at Columbia University, as well as Nikolai Fedak, founder and editor of New York YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), argued that landmarking can stifle development and economic growth. Mr. Spinola also noted a recent REBNY-commissioned study that concluded that aggressive landmarking was hurting housing development. Among other things, that report found that in the last decade in Manhattan a total of just five units of affordable housing had been constructed in landmarked districts.