By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — The debate over a proposed historic district that would landmark more than 800 buildings kicked off Tuesday with preservationists lining up against property owners who say the district would deal a crippling financial blow.
Dozens of supporters packed the Landmarks Preservation Commission chamber and an overflow room for the first of three public hearings on the massive historic district, which would run from West 70th Street to West 109th Street along West End Avenue and include side streets and parts of Broadway.
"This diverse collection of buildings tells a resonant story of how the Upper West Side became a what it is today, one of the most appealing, alluring places in the wold," said Kate Wood, executive director of Landmark West!, a preservation group that's pushed to create the historic district.
Borough President Scott Stringer, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, State Senator Tom Duane and other Upper West Side elected officials favor the district.
In a statement read by a member of her staff, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a lifelong Upper West Sider, said she remembered admiring gargoyles and colored masonry on "pretty buildings" along West End Avenue when she was a little girl.
"I want future generations to feel the same sense of wonder and marvel that I had as a child," Rosenthal said.
But critics, including the Real Estate Board of New York, staunchly opposed the plan, saying it will stall development and cost building owners.
If the inclusion in the historic district is approved, all future alterations to buildings in the area would be subject to approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would be charged with deciding whether they fit in with the neighborhood's historic character.
Some property owners said Tuesday following those rules would be too expensive.
"While we support the designation of small areas or individual landmarks here, we are against the broad brush approach taken," said Michael Slattery, senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York. "The extra burdens of maintaining these properties and going through the landmarks permit process fall upon the owners."
Matthew Hoskinson, pastor at First Baptist Church on West 79th and Broadway, added that his congregation unanimously opposes the historic district, because landmarking the church would lower its property value by "tens of millions of dollars."
Hoskinson said including the church in the historic district could create problems down the road if First Baptist wanted to renovate to minister to homeless people, for example.
"We want to be good stewards of what the Lord has given us," Hoskinson said. "We are not a wealthy congregation."
The church, built in 1894, has been on Landmark West's landmark "wish list" for years.
Landmark status has hurt churches in the area before, with the West Park Presbyterian church on the Upper West Side being forced to put the church up for sale after it said the landmarked status made its renovations too expensive.
Tuesday's hearing covered the southern portion of the proposed historic district. Hearings scheduled for June and October will consider the remainder.