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Manhattan Gets Preferential Treatment In Landmarks Process, Officials Say

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 10, 2015 1:05pm
 The City Council chambers were packed with people opposing a bill that would set deadlines for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission for the first time in its history.
The City Council chambers were packed with people opposing a bill that would set deadlines for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission for the first time in its history.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

CIVIC CENTER — The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission prioritizes preserving important historic sites in Manhattan over those in Brooklyn and Queens, elected officials and local activists said Wednesday.

The accusations were made at a City Council hearing on two controversial bills targeting the city agency responsible for designating and protecting the city's historic buildings and neighborhoods.

One bill would establish deadlines for the agency, which it has not had in its 50-year existence, and  require the commission to hold hearings on its backlog of nearly 100 buildings and districts that have been lingering for more than five years — many for decades.

Anything not heard within 18 months would be cut from the list for at least five years.

The second bill would require the agency to create a public database of all of the potential landmark sites in the city, including ones they've been asked by the public to review but have not officially committed to considering yet.

Aside from the logjam, local politicians and activists used the hearing to say that the commission was not only slow, but uneven in its landmarking process.

"I feel like things move a lot quicker in Manhattan than in Ridgewood, Queens, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn," said City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, whose district encompasses both of those neighborhoods. He has spent eight years working to get landmarks protections for parts of his district, he said. 

"Is one to assume that there is less history in south Brooklyn?" said Councilman Mark Treyger, who was frustrated by the process of protecting parts of his turf.

And Harlem historian Michael Henry Adams railed against "all those affluent white neighborhoods that are protected while ours are not."

Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he counted 26 items that had been on the LPC's list since 1966.

"Many people involved in those discussions have long moved on from those neighborhoods — or, unfortunately, have moved on from this world," Greenfield said.

The committee heard more than five hours of testimony from stakeholders ranging from local organizers to union bosses and lobbyists to the Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan.

The LPC already has a plan to address their backlog, with public meetings scheduled in October and November, and a deadline for decisions by December 2016.

The commission doesn't want deadlines imposed by the City Council. Srinivasan's primary request was to allow her agency to set its own rules through the city's formal rules-making process.

Greenfield said Srinivasan was taking the same "position" as the de Blasio administration, "which is the position they always take, which is that the Council should not do its job of legislating."

Srinivasan also wanted to make exceptions when appropriate, and for slightly longer timelines for certain things, like historic districts, to allow for rare instances that will require more consideration.

Greenfield and the bill's other supporters assured her they would incorporate her feedback into changes to the bill. The council did not vote on the bills on Wednesday, and a vote date has not yet been set.