BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Two-dozen community and neighborhood organizations from around the city rallied on March 7, calling for reforms to insulate the Landmarks Preservation Commission from what they called the excessive influence of the real estate industry.
In addition to speakers from community groups, others giving remarks included Councilmember Christopher Marte, Assemblymember Grace Lee, former L.P.C. Commissioner Michael Devonshire and former L.P.C. staff member Jeremy Woodhoff.
The rally was held outside 250 Broadway, which includes the offices of New York City councilmembers. The City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions — which was scheduled to meet at the time of the rally — was coincidentally postponed at the last minute.
Speakers, including Lynn Ellsworth, the president of Human-Scale NYC, repeatedly stressed that structural reforms are sorely needed at Landmarks to prevent real estate influence from manipulating the commission’s decisions. A white paper is available at the humanscale.nyc Web site, “Reform Needed at the Landmarks Preservation Commission of NYC.”
Seaport Coalition President Michael Kramer began the rally by stating, “We are all here today with the same ideas… . We all want to defend the integrity of the guardrails that keep our city safe and livable.”
Former L.P.C. staffer Woodhoff told the crowd that “the [Landmarks] commissioners who are supposed to be representatives of the public are being given recommendations that they think are from the professional preservationists staff, but actually are coming directly from the real estate lobby.”
Frampton Tolbert, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, slammed L.P.C. for its flawed process in approving the Howard Hughes tower at 250 Water St.
“[They] conducted a mock practice hearing with the applicant/developer and considered factors outside of their purview, such as financial benefits to the Seaport Museum and 70 units of affordable housing,” he said.
Tolbert said, the oversight hearing on the agency — which was supposed to be held March 7 — absolutely must be held.
David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Alliance added, sadly, that “most of the proposals for landmarking at the L.P.C. do not get past the [chairperson’s] desk.”
Last month Mayor Adams reshuffled Landmarks by appointing several new commissioners.
Former L.P.C. Commissioner Devonshire said, “As you know, I’ve been booted from the commission,” noting he and other L.P.C. commissioners removed by Adams were told they were “the naysayers.”
“Another preservationist said to me that they booted three lions and replaced them with three lambs,” he noted. “REBNY [Real Estate Board of New York] has power but it has nothing to do with the commissioners — it has to do with the [Adams] administration and with the way that the Landmarks Law was written. That’s what needs to be changed… . Because of the victory at 250 Water St., that is what precipitated the removal of all of the sitting commissioners. … Wait until you see what this mayor puts in its place.”
The crowd applauded Devonshire’s mention of the big 250 Water St. win, in which a State Supreme Court justice, accusing L.P.C. of “violating its mandate,” slapped a stop-work order on the embattled Seaport-area construction project.
“No,” he warned. “Wait until you see what this mayor puts in place.”
Devonshire predicted that Adams will wipe the L.P.C. slate clean and appoint all new commissioners — the assumption being they will be pro-development.
Councilmember Christopher Marte also said, “There should be a full new board” at Landmarks, and that its current chairperson, Sarah Carroll, should resign. However, the councilmember called for reconfiguring the commission so that it’s no longer a rubber stamp for developers.
“We’re here to say, ‘Enough is enough!'” Marte said. “We have shown people in New York that we can win, that we’re willing to fight. … This is just a wake-up call to L.P.C., that we’re not stopping the fight now just because of a few victories… . We’re going to keep fighting until we have a completely new board. And we’re calling on our mayor and this administration to listen to the people of New York, to get a L.P.C. that represents our community, and that’s willing to keep developers accountable.”
Attendees at the rally included the Historic Districts Council, Save Our Seaport, Seaport Coalition, Humanscale NYC, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Soho Alliance, Berry Street Alliance, Stop Sunnyside Yards, CUEUP, Preserve our Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Metro Area Governors Island Coalition, Society for Clinton Hill, Fort Greene Association, Broadway Residents Coalition, Moving Forward Unidos, Inwood Preservation, Youth Alliance for Housing, Anti-displacement NYC, Citizens for Responsible Neighborhood Planning of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, Lower East Side Dwellers and Save America’s Clocks.