Intro to give Council power to force landmark hearings

Hearing held on proposal to compel designation hearings. On November 14, 2005, the Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses held a public hearing on a proposed Local Law which would allow the Council to order the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold a public hearing on a proposed landmark designation. The proposal, sponsored by Council Member Bill Perkins, would add two new provisions to the landmarks law. Under the first, the Council, by a majority vote, could force Landmarks to hold a public hearing on a proposed landmark designation within 60 days of its vote. The second amendment would direct Landmarks to calendar a public hearing within 60 days of receiving notice that the state’s Historic Preservation Office identified a property as eligible for the state register.

Council claimed that the changes were in response to increased community complaints that Landmarks’ existing designation process was not “sufficiently transparent,” a claim related to failed attempts to force hearings on Two Columbus Circle and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Harlem. Opening the hearing, Perkins stated that he hoped the legislation would shed some light on how Landmarks operates.

Landmarks’ General Counsel Mark A. Silberman opined that the proposal may be beyond the Council’s powers under the Charter since its implementation would have a specific effect on a building rather than a general effect. He then questioned the feasibility of holding a hearing in the short 60-day time frame while still meeting the requirement to research every property and meet with all impacted owners, especially if the law intended to encompass historic districts. Silberman cautioned the marriage between the City’s landmarks law and the state’s process, arguing that it could undermine both laws while also greatly increasing City expenditures since the calendaring of a landmark triggered legal requirements for Landmarks and Buildings. Overall, Landmarks viewed the law as significantly impinging its ability to meet its goals.

The Municipal Art Society’s Amanda Hiller testified that the bill could have a seriously damaging effect on historic preservation in the city by diverting Landmarks’ resources and limiting its ability to carry out its duties. MAS called intertwining the state process with Landmarks “ill-conceived” and noted that the law contains no limits on the number of buildings and provides no criteria for buildings that Landmarks must hear. Roger P. Lang of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council expressed support for the intent of the legislation, but opposed the state’s involvement and suggested limiting the number of hearings Council could request annually.

Strong support for the proposal came from groups such as Landmarks West!, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and the Harlem Preservation Foundation, which spoke of needed transparency.

The hearing was closed without a vote, with Perkins promising to include suggestions within the legislation.

Council: Intro. No. 705-2005 (November 14, 2005).

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