Due to objection to landmarking by local council member Steven Matteo, the designation of a Dutch Colonial farmhouse on Staten Island was overturned. On March 28, 2017, the Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses convened to vote on the final batch of items designated as part of Landmarks’ Backlog Initiative. At the meeting the Subcommittee voted on three items it had held over from its hearing on February 7, 2017. It had delayed the votes for further consideration due to the opposition to landmarking from the owners of the subject properties.
Local Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez had originally opposed the designation of the former Loew’s 175th Street Theatre at 4140 Broadway in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. At the February meeting, Rodriguez stated that he was still considering the views of community stakeholders, and waiting to see the plans for the property from the owners before deciding how to vote. The former theater, designed by Thomas Lamb, architect of other individually landmarked performance venues, is now operated as a church by United Palace. United Palace and its controlling family, the Eikerenkoetters, strenuously opposed landmarking, while there has been wide community support for the designation.
On March 22nd, Rodriguez announced his endorsement of the designation. He did not attend the March meeting. The Subcommittee followed his lead and voted to uphold Landmarks’ action.
The Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing lies in a district represented by Subcommittee Chair Peter Koo. Representatives of the now Bowne Street Community Church opposed landmarking at the agency level. At the Council level they asked that the designation be limited to the central nave and tower, and not the entire building. At the March meeting, Koo supported the designation, and Subcommittee members followed his recommendation. Koo said of the church that “there is no doubt that is beautiful and historic.” Koo noted that developers sought to acquire the property to construct a new residential building in 2002, citing it as evidence that the church faced the threat of demolition. Koo added that the designation excluded a parking lot and non-original annex that the church could potentially develop to monetize its property.
The Subcommittee voted to overturn the designation of the Lakeman-Cortelyou-Taylor House, at 2286 Richmond Road in Staten Island. At the February hearing, the building’s owner, George Kirchhoffer, said landmarking was an unnecessary burden that would constrain the viable commercial use of the property. Local Council Member Steven Matteo said Council should err on the side of the owner, that the building was well-maintained, and that there was no reason to impose additional costs and burdens on a responsible property owner. Landmarks staff had advised the commission against proceeding with designation due to the political unlikelihood that the designation would be sustained, but because the age and rarity of the Dutch Colonial fieldstone building Commissioners determined its designation to be worthwhile.
At the March meeting, Matteo reiterated his opposition to the designation. He said City government should defer to the owner’s desires and property rights, and further stated that the building’s owner had been a responsible steward of the property, obviating the need for landmark protection. Council Member Ben Kallos followed Matteo’s recommendation, while criticizing Landmarks for failing to win the support of the owner.
At the meeting the Subcommittee also upheld the designations of the Young Men’s Christian Association Building, Harlem Branch and the first floor interiors of the United Nations Hotel. Council Member Bill Perkins spoke in strong favor of granting the YMCA landmark status, based on the cultural history associated with the building, particularly as a meeting place for members of the Harlem Renaissance.
All the Subcommittee votes were unanimous. The Land Use Committee sustained the Subcommittees votes, as did the full Council at its meeting on April 5.
Council: Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses (March 28, 2017) (ULURP Nos. N170205HKM, N170209HKQ, N170210HKM, N170205HKM, N170252HKM).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).