Landmarks New Commissioner Talks of Her Controversial Nomination and Ideas on Her New Role

A vote of 39 to 10 of the full City Council approved the controversial nomination of the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s newest member, Margery H. Perlmutter, a land use attorney with Bryan Cave LLP. Preservationists viewed Perlmutter’s nomination as antithetical to the mission of Landmarks since her law practice, particularly her appearances before BSA, the Planning Commission and Landmarks itself, required Perlmutter to register with the City as a lobbyist. Proponents viewed this experience and Perlmutter’s background as a licensed architect and former co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 8’s Landmarks Committee as an invaluable package.

To take the post, the Conflicts of Interest Board advised Perlmutter that she should recuse herself on permits involving Bryan Cave and her husband’s architecture firm, Arte New York. Perlmutter, who will sit on Landmarks until June 2008 finishing Vicky Match Suna’s term, discussed her background, the confirmation and the utility she may bring to Landmarks.

New York Practice. Perlmutter called herself an “NYU brat,” referring to growing up in Washington Square Village on Bleecker Street as the daughter of a New York University biology professor. She went to the Bank Street School and Elizabeth Irwin High School before graduating from Bennington College and Columbia University with a Masters in Architecture. Perlmutter then worked for a few small specialty architecture firms in the city before she helped set-up an office in a 300-square-foot space with three other architects, each submitting $750 to become its founding partners. Perlmutter spent more than 15 years at her firm, attended Fordham Law School at night and graduated in 1999.

Community Board 8. Critics say Perlmutter ran her co-chair position of Manhattan Community Board 8’s Landmarks Committee as if she was already sitting on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which muted the community in its own forum. Perlmutter explains that when she became co-chair in 2002, she printed copies of the Landmarks Law for all its members. Unaware “if anyone read it,” her intentions were to have committee members know the parameters of their vote. Perlmutter also required that owners be notified of the board’s vote, and in some cases delayed the vote until the owner was present. Perlmutter thought that architects seemed terrified before the board. She wanted to “accord them with professional deference,” adding that “owners spent a great deal of money on these plans” and the board should be “respectful” of that fact.

Confirmation Hearing. Perlmutter knew of the opposition before the hearing, but said she did not know its extent. At the four-hour hearing before the Council’s Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections, preservationists opposed her confirmation based on her Board 8 voting record, raised quorum problems from her conflict issues, and called it “inconceivable” that a developer’s attorney could serve in Landmarks preservation role. Support came from AIA’s Rick Bell, former Landmark chair Sherida Paulsen, and the Whitney, which will redesign its museum based on a Landmarks permit that went before Perlmutter at Board 8. Although she called it extraordinary that supporters, like Bell and Paulsen, would wait four hours to testify, she admitted to being “deflated by the experience.” To Council members’ questions, Perlmutter said that 50 percent of her practice was spent before City agencies and she would continue to appear before City agencies on projects lacking a Landmarks element.

Commissioner’s Role. “It will take awhile to find where to make a difference,” Perlmutter said. Noting that there were many other architects on the commission, she suggested that her skills made her suited for tackling the Landmarks Law provision, which allows DOB permits to be issued before a potential landmark is calendared. Greater protection is needed, she noted, commenting that she has appeared before DOB and understood legislative drafting.


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