Community Board 1 (CB1) has enacted a forceful resolution calling upon the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to appoint as chief of the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) an advocate for protecting historic New York City structures.
The resolution, which was enacted at CB1’s May 22 monthly meeting, begins, “the Community is pleased to see the opportunity for the appointment of a new Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair.” This appears to be veiled language attesting to the Board’s delight at the April resignation of Meenakshi Srinivasan, who has chaired the LPC since 2014.
From the start, Ms. Srinivasan was a controversial choice to head the agency. As Roger Byrom, the chair of CB1’s Landmarks & Preservation Committee said at the Board’s April meeting, “it was outrage of elected officials and all the community boards in Manhattan that have forced the resignation of the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. And I applaud that.”
“I’m hoping that the mayor will see some sense and appoint a chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission who will support the landmarks law. We haven’t had that for quite some time, and under this particular chair, we have had someone who definitely does not support the landmarks law. I think Tribeca Trust and others, who have found money to sue the Landmarks Preservation Commission, have pointed out that this agency, under the chair that just resigned, was doing everything but following the law.”
This was a reference to a series of contentious decisions rendered by the LPC during Ms. Srinivasan’s tenure, which culminated in a proposal, made public in March, to change LPC rules so that many applications to alter historic structures would be made by the Commission’s staff, without a public hearing and without review by the local Community Board.
This inspired a united outcry from multiple community boards, and preservation groups throughout the City. As Michael Levine, CB1’s planning consultant said at the April meeting, “many community boards around the City are expressing the same concerns that we have. It moves the landmark approval process further away from the communities and captures most of it at a staff level at LPC.”
Jason Friedman, a member of CB1’s Landmarks & Preservation Committee, added, “the proposed changes mean we will be seeing a lot less of certain projects.”
While the impact of such a policy would be significant in any community that contains historically valuable buildings, it would loom especially large in Lower Manhattan, the oldest district in the City, which contains hundreds of individual landmarks, hundreds more buildings within legally protected historic districts, and many additional structures that preservations believed should be designated as landmarks.
The April discussion led to the passage of a resolution emphasizing the Board’s disapproval of the LPC’s proposed policy changes. This measure stated, in part, “Community Board 1 is strongly opposed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s proposed rule-making that would remove most reviews from the public process and resolve them at the level of staff review.” But, before discussion about this resolution was finished, Alice Blank, an architect who serves as co-chair of CB1’s Waterfront, Parks & Resiliency Committee, said, “this might be a good time for CB1 to define the qualities we’d like to see in a new LPC Commissioner.”
This led to the drafting and adoption of the resolution CB1 enacted at its May 22 meeting. That measure noted that, “the new Chair should be someone who is qualified not only by experience in the preservation world but also someone who has had long and successful experience in working collaboratively with all stakeholders: preservation community, community boards, New York City architectural community, New York City historical community, Municipal Art Society, Historic Districts Council, and the real estate community.” The resolution also urged the Mayor to, “select a candidate that is from a community centered background,” and who “values the preservation of New York’s rich and important history.”