Preservation Issues

LPC: One Step Forward…Many Steps Back in Designating West End Avenue Historic District


-Broadway and 100th Street - Upper West Side

UPDATE: June 29, 2015

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the final stretch of West End Avenue on June 23 but carved out nearly 10% of the originally proposed district. LPC removed more than twenty buildings along Broadway and took out some side streets altogether when it voted to designate the Riverside-West End Avenue Drive Historic District Extension II.

The district was calendared in 2010 and heard in 2011. It had overwhelming political and public support. Only the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) called for eliminating the Broadway buildings.

Some portions of Riverside Drive and West End Avenues had been designated in the 1970s and ‘80s. Starting in 2007, the West End Preservation Society proposed completing designation of all of West End Avenue, which is noted for its cohesive architecture. Former LPC Chair Robert Tierney had agency staff research beyond West End and cover Riverside, the adjacent side streets and the west side of Broadway.

LPC itself proposed a larger district, and broke it into three sections: the first RSD-WE Extension (designated June 2012); the West End – Collegiate Historic District Extension (June 2013); and the extension designated last week. The first two stretch from Riverside to buildings along Broadway.

The Commission gave little prior notice that a substantial number of buildings would be excluded. But when word of the exclusions came out, a long list of elected officials—and all the preservation organizations—asked that the 2010 boundaries remain. Last Tuesday’s session lacked full addresses, images of each buildings, and explanations of why each did not make the cut. It was a public meeting where LPC does not allow public testimony.

The LPC also initially intended to cut out a public school on West End, which would have left a large, unprotected development site in the middle of the district. After hearing fierce opposition, LPC kept the school within the boundaries.

Excluding Broadway undoubtedly pleases REBNY. LPC staff has noted that Broadway is contextually zoned, which limits the height of buildings, and reduces development pressure. However, a current City Planning Department proposal would dramatically increase limits to allow bigger, bulkier buildings, and endanger those historic sites.

While we are pleased that the LPC has protected all of West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, and many of the side streets, Tuesday’s actions were a dangerous precedent that could impact future designations of historic districts. The public needs an early and detailed notice if LPC intends to change district boundaries and an opportunity to speak before the Commission.

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June 24, 2015

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the final stretch of West End Avenue yesterday, but only after carving out nearly 10% of the original district. LPC removed more than twenty buildings along Broadway, and took out some side streets altogether.

Click here to see the map

We welcome the completion of an initiative to unite all of West End Avenue within landmark protection. The designation had overwhelming political and public support. But the process was deeply flawed.

There was little prior notice that a large number of buildings would be excluded. No detailed explanation of why some buildings suddenly didn’t make the cut. No chance for public testimony at yesterday’s meeting. What other conclusion can there be than leaving out almost the entire stretch of Broadway is a clear gift to developers. When this district was first heard in 2011, the Real Estate Board of New York specifically asked that Broadway be excluded.

The Commissioners’ vote rebuked the lengthy and detailed work of the agency’s own staff, who researched and recommended the original boundaries and then worked with building owners, in a series of community meetings and one-on-one for years.

The Commission also ignored a long list of elected officials who asked that those boundaries remain intact: Congressman Jerry Nadler, Assemblypersons Daniel O’Donnell and Linda Rosenthal, Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and local Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

LPC defended the absence of public testimony by saying there was no legal requirement for it. That’s not good enough. What happened to transparency and public engagement?

The public needs an early and detailed notice if LPC intends to change district boundaries. The public must have a chance to speak. And the Commissioners must explain how their actions promote preservation.

TAKE ACTION: The Landmarks Commission is a Mayoral agency answering to City Hall. Write Mayor de Blasio and insist that LPC’s process be improved. Tell him that LPC’s job is to protect our heritage and our neighborhoods—-not create development sites.

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June 22, 2015
LPC in Retreat on Proposed Riverside-West End Extension II

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is reversing its own work. In an unprecedented move, the LPC is slated to remove some 20 buildings from the Riverside West End Historic District Extension II when it takes a vote tomorrow, Tuesday, June 23. Their own staff drew the boundaries and the Commissioners heard overwhelming support for the entire extension from the public and elected officials in an October 2011 hearing.

LPC intends to excise buildings along the west side of Broadway and several side streets (click here to see the map). The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) specifically objected to the Broadway buildings at the public hearing in 2011.

The Commission had announced that it would vote on this district, but only recently told supporters that they were making significant reductions to the boundaries.

There has been no public explanation for why these buildings will not be protected and there will be no opportunity for the public to object tomorrow.

This is part of a disturbing trend of reversing prior LPC actions. It is not clear what the LPC intends to do with the proposed Bedford Historic District, which had its hearing over two years ago. And it comes as REBNY continues to hammer away in opposition to historic district designation.

The Conservancy is very concerned about what looks like a retreat from LPC’s historic mission.

TAKE ACTION: Contact the Landmarks Preservation Commission and tell them to keep the original boundaries for the Riverside West End Historic District Extension II. Click here for more contact information with LPC.