Preservation Issues

Anti-Landmarking Hysteria Continues

REBNY in Denial that Preservation Helps New York
September 30, 2013

REBNY has apparently just discovered that not all New Yorkers can afford to live in luxury condos.

The Real Estate Board of New York has put out periodic “studies” in an attempt to blame preservation—especially historic districts—for a variety of problems. The latest effort says only a few affordable units have been built in Manhattan historic districts in recent years—then says it’s too expensive to build in historic districts anyway.

Affordable housing is a real issue—and one that has gained prominence in the recent political campaigns. It is also a complex issue. REBNY is simplistic and wrong to attempt to make preservation the villain.

Building anything in Manhattan has a lot of issues…most have nothing to do with preservation. It’s expensive to build in the borough period. Most of the recent new high rises are being marketed as “luxury.” And there have been innumerable stories about the stratospheric price tags. Developers sometimes include some affordable apartments in buildings to get a bonus to build even taller.

REBNY doesn’t want to admit that preservation is a public good. That historic districts are popular with residents. That residents should have as much if not more to say about their neighborhoods than developers. That preserving the character of selected areas makes the overall City more desirable. That the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission regularly approves new buildings in historic districts.

As preservation colleague Andrew Berman notes, Westbeth and I.M. Pei’s LaGuardia Place are two Manhattan examples where affordable housing survives because the buildings are landmarked.

It is not surprising that REBNY focused on Manhattan because that is where they would like more luxury towers. But residents in many neighborhoods both inside and outside Manhattan welcome historic districts as protection for the long time homes they have invested in.

REBNY can keep issuing studies but it doesn’t change the enormous popularity of historic districts with New York’s residents. Why not just admit—as the Conservancy does—that preservation and development both have merit and that there is plenty of room for both.

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REBNY vs. New Yorkers – Anti-Landmarking Hysteria Continues
July 30, 2013

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) issued another broadside this month in its continuing attack on landmarking and historic districts. But the real issue comes down to this: Who do you want controlling the character of your neighborhood? You and your neighbors or real estate developers?

The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission continues to create historic districts because residents of those areas have asked them to. There are still some 50 neighborhoods throughout the City seeking landmark designation.

Why? Historic districts protect property values, quality of life, and housing stock. Restoration work provides hundreds of local jobs. Commercial historic districts like Soho and Ladies Mile attract New Yorkers and tourists alike—for the shops and restaurants, but also for their unique character. REBNY ignores this.

REBNY continues to rail against including vacant land or parking lots within historic districts and uses a former gas station at West Houston and Lafayette streets as a poster child. The Landmarks Commission includes these areas so that they can guide the design of future buildings on the site. The Commission has already approved a commercial building where the famous gas station stands at full FAR…that is to the full zoning limit.

REBNY claims landmarking means increased costs to building owners. While there are instances where items such as the windows LPC will approve cost more than standard ones, they will also last longer, can be better investments, and will maintain the exterior character of the building. The Commission also routinely allows less expensive substitute materials in other instances.

REBNY representatives have spoken to the Mayoral candidates about landmarking and REBNY is targeting City Council races, seeking pro-development members. Voters need to understand whose interests candidates will represent.

There has been tremendous great new buildings throughout the City in recent years and there is still plenty of room for both preservation and new development. Landmarking has helped save the best and most interesting parts of New York, contributing to the City’s economy, tourism and livability.

REBNY can continue to attack. But we’re betting that the majority of New Yorkers know better.