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April 11, 2009

Two Entries on Historic Preservation From Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards Report

A few mayoral candidates (but not the big two) on historic preservation, plus more from the HDC conference

For their annual conference, the Historic Districts Council invited 5 mayoral candidates. The two considered the top contenders, incumbent Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Comptroller Bill Thompson, stayed away. Those who did appear were Tony Avella, Green Party candidate Bill (Rev. Billy) Talen, and Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Tony Avella spoke of steps he's taken that, had they been enacted earlier, might have saved the Ward Bakery Building in the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards.

He cited his success in enacting the “demolition by neglect” bill, which plugged a “huge loophole” in the landmarks law, allowing owners to demolish a landmarked building that had fallen into disrepair. The opposition was not just the real estate industry, he noted, but also, the religious community, which often wants more control of real estate that could be turned into development sites.

He said he’s been working on a bill to give the LPC the power to trump a demolition permit. “Even if they have a permit, we should have power to say, the building is still there, you’re going to have to hold off for 30 days,” Avella said. That could have at least stalled the Ward Bakery demolition.

Those fighting Atlantic Yards will readily agree to this quote from Bill Talen:

“The government must no longer be the partner of the real estate developers and speculators.”

This quote was part of remarks by former State Senator and Council Member John Sabini:

Sabini offered the money quote: “Real estate is to New York what oil is to Texas.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan offered an idea as to how to uncouple the interests of developers from construction unions so that the unions wouldn't have to endorse every development proposal, no matter how outlandish:

Brennan suggested there may be a way out of polarizing development battles pitting residents against construction workers. “Unions become allies because they are dependent on these megaprojects for their employment and always take the short-term pro-development point of view,” Brennan said.

“I think government needs to promote public works and development in a balanced stabilizing manner, so construction unions are less dependent on the private sector.”

At a crossroads, preservationists urged to find clear message and collective voice

Norman Oder has gone through the report "Preservation Vision: Planning for the Future of Preservation in New York City" (PDF), released by Minerva Partners, and highlighted portions of particular siginficance to the Atlantic Yards and the effort to save the Ward Bakery.

The report paints a bleak picture for the current state of preservation in New York, but offers suggestions in ten categories as to how to make preservation a priority:

Here are highlights under the heading "Community Livability":

It’s important to link preservation to affordable housing, since it shows a recognition of an important issue. Then again, it's a challenge, since, in the case of Atlantic Yards, affordable housing is a tradeoff for increasing density, something often not possible via preservation.

Suggestions include: Find a way to make it easier to use the Historic Preservation tax credit program; if the State Historic Preservation Office could be more flexible and the standards for restoration eased so that developers could also conform to code requirements, the tax credit could be used to help finance safe and affordable apartments.

Collaborate with affordable housing developers and advocacy organizations on tax credit filing, research and paperwork in support of middle class property owners and lower-income housing developers.

Create a city policy for mandatory inclusionary zoning, with new subsidies for the creation of affordable housing; since available properties are privately owned and expensive for affordable housing developers to buy, more public funding should be devoted to helping them succeed.

Rethink the question of density on wide streets; NYC has been and will continue to be a growing city, no historic district designation or down-zoning should be affected without some thought to where new housing can be built in the community.

Here are some ideas in the "Messaging and branding" category:

Preservationists are often perceived as stodgy, elitist, negative, and scolding -- not a good thing. Even the terms “preservation” and “historic” suggest an emphasis on the connoisseur, not the layperson. How to mainstream it?

Among the suggestions: Put human stories first: notions of “neighborhood preservation” and “community character” and “sense of place” have meaning for regular New Yorkers, but they need translation and specificity; for now, many associate the work of the profession with the negative impacts of gentrification.

Coordinate an event series, like Open House New York, for preservation.

Posted by steve at April 11, 2009 6:45 AM