July 19, 2016
From New York Real Estate Journal

Emerging Conflicts Between Goals of Landmarks Preservation and Development

By Dan Flanigan

Several areas of serious conflict between the mutually desirable goals of landmarks preservation and new development are simultaneously emerging in our city.

Most agree that the development of affordable housing must be a top priority in a city that may be driving out the very people who are essential to making it function—those who protect, feed, teach, shelter, and take care of us when we are ill. In a study published in 2013, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) pointed out that, with 9 million residents projected by 2040, an estimated 400,000 new housing units will be needed to meet the anticipated demand. However, according to the study, housing production is significantly lower in landmarked districts than in similar, but non-landmarked areas. With some neighborhoods in Manhattan approximately 70% landmarked, and others in Brooklyn more than 25% landmarked, large swaths of the city are essentially closed to development. According to REBNY, under the current law, landmarking entire districts means that sites with no architectural, cultural or historical value, such as vacant lots or parking lots, are also protected, thereby restricting new construction on these sites.

Jeffrey Kroessler, a historic districts council board member, weighed in with a vigorous critique of the REBNY report as unfairly and inaccurately scapegoating historic districts, asking, “which historic district do you think should be opened to redevelopment? SoHo, perhaps? Brooklyn Heights? Sunnyside Gardens? Greenwich Village?”

Moreover, the idea that contemporary and historic buildings can be indiscriminately intermixed without negative consequences may not work out so well. Strapped for cash, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights leased some of its surrounding land to a developer. A 15-story rental building now butts up against the cathedral. But many believe that the new modern building grossly clashes with, obstructs, and diminishes the majesty of the cathedral. That example should signal extreme caution when considering the possibility of infill projects that alter the aesthetic integrity of the urbanscape that was the point of the landmarking in the first place.

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