Fear of landlord demo’s before district’s calendared

By Albert Amateau

The Landmarks Preservation Com-mission and local elected officials are co-sponsoring an information meeting next month to hear the concerns of property owners in a part of the proposed South Village Historic District that the commission is considering.

But two preservation groups are worried that developers and landlords would be tempted to demolish or alter buildings in the proposed district before they are protected by an official calendaring of a Landmarks Preservation hearing.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, last week urged the L.P.C. to hold its information meeting with property owners at the same time or after calendaring a formal hearing on the district. Once the commission calendars a formal hearing on a proposed landmark designation, demolition or alteration is temporarily barred until the issue is resolved.

The information meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tues., May 12, in the basement of Our Lady of Pompei Church, at Carmine and Bleecker Sts. Landmarks staff members will explain the process and implications of historic district designation to property owners and neighbors in this part of the proposed district — roughly bounded by Sixth Ave. and Seventh Ave. South between W. Fourth and W. Houston Sts.

The L.P.C. wants to designate the area as an extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District. But Jonathan Geballe, of the South Village Advisory Committee, protested the new name.

“The South Village tells a different story from the Village,” he said. “It’s about the immigrant experience, and we think it should be separate.” L.P.C. Chairperson Robert Tierney on Friday justified the pre-calendar information meeting, saying that commission staff members have held similar meetings with property owners in each of the 18 historic districts designated since 2003.

“It’s important for the commission to build strong productive partnerships with the owners of these historic buildings and to encourage community participation in government actions,” Tierney said. “I believe it’s bad government and worse, bad judgment, to take an action concerning hundreds of buildings without notifying the people who own them.”

But Bankoff said he feared that delaying the formal calendaring of a historic district risks losing buildings in the district.

“The Noho Historic District extension wasn’t calendared in 2007, but there was a map of the district extension being circulated,” Bankoff recalled. “It was the first time that I ever saw one building being demolished and another building next to it having a two-story addition — all with the same scaffold over the sidewalk. That was at 43 and 45 Bond St., and by the time the Noho extension was calendared and designated in January 2008, the work was finished and the buildings were cut out of the district.”

Berman noted that lack of protection can encourage “bad actors to secure demolition or alteration permits, which supersede any subsequent landmarks designation.”

He noted that the owner of the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St. east of Avenue B had secured an alteration permit long before the building was calendared, and then did the work, removing architectural details from the facade, even after the building was designated a landmark. Berman recalled that before the Gansevoort Historic District was calendared, there were also demolitions and significant alterations.

“It’s our strong desire not to see that repeated in the South Village,” Berman said.

In the proposed South Village district east of Sixth Ave, buildings have been or are being demolished and altered, including the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments on MacDougal St. and the building at 178 Bleecker St., Berman said. Other losses in the district include 12 Leroy St., 23 Cornelia St. and the former San Remo Cafe at MacDougal and Bleecker Sts., he added.

Tierney acknowledged later that the risks do exist. But he said there would be even more risks in the future by not being open with property owners and risking the relationship that the commission and staff would be having with them for a long time.

The elected officials co-sponsoring the May 12 meeting are City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, state Senator Tom Duane, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Borough President Scott Stringer, plus Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2.