Statement of Opposition to Imposing Landmarks Deadline (Intro. 775) by CM Ben Kalls
Thank you, Chair Greenfield and Chair Koo and fellow committee members for your commitment to our important responsibility over land use and preserving our neighborhoods as well as their landmarks. Thank you to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for your leadership and partnership.
An unexpected thank you to Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan for your well-spoken and poignant testimony in opposition to Introduction 775, I concur in full.
Most importantly thank you to the 66 preservation groups including 10 citywide, 26 from Manhattan, 12 from Brooklyn, 11 from Queens, and five from Staten Island.
It is the hard work of the community and the people through the landmarks process—and hearings like today—that the city has been able to preserve that which is quintessentially New York and we are all richer for it, thank you.
Preservation v. development is a decades old debate in this city; one that engenders passion on both sides. At the extremes we see a dismal picture of a city that trades its rich history and past in favor of communities raised for the parade of superscrapers that would block out the sun for all but wealthiest of the wealthy. And yet, this dismal future predicted in countless science fiction stories has been abated by a historic Landmarks Law, a model for the nation, which we celebrated and heralded on its 50th anniversary only to seek to undermine days later.
I strongly oppose Introduction 775. As we look to build more, we must also stay true to the spirit of the original Landmarks Law—that as our city grows and changes, preserving our most cherished historic places allows us to approach the future with a rich sense of the past.
Introduction 775 does not solve the problem it seeks to address. It does not provide a realistic timeline or any certainty around the landmarks process. It is presented as a “timeline” bill but would actually undermine the landmarks process with a broad sweeping moratorium.
The legislation proposes a five-year moratorium on any designation that the LPC failed to vote on within an arbitrary timeline of one or two years. Owners in opposition would be encouraged to “run out the clock.” The moratorium has no effect on the LPC and thus no incentive to follow the timeline. Instead, the moratorium punishes the applicants and the community for inaction by the LPC. Ultimately, the five-year moratorium would present a five-year safe haven for unbridled development that would lay waste to communities and leave a legacy of superscrapers and big box chain stores in their wake.
If the arbitrary timelines of Introduction 775 had been included in the original Landmarks Law 50 years ago, half the City's landmarked properties and nearly a third of our historic districts would not be protected today. We would not have a Historic District for Mott Haven, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Park Slope, Hamilton Heights, Mount Morris Park, SoHo, or Jackson Heights. We would have lost so much of the cross section of cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity that makes our city great.
Counterintuitively, the legislation would be stronger without the moratorium. With a moratorium, judicial intervention is limited to the remedy of the five-year moratorium proscribed by the bill. Without a moratorium, any designation not voted on within the proposed timeline would be subject to an Article 78 proceeding where the Courts could order the LPC to take a vote on the designation. In one case, the community would be punished with a moratorium, while in the other case the community would have the due process guaranteed them by the Constitution with the certainty of a final determination through a vote.
Introduction 775 would also violate the Constitution we are sworn to uphold, as an ex post facto law specifically prohibited by Article I, Section 9, by retroactively imposing an 18-month timeline on the existing backlog of 95 landmarks that were applied for under a different legal framework. The LPC has presented a plan for addressing the backlog within 18 months and we as a Council must provide them the funding and support they and the community need to take on what had been a long-standing problem.
We have a Constitutional duty against ex post facto laws and to protect due process so that each property and proposed historic district is given a fair opportunity for evaluation and the guarantee of a decision in with a vote by the LPC.
So again, I thank my colleagues and those who have come to testify. I must vote against Introduction 775 as written and hope you will join me and the community in opposition.