Clarity on landmarking will not come soon
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has come under fire from one of its staunchest defenders, Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander, who chairs the Council's landmarks subcommittee. He accuses the commission of repeatedly breaking its promise to launching a $5 million website designed to bring transparency to a process by which the commission selects landmarks. The site would not only provide a comprehensive and easily accessible list of the city's 1,323 individual landmarks and 109 historic districts but also a clear catalog of what would-be landmarks have been submitted for consideration and where they stand in the review process. "If you're a neighborhood group filing a request or a business owner who wants to know the fate of your building, there is no easy way to track that now from the LPC's website," Mr. Lander said. "Transparency is at the heart of good government, it's at the heart of a thriving democracy." Mr. Lander said that when he first took over the landmarks subcommittee, he had a meeting with LPC chairman Robert Tierney. It was at that point that Mr. Lander suggested the agency come up with a better website and was told by Mr. Tierney that one was in the works and it was only months away from completion. When Mr. Tierney repeated that statement last week at a Council hearing on the agency's budget, Mr. Lander was ready for him. "You've been telling us the same thing, that it was months away, going on three years now," Mr. Lander shot back. Delays may well continue. "Until we get a system that meets our standards, we're not going to implement it," Mr. Tierney responded. When asked if that might be before the Bloomberg administration leaves office at the end of the year, Mr. Tierney responded that he did not know. "Because we're working through these complex issues, it's not as simple, perhaps, as we once thought it was, for whatever reason, and the complexities have produced these issues that we have," Mr. Tierney said. In Mr. Lander's view, the situation has gotten worse, not better. "It used to be a couple months away, now who knows," he told Crain's . In a statement, a Landmarks Preservation Commission spokesperson reiterated the fact that the system simply is not ready yet: "We are working closely with the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications to ensure that the system is successful, operationally and technologically, and we will only accept a system that meets our criteria. After extensive testing and collaboration we've determined that we're not there yet." Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, echoed the point that the city's Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications has struggled with a number of projects, from the controversial $1 billion CityTime debacle to a program similar to the Landmarks Preservation Commission's at the Department of City Planning that is meant to bring clarity to the Uniform Land Use Review Process pre-approval process, which can be opaque. "I can tell you from my own experience redoing a website, it always takes twice as long as you think," Mr. Bankoff said. Mr. Lander said the site would help activists and advocates tracking progress on various landmark petitions. His colleague, Daniel Halloran, a councilman from Queens, has been trying for years to get a section of Flushing landmarked. He complained openly at last week's hearing that the South Village historic district was suddenly on the Landmarks Preservation Commission's docket, following approval of the Hudson Square rezoning , a decision he said was politically motivated. "People just want to know what's going on in the process," Mr. Lander said. But many preservation advocates are wary of the push, fearing it is simply a way to expose the commission to second-guessing from political groups and landlords, which could weaken the commission's authority.
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