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Landmarks Commission Is Finally Handling Its 25-Year Backlog

The Landmarks Preservation Commission, which drew fire for proposing to simply de-calendar all of the items in its decades-long backlog, has begun the public process of addressing those 95 items. The first public hearing was held on Thursday (rare for the commission, which usually meets on Tuesdays) and included the 29 properties located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. The hearing actually stayed on schedule and included items ranging from as small as a sign to as large as a neighborhood.

Among the most controversial items heard was the proposed Douglaston Historic District Extension in Queens, controversial, in part, because it affects more than just a single building or structure. It includes more than a dozen individual homes, a couple of other buildings, and an entire apartment building. Preservation and history groups are united in their support of designation, New York YIMBY reported. It is a majority of the individual homeowners and their representatives who have been fighting against the designation, which has been on the calendar since 2008. The designation of a historic district isn't unusual, but there has now been over half a decade of uncertainty and, as one speaker pointed out, Queens can't be looked at the way one would look at Manhattan.

[Photo by Will Femia for Curbed.]

While the Douglaston Historic District Extension was controversial, the proposed designation of the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City received nearly universal support, YIMBY reported. The lone detractors were owner Pepsico (big surprise—not) and the Society for the Architecture of the City, which has never opposed another proposed designation. The Society's Christabel Gough argued that, since the LPC can't govern use or content, it can't regulate the letters on the sign. Therefore, it would only be able to regulate the soda bottle. Still, designation, which has been on the LPC's burner since 1988 (when it was on top of a building that no longer exists), seems to now be on track.

Another calendared Queens property is the Fairway Apartments. That got a bit of attention, including one attorney saying of the architect that "being prolific is not the same as being talented." Other properties include the Old Calvary Cemetery Gatehouse, Spanish Tower Homes (counted as 10 properties), the Bowne Street Community Church, the First Reformed Church and Sunday School of College Point, and the Lydia Ann Bell and William Ahles House.

Of the Brooklyn items, one of the biggest draws was the 1937 fire service pumping station on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island, which has been on the calendar since 1980. The Art Deco structure, described as "lozenge-shaped" by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was designed by Irwin S. Chanin and greatly advanced the area fire service. Over a dozen people showed up to speak about the pumping station.

The largest item from the borough, by acreage, was the Green-Wood Cemetery. Nobody actually stood up to support designating the entire 478-acre site as a landmark, YIMBY reported. Even preservationist (and G-W trustree) Otis Pearsall stood up against it. The problem is that the individual grave markers and monuments are not owned by the cemetery itself. If the entire cemetery was designated a landmark, a widow might have to get both the cemetery and the LPC's approval to change her husband's grave marker. Preservation groups agreed that full designation was not feasible and suggested that the chapel and the Hamilton Parkway Gatehouse should be designated. The Gothic Revival gates have been landmarks since 1966. Green-Wood Cemetery has been on the calendar since 1981.

Other properties in Brooklyn included a cast iron building at 183-195 Broadway, the Williamsburg Trust Co. Building (a.k.a. the Ukrainian Church in Exile/Holy Trinity Cathedral), St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church, St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church and Rectory, and the Lady Moody-Van Sicklen House in Gravesend. Vivan Solmo used to own the Lady Moody house and used to oppose designation of it. Saying, "I didn't understand the process," but she now supports designation, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.

As for the Bronx, that piece of New York City attached to the mainland, the biggest draw was the Immaculate Conception Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its convent and priests' residence in the South Bronx. That battle pits preservationists against a supposedly financially weary church, YIMBY reported. Preservationists note the lack of landmarks in the borough and one advocate said designation would boost spirits. The church, on the other hand, said it wouldn't able to afford the repairs and upkeep that the LPC would require of a landmark. The four other Bronx items included the 6 Ploughman's Bush Building (a.k.a. Fieldston/Delafield Estate Building), the Samuel D. Babcock House, the 65 Schofield Street House, and the First Presbyterian Church of Williamsbridge and Rectory.

Thursday's hearing was organized by borough. Each speaker was given three minutes to speak per group and allowed to speak about as many items as he or she pleased in that period of time. That will be the procedure for the subsequent three hearings to address items in Manhattan and Staten Island. The next step is to either prioritize items for designation by December 2016, remove them from the calendar by voting not to designate them, or remove them by issuing a letter of no action. Stay tuned.
· Landmarks Commission Announces Plan to Deal With Backlog [Curbed]
·Controversial Bill Could Wipe Out Landmarks Backlog [Curbed]
· Homeowners Continue To Fight Douglaston Historic District Extension [NYY]
· Support Wide For Landmarking Of Pepsi-Cola Sign In Long Island City [NYY]
· Coney Island Pumping Station's Fans Muster at Landmarks Hearing [BK Eagle]
· Previous Owner Pleads: Please Landmark Lady Moody's House [BK Eagle]
· The Bronx's Immaculate Conception Church Opposes Landmark Designation [NYY]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]