LPC delays decision to eliminate sites 1

The Pepsi-Cola sign on the Long Island City waterfront was one of nearly 100 sites whose future was in jeopardy. Now, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is rethinking its plan.

Preservationists are applauding the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to back off plans to take nearly 100 sites off the city’s list for landmarking, but realize there are no guarantees in the future.

LPC Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan indicated last week that a vote would be taken Tuesday to remove 94 buildings and two historic districts from the list for landmarking without a hearing.

The chairwoman said all the sites, including eight in Queens, have been languishing for five years or more and she wanted to wipe the slate clean. Preservationists screamed foul, saying such an arbitrary decision would leave the sites vulnerable for development.

All 96 locations have been calendared, meaning the LPC deemed them worthy enough to proceed and be placed on the agenda for future action. While on the calendar, they receive some protection and cannot be altered or razed until the changes are reviewed by the LPC.

Following an outcry by preservationists, Srinivasan backtracked and announced Friday the vote would not be taken to decalendar the list. She said in a statement: “In response to community requests for more time, the commission has decided not to proceed on Dec. 9 and take a pause to continue to consider feedback on aspects of the proposal.”

But she did not indicate that the plan to decalendar is completely dead. “We remain committed to making the Landmarks Commission more effective and responsive in its work, and to clearing a backlog of items that have sat idle for decades so that we can focus on today’s preservation opportunities.”

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, which is an advocate for the city’s historic neighborhoods, said he was encouraged by the city’s decision to wait. “It’s meaningful; they listened to the communities.”

Bankoff noted that developers want the properties removed from the list, while preservationists want them on it. “But all agree they have to be dealt with,” he said.

Among the eight sites in Queens, four are in state Sen. Tony Avella’s district, including the Ahles house in Bayside, First Reformed Church of College Point, Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing and the Douglaston Historic District Extension.

Avella (D-Bayside) was pleased with the LPC’s decision to put the proposal on hold. “I applaud the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Commissioner Srinivasan in listening to the people and withdrawing the proposal to decalendar these items. As one of the first elected officials to speak out, and as someone personally dedicated to ensuring the protection of our storied past, I understand that this list of calendared items ... in many ways represents the foundation of New York City.

“Now, more than ever, it is vital that the public have a say in protecting our history, and that is the opportunity they have now been given,” he said.

The other sites in Queens include Fairway Apartments in Jackson Heights, Spanish Towers houses in Jackson Heights, the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City and Old Calvary Cemetery Gatehouse in Maspeth.

Paul Graziano, a zoning and historic building consultant from Flushing, said he’s not sure what the LPC’s decision means. However, he’s happy the change was made for now.

“The decision to decalendar backfired badly, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over,” he added.

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