Longtime Flushing activist and planner Wellington Chen has been nominated by Mayor di Blasio to serve on the 11-person Landmarks Preservation Commission as a lay member.
The commission votes on architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites, granting those selected landmark or historic district status, and regulating them once they are designated. Members do not get paid for their service.
“This came as a total surprise to me,” Chen said by phone on Monday. “I’ve never asked for any position, except when I applied to be on Community Board 7.”
His nomination will now by vetted by the city and voted on by the City Council.
Chen has been executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corp. in Manhattan for nine years.
The Flushing resident previously served as a planning advocate for TDC Center, a Flushing developer. The firm, in conjunction with others, is now creating the mixed-use Flushing Commons, at the former site of Municipal Parking Lot 1.
A graduate of the CCNY School of Architecture and Environmental Studies, Chen has worked for noted architect I.M. Pei and later founded a company to create affordable housing.
Chen served for five years on the Board of Standards and Appeals and for 13 years on CB 7, where he was chairman of the Landmarks Committee.
He is a member of numerous prestigious boards including the Bowne House Historical Society, CUNY and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
“This country has been very good to me and I’m blessed,” Chen said of his civic involvement. “This is my way of giving back.”
Born in Taiwan, Chen moved with his family to Singapore, Brazil and Hong Kong before settling in Flushing, where he attended Bowne High School. He later lived in Little Neck before moving back to Flushing.
Chen considers himself a preservationist and cites his involvement in trying to get the RKO Keith’s Theatre landmarked and saving Flushing Town Hall from neglect.
He said he submitted the landmarking papers for the interior of the historic Keith’s and was led to believe it would happen. Later he was to learn that only the lobby and box office received the designation.
“The building is still an eyesore,” he added. “There has to be a concerted effort on all sides for something to be done.”
The latest owner has promised to follow plans to convert the dilapidated theater into condominiums, a senior center and underground parking.
Chen also points to his involvement in saving Flushing Town Hall, which had been leased and was rapidly deteriorating. He called a meeting with the leasee and eventually the property reverted to the city.
“The public understood the value of town hall,” he added.
Chen noted that Queens has the least number of landmarks in the city. “Does that mean we are less deserving or are there too many hardships for the owners?” he asked. “There is a price to preservation, but will you miss it when it’s gone?”
CB 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman, who worked with Chen for years, said the mayor couldn’t have made a better choice in selecting him.
Rosemary Vietor, vice president of the Bowne House Historical Society, said Chen’s background “is perfect for this.” She pointed to his involvement in restoring Flushing Town Hall, adding, “I am very enthusiastic about him.”
But not everyone in Flushing is a fan of Chen. Paul Graziano, a historic preservasionist and zoning consultant, said he has “great reservations” about the nomination. “I am very concerned because he is not a preservationist, but a longtime fixture in development issues.”
Jerry Rotondi, a member of the Committee to Save the Keith’s, said he doesn’t think Chen will be an asset on the LPC.
“He is too politically connected and I don’t see him as a champion for Queens because he’s on the side of too many developers,” Rotondi added.
This article originally misstated Rosemary Vietor's title with the Bowne House Historical Society. She is its vice president, and formerly was its president. We regret the error.