The New York Times Editorial Board has just printed a scathing indictment of the Landmarks Preservation Commission over their failure to landmark the Rizzoli building.
Here is the entire editorial:
One57, the luxury condominium skyscraper under development just south of Central Park, lists several neighborhood attractions on its website. Among them is the Rizzoli Bookstore, which for decades operated out of a roughly 100-year-old neo-French Classical townhouse at 31 West 57th Street.
But One57’s residents will never have the pleasure of admiring the building, because it’s slated for demolition. Rizzoli’s last day was April 11. Instead of a Diocletian window, pedestrians strolling by are now confronted with a construction shed.
This loss reflects serious shortcomings in New York City’s system for protecting culturally important sites. When the Vornado Realty Trust and the LeFrak Organization announced plans to raze 31 West 57 along with two adjacent properties a few months ago, activists petitioned the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to give the building landmark status. Community Board 5 had already voted unanimously for landmark designation in 2007. State Senator Liz Krueger; the Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer; and the New York Landmarks Conservancy supported the measure as well. The commission said no.
The verdict is galling, as is the process that led to it. The commission never responded to the community board’s initial request and never held a public hearing. What’s worse is that this is not unusual. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor and, under Michael Bloomberg, were perceived as overly deferential to developers. In 2008, Judge Marilyn Shafer of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the commission habitually acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner and ordered it to conduct business in a more timely fashion. An appellate court later reversed the decision because it found no harm to the petitioners, removing the commission’s legal incentive to change its ways.
Ms. Brewer has been trying to reform the landmark process for years. Earlier this month, she suggested requiring a 30-day landmark review of any building over 50 years old that was slated for demolition.
That seems impractical given that the commission is a small agency and that most of the city’s buildings were constructed before 1965. But she also offered two modest, eminently reasonable proposals: the commission should study remaining buildings on West 57th Street and “identify and landmark those that represent the best of their eras”; and “follow transparent and consistent time frames” in responding to future requests.
West 57th Street is the epicenter of the luxury glass-box boom, in which the lovely old buildings that give New York character are being replaced by bland monoliths. Given that the commission is often all that stands between a neighborhood icon and a wrecking ball, it needs, at the very least, to work on its response time.