NYC demolition review gains support

By Adam Pincus | June 30, 2008 03:27PM

A preservationist group’s proposal for a 90-day review period for demolitions of historically significant buildings that are more than 50 years old might have a new friend on the city council.

City Council Member Tony Avella, an outspoken critic of big development who is planning a bid for mayor, said he likes the idea but still needs to review it thoroughly.

“Clearly something needs to be done,” said Avella, a Queens Democrat. “A slight delay before a building is demolished and the investigation of an alternative use can only be in the public interest.”

Meanwhile, the Real Estate Board of New York is on the other side of the debate and is sharply criticizing the idea, which was first reported on

The proposal was drafted by the 93rd Street Beautification Association, which is behind a drive to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District and preserve the Marx Brothers’ home at 179 East 93rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues.

Susan Hefti, the group’s co-chair, said the proposal — which would need to be approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor to become law — is modeled on a Boston ordinance that helps preserve historic homes.

“There is nothing radical here. It has been done before,” she said. “I can’t understand why anyone would oppose this.”

Similar legislation has been enacted in Chicago, San Antonio, Boulder, Colo., and a handful of smaller cities, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Michael Slattery, a REBNY senior vice president, said the proposal was blatantly anti-development.

“The [demolition] permits are public information available on the city Web site,” he said, adding that he saw the proposal as “an attempt to stop development.”

Slattery said other attempts over the years to place reviews on demolitions have all failed.

“If the City Council thinks about it carefully, they would see the proposal really doesn’t have merit,” he said.

Under the Beautification Association’s plan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission could declare a property historically significant, which would trigger a 90-day review before a demolition could happen.

Earlier this month, the 93rd Street Beautification Association sent the proposal to the chair of the council’s powerful land use committee, Queens Democrat Melinda Katz, as well as the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and several other council members.

A spokeswoman for the LPC said it had not yet reviewed the proposal and would not comment.

Avella said he expected to work with Hefti’s group. He said he wants to give more power to the LPC, and supports allowing the commission to overrule a Buildings Department demolition permit.

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