The Real Deal New York

City Council candidates speak against large-scale development

By Sara Polsky | September 09, 2009 01:36PM

alternate textFrom left: District 3 City Council candidates Maria Passannante-Derr, Yetta Kurland and incumbent Christine Quinn

A City Council candidates’ forum on historic preservation issues was more amicable discussion than debate last night as two of three candidates for Manhattan District 3’s City Council seat cheered preservation in the district.

Candidates Yetta Kurland and Maria Passannante-Derr both advocated for increased preservation efforts and community involvement in the district at an event sponsored by the Historic Districts Council and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The candidates applauded each other as often as they received applause from the roughly 30 attendees. The incumbent in the City Council seat, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, did not attend.

“Our physical surroundings [are] a reflection of ourselves and our identity,” said Kurland, a civil rights attorney and tenants’ rights advocate who argued that preservation is tied to broader community issues of housing and affordability.

Passannante-Derr, a lawyer and member of Community Board 2, which is part of District 3, described herself as “the second generation of life-long preservationists,” raised to appreciate historic buildings.

Both candidates opposed various kinds of large-scale building in the district, from the appearance of big-box retailers to the St. Vincent’s Hospital project to NYU’s proposed expansion plans. The Council district includes the West Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Clinton, Flatiron, and parts of Soho, Noho and Murray Hill.

Quinn has also been against some large projects, urging developers to scale back plans for Moynihan Station earlier this year. More recently, Quinn has advocated a $20 million program that would put vacant apartments on the market as affordable housing.

Passannante-Derr said she would support NYU’s expansion into remote locations such as Downtown Brooklyn or Governor’s Island, rather than see the university continue to grow in the West Village. And in the case of St. Vincent’s, “there should be more discussions of complete relocation of the hospital, maybe to the West Side,” she said. 

Both candidates also offered policy recommendations. Kurland urged that more penalties be built into the law for violations of building agreements. There should also be a provision added to the law that would allow the community to force a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on a particular building, she said.

Passannante-Derr said the law needs to include a provision to extend the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process beyond eight months for larger projects. The laws that allow emergency repairs of buildings should also be extended to preservation, she said.

Quinn’s absence was noted briefly at the end of the debate, in response to an audience member’s request for comment about her.

Quinn “is unable to be an independent voice for our community,” Kurland said.

The primary election is next Tuesday.

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