Saturday, November 29, 2008

Loopholes vs Landmarks in NYC | Preservationists See Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole | By ROBIN POGREBIN | Published: November 28, 2008

Hours before the sun came up on a cool October morning in 2006, people living near the Dakota Stables on the Upper West Side were suddenly awakened by the sound of a jackhammer.

Preserving the City
The Wrecking Race
This is the second in a series of articles examining the workings of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Preservationists lost a battle to protect the Dakota, built in 1894 and shown here in 1944, after the owner secured a stripping permit.

Soon word spread that a demolition crew was hacking away at the brick cornices of the stables, an 1894 Romanesque Revival building, on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, that once housed horses and carriages but had long served as a parking garage.

In just four days the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was to hold a public hearing on pleas dating back 20 years to designate the low-rise building, with its round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation, as a historic landmark.

But once the building’s distinctive features had been erased, the battle was lost. The commission went ahead with its hearing, but ultimately decided not to designate the structure because it had been irreparably changed. Today a 16-story luxury condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern is rising on the site: the Related Companies is asking from $765,000 for a studio to $7 million or more for a five-bedroom unit in the building.

The strategy has become wearyingly familiar to preservationists. A property owner — in this case Sylgar Properties, which was under contract to sell the site to Related — is notified by the landmarks commission that its building or the neighborhood is being considered for landmark status. The owner then rushes to obtain a demolition or stripping permit from the city’s Department of Buildings so that notable qualities can be removed, rendering the structure unworthy of protection.

“In the middle of the night I’m out there at 2 in the morning, and they’re taking the cornices off,” said Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman who represents that part of the Upper West Side. “We’re calling the Buildings Department, we’re calling Landmarks. You get so beaten down by all of this. The developers know they can get away with that.” ...

Loopholes big enough for bulldozers to drive through seem to be quite the problem in every area interested in balancing preservation of that which makes a place valuable and growth which is positive. We have our own loopholes around this town, which is why your neighborhood may have historic status and a teardown problem at the same time. In New York, it boils down to this.

Under current rules, once a landmark hearing has been scheduled, building owners may not obtain demolition or alteration permits. But if such a permit is secured before a hearing is scheduled, as was the case with Dakota Stables and 711 Third Avenue, the work may proceed without penalty.

Safeguards crumble because the landmarks commission and the buildings department lack an established system of communication, and commissioners often are unaware that permits have been issued. There is also no set procedure by which the buildings department alerts the commission when someone seeks a permit to strip off architectural detail.

The NY Times six month study of landmarks, commissions and preservation can be found here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Handy Dandy Civic Calendar

This link comes with a definite slant toward the C-side, it is also comprehensive and good radar for Community Confrontations.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Article found on an internet reading romp

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dreaming of a bungalow?

Today's abodes could benefit from modesty

Kelvin Browne, National Post
Published: Saturday, November 15, 2008

In a recent conversation with Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, he said tough economic times make us appreciate modern houses more, the kind often built in the subdivisions of the 1950s. "The modern-style houses of this period are typically modest but well-designed, making good use of their relatively small space," says Mr. Goldberger, arguably the most influential architecture commentator in the U. S. Since we can no longer afford behemoth teardowns, with multi-garages and four ensuites, will a Don Mills bungalow be our dream home again?

Modern or not, most 1950s houses were small compared with today's homes. The U. S. National Association of Home Builders statistics show the average American abode was approximately 1,000 square feet in 1950 and had grown to 2,400 sq. ft. by 2005. While families were larger in the 1950s, houses were not; it was usual for a family of five or six to feel lucky to live in 1,200 sq. ft. In addition, there was usually a basement and carport or, if the family was well-to-do, an enclosed garage.

People lived in the living room because -- where else? If there was a family room, it was a breakfast nook connected to the kitchen. Children often shared bedrooms and most always a bathroom. If parents had an ensuite, they were doing well. No one had huge closets. It may be naive, but I don't think people had as many clothes or as much stuff in general. Photographs of 1950s homes illustrate a more minimal style than today's. It could be a magazine illusion with all the heavy curtains and French furniture arriving after the magazine photographer left, but I don't think so. The rooms were smaller and people didn't have the credit we did, at least until recently.

Families in the 1950s didn't know they were saving on the costs of addiction counselling because parents in close proximity to their children knew what they were up to. As well, like it or not, everyone had to try to get along because you couldn't disappear to your wing of the house and avoid your parents or sibs. No reality-cum-psychotherapy shows for these families.

They didn't know it then, but 1950s families were living energy efficiently because they had less space to heat and cool. Air conditioning was a luxury; a wall unit in a bedroom was the norm. They didn't have mammoth stoves or commercial-size refrigerators that guzzled energy. (More home-cooked meals and less need to have a week's worth of frozen pizza in the freezer.) Few had washers and dryers; clothes were hung outside to dry until subdivisions got snotty and outlawed clotheslines. There weren't a million energy-wasting gadgets. People raked lawns and didn't use leaf blowers. If there was a television, there was only one and the family watched it together.

"Modern houses tended to make good use of natural light, and the best had good relationships between interior and exterior spaces," Mr. Goldberger says. The most lauded examples of connection to the outside, and the expansion of perceived living area, are the classic plans of Frank Lloyd Wright. In the home magazines of the time, someone was always extolling the virtues of sliding glass doors and windows that let in garden views.

Modernists were concerned about natural heating and cooling, or positioning houses for natural ventilation. Think of Richard Neutra. Lattices above windows became standard design elements but also allowed for passive heating while blocking unwanted noon sun or sun during the summer. Traditional houses favoured in the ritzy subdivisions of the 1990s didn't care about working with nature. They were restricted by Georgian or other style conventions and couldn't, but even if they could, why bother? Heating and cooling was cheap; 1990s cottages were the worst offenders. They inevitably had huge windows facing west (to capture the sunset) that required the house be massively air-conditioned to make it livable. So much for the natural cooling of lakeside summer living.

Mr. Goldberger doesn't say that affluence made us thoughtless but he does point out how thoughtful many modernist houses are. He says they were about how people really lived and how design could make lives better. That Don Mills bungalow's goal wasn't a stage set for pretension and conspicuous consumption, but rather about making the day-to-day lives that most of us live quietly better.

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WRAL on Oberlin Village Cemetery

Groups hope to resurrect historic cemetery
nov 12 2008 |
Community groups are seeking state support to restore an abandoned cemetery near Cameron Village that contains the graves of some of Raleigh's earliest freed black families.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Triangle Tribune on Cameron Village Development

Community fights to protect integrity of Oberlin Village
Published Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | The Triangle Tribune | by Sommer Brokaw
RALEIGH - Neighbors are concerned that a six-story building at Cameron Village shopping center will increase traffic and encroach Oberlin Village, a historically black community.

Fallonia is a big fan of Oberlin Village. Nothing says Raleigh better than this nestled community.

Oberlin Village was founded after the civil war in 1865 when farmland west of Raleigh owned by Lewis Peck was divided into 175 acres bounded by Cameron Park, Glenwood Avenue, Fairmont and Hillsborough streets, and sold to newly freed blacks from slavery. By 1868, Oberlin had 750 residents. The community became a part of Raleigh in 1920. The population started to decline as the Great Depression descended on Oberlin as well as the rest of the country, and aging citizens with no social security lost their property. The next wave of property loss was during the 1950s with the widening of Wade Ave.

Nibbled around the edges, property lost for roads, the park, and office buildings, we are down to remnants.

Fallonia believes the the greatest danger to the integrity of Raleigh's heart is Not Paying Attention. If powers that be wrestle publicly with the past, the present, and the future, informed decisons will at least be made with intention. This is why process is so important.

Raleigh is traveling down a slippery slope with blinders on. We need more Community Involvement, not less, to make this the City we say we want to be. These are not NIMBY issues, but historical issues. Once the heart and the history are replaced with generic development, where will we be? Who will we be? Are we who we envision being?



We are a 21st Century City of Innovation focusing on environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.

We conserve and protect our environmental resources through best practices and cutting edge conservation and stewardship, land use, infrastructure and building technologies.

We welcome growth and diversity through policies and programs that will protect, preserve and enhance Raleigh's existing neighborhoods, natural amenities, rich history, and cultural and human resources for future generations. We lead to develop an improved neighborhood quality of life and standard of living for all our citizens.

We work with our universities, colleges, citizens and regional partners to promote emerging technologies, create new job opportunities and cultivate local businesses and entrepreneurs.

We recruit and train a 21st Century staff with the knowledge and skill sets to carry out this mission, through transparent civic engagement and providing the very best customer service to our current citizens in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

Adopted: June 3, 2008

Turning our need for a community conversation into a political hot potato is another way of ignoring the issues. To be part of the conversation is to be a part of improving our future, not a roadblock to it.

Judith Guest, executive director of the Latta House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the history of the Latta House, which is a part of Oberlin Village, disagrees. "It's not that we're against development," she said. "The main thing is it needs to have some further review prior to the city saying there's a free pass to ignore the Wade/Oberlin small area plan."

Continuing to project that neighborhood groups are against development is misleading, untruthful and downright damaging to our collective future. We all rise or fall by decisions made by individuals, business interests, and the communities that support them. Thinking long and hard, and aloud, is required before we displace more of our valuable long-term residents.

It is a one-way street from destroying the past to an unconnected future. Planning is the process by which we do better.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Being PC about the PC

Todays N&O runs an update on the stalled Planning Commission nomination process.

Expansion of planning panel may end standoff

Bracken reports:

RALEIGH - When the City Council announced a proposal to increase the size of Raleigh's Planning Commission last month, it was a creative solution to a festering problem.

For several months, the eight-person council has been divided over two candidates nominated for one open seat on the 11-member commission. The division has spilled far beyond the council table and into Southeast Raleigh, a predominantly black area of the city that has been represented by council member James West since 1999.

It is about time the composition of the Planning Commission undergoes some public scrutiny. Thirteen members would certainly be better for a city the girth of Raleigh. As an observer of the process for several years now, Fallonia still cannot figure out what qualifications gets one nominated. And, FP must add, her up close and personal observation of the deliberations of the PC left her wondering how a concerned citizen knew more about zoning codes in Raleigh than some of its members.

Looking for the right word here, would the Raleigh PC be a shame or a sham for a city with this amount of talent and expertise? Researching other cities for their solutions to growth problems show either the Planning Commission, the Planning Department, or both, to be very involved in looking at long range consequences of rapid growth. While there is expertise on this PC, there is not always a majority of expertise making the quorum. Are daytime meetings a problem with this concept too.

You can begin your own research here.

From the N&O:


* Members serve two-year terms and no more than three consecutive terms, or six consecutive years.

* The City Council's proposal would increase the size of the Planning Commission from 11 to 13 members.

* Under the proposal, the City Council would appoint 10 city residents, and the Wake County Board of Commissioners would appoint three people who live in Raleigh's extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ. (The council currently appoints eight Raleigh residents to the Planning Commission, and Wake County commissioners appoint three ETJ residents.)

* The proposal will be discussed at a public hearing Nov. 18 at City Hall.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Heard on NPR

NPR has been producing an ongoing series on land use. Today they revisit Harlem, and effects of the gentrification on this culturally-changing historic area.

Growing Pains Come To Harlem | by Alison Stewart

One Harlem, Many Meanings

For a successful real estate agent such as Willie Suggs, the gentrification in Harlem is about business.

"It's not cultural," she says. "It's an economic transformation of a neighborhood from one economic class to another and clearly that's been happening in Harlem."

For longtime resident Dolores Early, 72, the word "gentrification" conjures something different.

"Homelessness comes to me, so a very sad situation comes to mind," Early says.

A newer arrival, artist Misha McGowan, sees a positive side of the renewed interest in uptown Manhattan.

"I love the fact that it's been restored to its former beauty. I don't mind most of the development," McGowan says.

Lucille McEwen, president of the Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement, which helps create affordable housing, is practical in her assessment of the changes.

"Sometimes, we say we are victims of our own success in rebuilding the community," she says. "But it's a much better option to be concerned with gentrification than to be concerned with high crime and blight."

Drugs, crime and poverty made for a powerful triple threat that decimated Harlem in the 1970s.

Once-stately brownstones became abandoned, graffiti-ridden dens of illegal activity. Locals who couldn't afford to move or didn't want to leave were living in an area that had few services and an uneasy relationship with police.

In the 1980s, New York City took ownership of many of the ruined homes and gave good deals to those willing to fix them up. The residential real estate market took off in the '90s.

The other side of the coin shows shades of another reality, one born in commerce, but not so compassionate on the ground.

A Fight For Low Rent

Low rent is one of the things that keeps Early in her apartment despite its problems. Her husband opens a hall window and reveals a smelly mass of black water and refuse just a few feet from their front door.

"This is a condition that has been here for years," Early says. "But recently they decided not to clean it. I've been complaining about it for over a year."

Her apartment is rent stabilized, but she believes her landlord wants her out.

"Some of the apartments, they're getting $1,500. Some of them, more than that," Early says, adding that she pays $474.02.

Low-income housing is at the top of the list for community leaders who want to embrace the economic growth but protect the people.

It is a well done story. The names may change, but the story is the same as the have-much and have-lesses fight for their home turf. There are forces in common, whether Harlem in NYC or Whitaker Mill Road in Raleigh. The challenge is figuring out how to grow in a respectful way. Fallonia believes it begins be seeing each other as real people.