East Village and LES Historic District Moves Forward

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Landmarking in downtown neighborhoods has surprising opposition from local churches The city's preservationists marched downtown last Tuesday to make their voices heard at a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing on the proposal to create an East Village and Lower East Side Historic District. Landowners, locals and political representatives flooded the ninth floor of City Hall almost to its limits to discuss and argue the LPC's efforts to preserve the "rich cultural history" of these downtown Manhattan neighborhoods. The initial plan includes 330 buildings, though 17 more might be added in a revised edition. If designated as an historic district, these buildings, mostly row houses and tenements, would become landmarked and would avoid destruction and alteration, purportedly preserving the area's cultural significance. This designation, however, would also mean that renovation costs to these particular properties would increase as well. Among the buildings are the historic Congregation Meseritz Synagogue on East 6th Street, the Max D. Raskin Center on East 6th Street, the Duo Multicultural Center on East 4th Street and the longest continuously running alehouse in New York City, McSorley's, on East 7th Street. The majority of those attending the hearing were in support of the plan. The neighborhood "helps tell the story of immigrant life in 19th- and 20th-century Manhattan," members of the LPC reported to slight applause from the large group of activists wearing bright "Preserve the East Village Landmark Now" stickers. "These types of buildings, in the past, have sometimes been less appreciated than high-style architecture," said one fervent supporter of the move. "However, they are equally as deserving of designation-especially in blocks like East 6th and East 7th Street, which remain meticulous and largely unaltered. We are also pleased to the see the wide variety of?cultural-related architecture." Among the supporters were the offices of State Sens. Tom Duane and Dan Squadron, Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and local committees like the Cooper Square Committee, the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, the Historic Districts Council, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and the East Village Community Coalition. The plan is a "complement to the January designation of the East 10th Street historic district, the first East Village historic district established since the 1969 designation of the St. Mark's historic district" said the first speaker, a representative for Rosie Mendez. "All three districts have fundamental preservation in common and will work in alliance to preserve the proud legacy of generations of immigrant families." Landmarking efforts began earlier this year when, on Jan. 12, the LPC approved a block-long designation on the south side of East 10th Street. As expected, local clergy were the opposition's loudest voices, saying their groups would be put under extreme financial strains if their buildings were landmarked. "There are many examples of financial duress caused by landmark designation, including the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord in Brooklyn," a parish council member of the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection on East 2nd Street claimed. "This designated landmark suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial loss during a protracted appeal process to replace their copper roof as a result of time wasted and a sudden increase in commodity costs?Landmark designation against the congregation's will may represent the death knell of a historic congregation that has served the vulnerable." The religiously affiliated speakers cited the LPC as being unreasonable for treating nonprofit parishes the same as profitable establishments, and claimed that the designation transfers authority of cathedrals to civil authority, meaning civil government would dictate religious freedom, violating the First Amendment. One member of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral went as far as calling the designation "a sin which you'll be held accountable for." Many religious organizations requested that if the proposal is indeed passed, their respective cathedral be excluded from the designation. The LPC declined to comment on the hearing and the effects it may have had on their deliberations, saying that they don't usually comment during the process. According to the LPC's press office, an additional public hearing will be held on the designation, although the date of the hearing hasn't been finalized. By Nick Gallinelli

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