May 20 2o22: An Open Letter to NYC Councilmember Erik Bottcher, NYS Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine from Historic Districts Council, Save Chelsea, and Village Preservation
Dear Elected Officials:
We write to share disturbing information that has come to light about the recent demolition of nine rowhouse façades in the Gansevoort Market Historic District.
Correspondence obtained from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) under Freedom of Information Law shows LPC was advised by its structural consultant that it was feasible to repair the façades, and at no greater risk than would be posed by demolishing them.
We are particularly concerned that this information, presumably paid for with public funds, was withheld from LPC commissioners who continued to deliberate on the project in a public hearing on February 8th.
As ordered by the Department of Buildings (DOB), the façades of the 1840s rowhouses at 44-54 Ninth Avenue and 351-355 West 14th Street were demolished last fall. Despite the Landmarks Commission’s public assurance that “DOB and LPC have been working closely on this situation,” there is evidence that DOB acted independently and might order the destruction of further landmarks for the same questionable reasons.
Professional engineer Donald Friedman provided LPC an independent opinion based on his inspection of the buildings. Mr. Friedman is a principal in Old Structures Engineering, a leading consultancy in structural engineering for historic buildings. He is on retainer to advise LPC.
On September 21 of last year, following a site inspection and meeting earlier that day, Mr. Freidman emailed LPC Deputy Counsel John Weiss: “In my opinion, it is technically feasible to repair the street façades, and to do so with no more risk than will be created by demolishing them.” His message went on to propose an eight-stage sequence of operations for doing so. Emails indicate that the site meeting Mr. Friedman had attended that day included principals from the owner’s architectural and structural engineering consultants, and LPC staff. They also indicate that DOB’s Chief of Forensic Engineering, Timothy Lynch, turned down an invitation.
On September 27, John Weiss emailed Donald Friedman about LPC’s planned community outreach on the façade demolition and stated: “If asked, I will say you think the façades can be saved but the owner’s engineers disagree and DOB remains steadfast that the buildings are an imminent threat to public safety and need to be quickly taken down.”
Despite this, John Weiss was not forthcoming about any outside professional advice LPC had received when repeatedly asked about it in a November 12th meeting of the Commission, the Department of Buildings, elected officials, Community Board 4, and preservation groups. When DOB’s Timothy Lynch was asked about any alternatives to demolition that had been considered and rejected, he did not answer. When asked about established preservation methods that might be applied to the façades, he did not answer except to say of one technique, “I didn’t think it was an option,” without explanation. It is troubling that Mr. Lynch presented photos of collapsing floor joists that were irrelevant to the façades and suggested that the 8-inch thickness of rowhouse façades was structurally inadequate even though these walls were original, characteristic of their period, and had stood for nearly two centuries.
Even without being apprised of Donald Friedman’s dissenting professional opinion, commissioners at the project’s LPC public hearing in February questioned DOB’s determination. One said, “If this was Monticello, we’d figure out a way of saving it.” Their discussion might have taken a different direction had they been informed.
It is disturbing to see that experienced professional opinion indicated that demolishing the façades of these nine landmarked rowhouses was unnecessary, and that this information was kept from the public, elected officials, Manhattan Community Board 4, and even members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In addition, it is clear that this information was overruled by the administration at large and we ask that you inquire of the agencies involved why it was in this case.
Finally, we strongly urge that measures be taken to ensure that such information is never again hidden and that there are processes in place to make sure this information is publicly accessible.
Frampton Tolbert, Historic Districts Council /Andrew Berman, Village Preservation / Pamela Wolff, Save Chelsea
NYC Mayor Eric Adams
Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll
Landmarks Commissioner Fred Bland
Landmarks Commissioner Diana Chapin
Landmarks Commissioner Wellington Z. Chen
Landmarks Commissioner Michael Devonshire
Landmarks Commissioner Michael Goldblum
Landmarks Commissioner John Gustafsson
Landmarks Commissioner Anne Holford-Smith
Landmarks Commissioner Everardo Jefferson
Landmarks Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy
Landmarks Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron
NYC Department of Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
NYC Councilmember Gale Brewer
NYS Assemblymember Richard Gottfried
Manhattan Community Board 4
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