Tuesday, April 22, 2008

O'Donnell Files FOIL Request

O'Donnell Files FOIL Request
By Maggie Astor

State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell (D-Morningside Heights and West Harlem) filed a Freedom of Information Law request last week for documents related to the possible establishment of parts of Morningside Heights as a historic district, or landmarking of particular buildings in the area. The request followed several months of attempts to obtain the documents directly from Robert Tierney, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

According to an April 15 press release, a variety of politicians and organizations—including Congressman Charlie Rangel, New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and West Siders for Responsible Development—have expressed support for the establishment of a historical district, and written letters to the LPC to urge Tierney to schedule a hearing on the issue.

“There is overwhelming public support for a historic district in Morningside Heights,” O’Donnell said in the press release. “I remain perplexed why some proposals for designation are fast-tracked, while other equally deserving proposals remain stalled for more than a decade.”

Community Board 9 also endorsed a historic district in its 197-a plan for Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion, which the New York City Council approved in December.

“Efforts to help implement any recommendations in the 197-a plan are obviously very welcome and well-received,” said CB9 Chair Pat Jones.

Asked about the responsiveness of the LPC to requests regarding the potential historic district, Jones said, “I have no personal knowledge of that, but it has been long stated that the LPC does move quite slowly, and so we’re supportive of any information that the assemblyman can get to move forward this initiative.”

CB9 also passed a resolution in October urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider all applications after hearing concerns that the commission was ignoring some landmarking requests.

Lynette Velasco, a spokesperson for City Council member Inez Dickens (D-Morningside Heights), said Dickens has not yet decided whether to support a historic district.

“The Council member is very concerned with the history—the unique history of Harlem as it relates to all people,” Velasco said. “She’s very respectful and she understands the Assemblyman’s passion for this. But she is continuing to study and research, because this is a huge project that will impact greatly the residents of the district.”

The establishment of a historic district “maintains the general content of the area, shows respect for the architectural heritage of an area,” Jones said. “And in these days of development, overdevelopment, it provides some form of protection to neighborhoods.”

In the press release, O’Donnell—who founded the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee in 1996—cited the “historically and culturally significant architecture of Morningside Heights” as the impetus for his campaign.

The FOIL request called on the LPC to release “any and all documents” from Jan. 1, 2003 to the present in the following categories: research, calendars, schedules, correspondence, and notes and minutes from meetings relating to the designation of a Morningside Heights historic district.

The area in question is bounded by 110th Street on the south, 123th Street on the north, Morningside Drive on the east, and Riverside Park on the west.

“I hope the response to my FOIL request will shed some light on the Commission’s inaction,” O’Donnell wrote. “Frankly, Chair Tierney should be ashamed that elected representatives must resort to using the Freedom of Information Law to ascertain basic information about proposals for historic districts.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission did not respond to requests for comment after business hours.

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