LPC Approves 190 Buildings for Riverside-West End Historic District

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By Amanda Woods
When the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved a proposal on June 26 that would extend the Riverside-West End Historic District, neighborhood landmark advocates were thrilled, but they haven’t let their guard down on fighting for more.

The proposal would add 190 buildings to the Upper West Side’s Riverside-West End Historic District between West 79th and 87th streets. Although the proposal must go before the City Council, which has 120 days to make its decision, many who had been promoting the extension for years consider this small step a success

“This extension is a perfect complement to the existing historic district and deserves the same degree of protection,” said Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the LPC, in a press release. “A number of owners, block associations and preservation advocacy groups, in particular the West End Preservation Society, were instrumental in bringing this extension to fruition, demonstrating the broad-based support for the landmark protection of this historic neighborhood.
Josette Amato, executive director of the West End Preservation Society, said that since its founding in 2007, the organization has pushed for an extension of the district. The group commissioned a Columbia University study to evaluate the stretch of blocks in March 2009. As it turned out, the commission offered to expand the district even further than the society initially suggested—a welcome change for Amato.

“We had several representatives at the vote and we were just overwhelmed—we were so incredibly happy,” Amato said. “Some people in the room were actually breaking down in tears. We were just thrilled.”

Local resident Sukey Gutin, who lives on West End Avenue and West 85th Street, thinks the decision fosters an awareness of the neighborhood’s rich background.

“I’m absolutely delighted because we’re preserving some history, which doesn’t seem to mean much to most people,” she said. “This district is livable and charming, and I think it’s one of the last areas that can be preserved.”

Mark Diller, chair of the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7, said the Board “enthusiastically and overwhelmingly” supported the creation of the Riverside-West End Historic District.

“West End Avenue is a desirable neighborhood, and it can only remain so if it is preserved,” Diller said. “It takes government to do it, and I’m proud that my Board supported it.”

Local elected officials have also expressed their support for the district extension, and Amato said their help was instrumental in gaining the commission’s favor.

“Regrettably, West End buildings are being demolished one by one,” said Council Member Gale Brewer in a statement. “Unless we act, it will become just another hodge-podge of high-rise warehouses occupied by people who think of New York as a motel on the way to somewhere else.”

The extension is only one piece of a larger proposal under consideration. The commission will also consider extending the West End Collegiate District, from West 70th to West 79th Street, and the far northern end of the district, from West 89th to West 109th Street.
Despite this success, Cristiana Peña, interim executive director of LANDMARK WEST!, another group that advocated for the extension, doesn’t think future extensions will be a shoe-in.

“West Siders know better than to think of this as a fait accompli,” Peña said in an email. “Our continued collaboration and perseverance is critical.”

The extension has not achieved all-around support; the Real Estate Board of New York has spoken out against it, arguing that further landmarking would prevent property owners from making even the slightest changes to their buildings. The Board did not respond to requests for comment.

But Amato said that the landmarking will not heavily hinder building changes.

“We don’t see it as dropping development or freezing anything in time,” she said. “What we do see it as is having oversight or guidance on what changes will take place and what development will actually occur. We don’t think this will prevent anything from changing.”

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