Following a lengthy and passionate public speaking session last night, Community Board 3 approved a proposal to create two new historic districts in the East Village. CB3 voted 23 to 9 (with one member abstaining) in favor of the East Village/Lower East Side District (bounded roughly be East 2nd and East 7th Street, and 1st Avenue and Bowery). The board voted 33-0 in favor of the East 10th Street District (on the northern border of Tompkins Square Park).
It was a “who’s who” of preservation activists in attendance last night. Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council and Fran Goldin of the Cooper Square Committee were all there. Actor Alan Cumming was even (apparently!) in the audience for a few hours.
We won’t recap the testimony in detail here (the issues have been thoroughly debated at multiple community meetings). To summarize, advocates of the proposed districts called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to protect the neighborhood from more rampant over-development. Representatives from churches and synagogues, on the other hand, argued that historic status would make it prohibitively expensive to maintain their buildings and would ultimately threaten their survival.
In the end, CB3 added an amendment to their resolution meant to encourage a continued dialogue between the two sides (a mediator has been trying to narrow their differences). When it came time to vote, several members (including United Jewish Council head Joel Kaplan) suggested that decisions about “houses of worship” should be left to the people who run those institutions. This argument did not carry the day.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet scheduled a hearing on the East Village proposal.