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Flatiron Hot! News | August 23, 2017

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Community Board 5 Approves Resolution in Support of Expanding NoMad Historic District

Community Board 5 Approves Resolution in Support of Expanding NoMad Historic District
Eric Shapiro

Reported by The Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Sfaff

The Full Community Board 5 met at Xavier High School on Thursday night, April 9th, to register its opinion on the proposed expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District. The Board was responding to comments by the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) dating back many years, urging the city to consider an expansion to protect the area from an unstructured “death of a thousand cuts,”  as new development rolled forward in go-go times for Flatiron and Madison Square-area real estate. As residents well know, the existing Mad Square North District, as well as the nearby Ladies’ Mile Historic District, reflect a wonderful variety of historic architecture, including many landmark buildings that give the area its ever-growing reputation as a hip, trendy venue for all sorts of tech start-ups, restaurants, digital media ad agencies and the like.

Proposed Expansion of Mad Square North Historic District!

Proposed Expansion of Mad Square North Historic District!

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) commissioned a survey of buildings in the immediate area in response to LDC’s promptings as well as others, and the 29th Street Neighborhood Association, with the data in hand, went ahead and suggested an extension of the District.  Of course, CB5 has its role to play, making recommendations as it sees its duty on behalf of the citizens and businesses and other stakeholders in the community under the City Charter, so it took up the task.  CB5’s Landmarks Sub-Committee met in March and after much spirited debate, recommended the expansion of the existing district, which (established in 2001 by the LPC) currently comprises up to 96 buildings between Sixth and Madison Avenues bounded by 25th and 29th Streets, to one that would include new borders ranging from Sixth Avenue to Park Avenue South framed by 24th and 34th Streets – a major expansion including hundreds of potential additional buildings and structures.  Estimates indicate this may be as much as a 300% increase in the size of the existing district.  Click here for a full-size rendering of the proposed changes.  The proposed changes would influence the fate of the good, the bad, and the possibly ugly (click here for the good and here for some bad examples), at least according to the opinion of those two dueling interest groups present at the night’s proceedings, the 29th Street Neighborhood Association and the Madison Square North Property Association.

Of course, in the Big Apple, any such step is the occasion of controversy and debate, particularly when it involves such a beloved area, including Madison Square Park and many blocks resonating with history and atmosphere.  New York Times columnist James Stewart registered his strong approval of the proposal, couching his support with a vivid description of the area’s history and meaning for local residents, of which he is one.  While area residents, architects, history buffs, and many others applauded the positive recommendation in the hope it would stop what many felt was the slow death of the area’s special ambiance as older buildings were done over or demolished to make way for the so-called new and improved, many local business groups took strong exception, including several of the Business Improvement Districts in the vicinity, who urged caution in making such a large change, as well as trade groups representing the ever-powerful real estate and building interests.

The New York Daily News chimed in the day before the Board meeting, panning the proposed expansion:  ” … Make no mistake: Lofty talk of curving cornices and Renaissance inspirations is but a fig leaf for a drive to stall the march of development in a long-forsaken area growing hotter by the day!” Many decried the legendary bureaucracy and red tape associated with property owners and businesses having to jump through hoops and face long delays in making improvements or building out new space, and said the large-scale change was inappropriate, and gave facts and figures indicating that no less than half the buildings in the district were not worthy of any special consideration.  The Madison Square North Property Owners Coalition was ready with a thick, glossy brochure decrying the effort, and showcasing many of the ugly buildings that would come under the new district’s protective rules, and accusing the prospective expansion of being an inappropriate, ill-considered “back-door” zoning change, without the necessary economic analysis and impact that would justify such a change.

After almost a full hour of public debate during the Community Board’s open session, and some serious discussion by the Board members questioning the Landmark Sub-Committee’s findings and reasoning, a resolution in favor of the rezoning passed (click here to review).  Urging LPC to move ahead and define the exact borders is the next step in the review process.  Stay tuned – the debate will no doubt go on!

Some Noteworthy Buildings that could be protected ...!

Some Noteworthy Buildings that could be protected …!