More than 400 community members -- including block associations, committee members and elected officials -- attended last night's meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) at Restoration Plaza, a key event in LPC's consideration of whether to landmark proposed historic districts in Bed-Stuy.
Heading up the meeting was Kate Daly, LPC's executive director, along with Mary Beth Beths, LPC's director of research, Jenny Fernandez, LPC's director of governmental and external affairs, and Tenzing Chadasong, grant director at LPC.
Also in attendance were Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilman Al Vann, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC), Framption Tolbert, HDC's deputy director, and James J. Mahoney, coordinator for the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
It was a grand showing, highly anticipated, but not the first meeting of this kind with LPC.
In the past 30 years since the historic designation of Stuyvesant Heights in 1971, LPC has met a handful of times with community members and local elected officials in Bed-Stuy, in an effort to landmark an extension of Stuyvesant Heights.
In fact, the last serious effort was almost 20 years ago, in 1993. At that time, the commission calendared and held a public hearing on the proposed extension. However, since there wasn't a true consensus in the community of what the boundaries should be, LPC shelved the effort.
But starting a few years ago, LPC revisited the effort. And as a consequence of a meeting it had in June 2010, sponsored by the community board and City Councilman Al Vann, LPC went back out into the neighborhood and conducted a survey to, once again, determine historic district eligibility in Bed-Stuy.
The commission found more than 8,000 buildings were eligible.
The meeting last night with LPC was the next step in an effort to move forward with landmarking some of those 8,000 buildings. It also was an opportunity for LPC to address any questions or concerns by the neighborhood surrounding historic designation.
Community turnout was so overwhelming, participants lined the walls, sat on the floors, and much of the crowd spilled outside of the room into the hallway.
"It's good to see such a big crowd," said Kate Daly, LPC's executive director. "This is a neighborhood that is remarkable for its historical and architectural significance, as you all know. The Landmarks Commission has been very interested in looking into what are the historic resources in this neighborhood for quite some time.
"We've already determined what's eligible, but the neighborhood has to set the priority for what they want. And we're turning to you to answer that question."
Daly said, the next step for LPC was to pick up where they left off in 1993, and move forward on designating the Stuyvesant Heights Extension.
Daly's announcement came as a surprise to some, as there were three other groups representing districts in Bed-Stuy outside of the Stuyvesant Heights Extension that had hoped to be calendared, including Bedford Corners, Stuyvesant East and Stuyvesant North.
But Daly explained that there was a lot more to the process than many had anticipated.
She said that LPC would hold a public hearing on the Stuyvesant Heights Extension. The purpose of the hearing would be to have all interested parties testify in front of the commissioners as to whether they support, oppose or have an opinion about the designation of the extension.
"There is no vote at the hearing, because the commission then has to spend many months preparing a very detailed report of the history and significance of the district, and also detailed description of every single building proposed for inclusion," said Daly.
She said, if the district is designated, the report would serve as a regulatory tool, "so that in the event a homeowner chooses to do work on their building in the future, LPC will know what the appearance of the building was at the time of designation, because the appearance will be grandfathered."
Only after the historic designation of Stuyvesant Heights is completed, and once homeowners of the district have received all the information they need regarding permits, regulations and available resources, would they look again at the larger areas and determine what districts should be next.
Jeffries, who represents part of Bedford Corners, said he is committed to seeing that Bedford Corners is the next designated district after the Stuyvesant Height Extension.
Vann said he was there to do the will of the people: If only two or three people do not want landmarking, he wasn't going to let that stop progress. He also said he would advocate for Bed-Stuy, just as he did for Crown Heights when the City Council had to vote on landmark designation of the area.
Both elected officials assured the crowd of its continued support for getting all of the districts eventually landmarked, despite the sobering reality the process would be more protracted than was expected.
Still, the momentum created so far represents a big step in the right direction. And if the groundswell of community support remains as great and impressive as it was last night, eventually, every district will have its way.
It may take a few years more than many had thought. But, considering how long it has taken to get to where they are now, two or three more years certainly is better than another 30.