Not unlike the characters portrayed by Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the 1988 movie "Coming to America," city Landmarks officials were in unfamiliar territory yesterday when they ventured into Queens, local preservationists said.
In fact, Landmarks Preservation Commission chairman Robert Tierney was somewhat less than warmly welcomed when he testified before a City Council subcommittee on a landmarks hearing held at Queens Borough Hall.
The six-member subcommittee, headed by Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan), trekked to Kew Gardens to discuss and hear testimony about the commission's landmark designation activities in the borough.
They also heard from residents who advocated for the designation of parts of Flushing, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and other Queens communities as historic districts.
Queens has only six historic districts in comparison to nearly 60 in Manhattan, leading some to suggest that the commission makes landmarking decisions with an anti-Queens bias.
But Tierney pointed out that since 1994, when Queens had only one historic district, about 38% of all city landmarks designated have been in that borough, with only a slightly higher 42% in Manhattan.
"There's always more to do, and our job is never complete," he said.
Ivan Mrakovcic, the chairman of Community Board 9, echoed the remarks of many civic leaders present by calling the commission "grossly underfunded" and "understaffed," leaving it without enough time or resources to look into potential Queens landmarks.
Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) even suggested that, partly because of inactivity by the commission, Queens communities are losing their character to "unscrupulous developers" who either put "hideous" additions onto historic houses or tear them down.
Gallagher also cited the possible demolition of the 149-year-old St. Savior's Church in Maspeth as evidence that the landmarking process is not working, saying, "We're going to lose more history and gain nothing."
Tierney responded that not all properties fit the commission's designation criteria, because buildings must be at least 30 years old, relatively intact, architecturally significant and create a coherent sense of place in a community.
"Everything is not a historic district," he said. "Designation is not a popularity contest."
City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) praised Tierney for attending the meeting and answering her phone calls in the past, saying, "Whether you see eye to eye with him or not, he's responsive."
Originally published on April 5, 2006