A landmark debate
BY BILL EGBERT
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, March 12th, 2006
It has been officially labeled "a rare, largely intact example of a romantic planned suburban community" by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is moving to make it a historic district.
But the tony Fieldston enclave in Riverdale, which includes 23 building styles, ranging from medieval to late-20th-century modern, is no more unified politically than architecturally.
A backlash has developed against the designation process, which has been moving placidly through the city bureaucracy for several years.
Opponents, who fear landmarks restrictions will make it hard to add onto their houses, say they have signed up 130 of the 257 homeowners in the proposed historic district in a formal petition to the City Council to reject or at least postpone the plan.
Designation supporters scored two victories in recent months when the landmarks commission unanimously approved the designation in January and the City Planning Commission okayed it in February, sending it to the City Council for a final determination.
But public opinion may be beside the point. The chairwoman of the Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses Committee, which will begin the Council's part of the process, said that public support isn't what decides landmark issues.
"The question for me is whether the landmarking is warranted," said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan).
Also, the local Council member usually carries great weight in landmarking decisions, and Fieldston resident and local Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Riverdale) is determined to push it through.
"I believe that getting this designation finalized is part of my legacy," Koppell said.
There was little opposition when the designation was proposed in 2003, but skepticism grew as homeowners learned more about restrictions. Plans must be submitted to the commission, authentic historical materials must be used, and requirements can add significantly to the time and cost of repairs.
Taken by surprise by the Landmarks Preservation Commission's announcement last November of an imminent vote, designation opponent Gary Miller feels the commission went "beneath the radar" to blunt growing opposition.
"We didn't hear anything for two years," Miller said. "People thought it had died."
But commission spokeswoman Diane Jackier said it took time for the staff to research, photograph and write up something about each of the 257 houses included in the 449-page designation report. The vote was eventually taken in January.
On the pro-designation side of the issue, life-long Fieldston resident Andrew Meyers, 43, had little problem adding to his house, though with a landmarks designation pending, he had to comply with all restrictions.
"The process was very quick," said Meyers, who supports landmarking. "It took a few weeks, but it didn't really slow us down, and the suggestions they made were very slight."
"Besides," he said, "zoning restricts what you can build much more than landmarking."
Meanwhile, Miller is trying to build support for a self-policing architectural review committee run by members of the community, much like the one that oversees the quaint but unlandmarked enclave of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens.