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Legal challenge to ‘hardship’ finding; Rezoning/land use review process begins

Earlier this year the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) gave its final approvals to the project, including approving a ‘hardship’ application which allows the demolition of the O’Toole building, which the LPC determined was a significant and contributing building to the Greenwich Village Historic District. The project also however requires several zoning changes and land use approvals. There are new developments on each of these fronts.

1) Legal Challenge to ‘Hardship’ Finding — Earlier this month, GVSHP signed on to an amicus brief filed in the lawsuit challenging the LPC’s finding of a hardship allowing the demolition of the O’Toole Building. It is the belief of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation that the LPC incorrectly applied the landmarks law and case law in the finding of hardship in this case. With this decision and with the criteria it establishes for the finding of hardship for non-profit institutions, it is our belief that the landmarks law may be severely undermined, and the door would be open to many other non-profit or educational institutions securing permission for demolition of landmarked properties based upon a finding of hardship that is in fact inconsistent with both the policy and the principles that the law and prior court cases have established. 

Prior decisions in hardship cases for non-profits have established a test based upon whether or not a property may continue to be used for the purposes for which it was acquired; this standard was not applied in this case, and the lack of application of such a standard in future cases could have far-reaching consequences for neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. Further, the landmarks law makes clear that alternatives to the proposed demolition must be pursued as part of the finding of hardship. In our opinion, such reasonable alternatives were not adequately explored, by the applicant, the city, or the state. We believe the LPC’s decision could have a dangerous and deleterious impact upon the landmarks law. 

In signing on to this amicus brief, it is the hope of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation that a more appropriate standard for determining hardships in landmarks cases, which upholds the landmarks law while allowing reasonable but rare exceptions for proven hardships, will be adhered to, in this case and in the future. 

A decision is not expected in this case for some time, but GVSHP will keep you posted as to its progress.  You can read the brief HERE, an Executive Summary HERE, and a statement from GVSHP describing our rationale for signing on to the brief HERE.

2) Rezoning/Land Use Review Process Begins — Earlier this month papers were filed to begin the process of reviewing and deciding upon the multiple zoning changes and land use approvals needed for the St. Vincent’s Hospital/Rudin Condo development to move forward as currently planned. Hearings and votes will have to be held by the Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission, and City Council; the City Planning Commission and City Council must approve the changes for them to take effect.

You can read more about the proposed zoning changes HERE.

The first stage of the process will be review and approval of the scope of the required Environmental Review of the proposed zoning changes and the project. You can read more about the St. Vincent’s/Rudin draft Environmental Assessment, its scope of work, and the process by which it is reviewed and approved HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

The first public hearing on the scope of the proposed St. Vincent’s/Rudin Environmental Impact Assessments will be Community Board #2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee on Tues., December 1 at 6:30 (location TBD). The City Planning Commission (which decides upon the scope of work for the Environmental Impact Assessments) will hold a public hearing on Tues., December 8 at 10 am at Spector Hall, City Planning Commission, 22 Reade Street. City Planning will also accept written comments until Tues., December 22 addressed to: Robert Dobruskin, Director, Environmental Assessment and Review Division, New York City Department of City Planning, 22 Reade Street, 4E, New York, NY 10007.

Once the scope of work for the Environmental Assessment has been determined, the review of the actual zoning changes, along with public hearings and votes by Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission, and City Council, will take place. No dates have yet been set, but they will likely be in the early part of next year.

We will share further information as it becomes available, and as always will continue to let you know how you can get involved and let your voice be heard.

Previous: 07/09/09

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