Does New Rochelle Need a Landmarks Review Board by Peggy Godfrey, from the Westchester Herald, August 31, 2009

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Does New Rochelle Need a Landmarks Review Board by Peggy Godfrey, from the Westchester Herald, August 31, 2009

September 02, 2009 - 21:20

Davids Island in New Rochelle dates back to 1861 and the Civil War when it was used by the War Department as DeCamp General hospital. In the years that followed it was used by the Army. By l948 it was transferred to the Air Force for housing and logistical support. The deed was conveyed to the City of New Rochelle in l967.
In 2005 The Historical Architectural Survey and National Register Evaluation and further surveys and studies in 2006 had designated 19 buildings for "on-site preservation measures." Five meetings were held in 2007 with "interested parties" to discuss alternatives for preservation. But in the end of 2007 the New Rochelle City Council voted to demolish all the buildings. This was less than a month before three new council members were to be installed.
New Rochelle, unlike Yonkers, has no Landmarks Preservation Board. If any structure 75 years or older is slated for demolition, the Landmarks Board must review the building using mandated criteria. This Preservation Board (appointed by the Mayor of Yonkers with the approval of Council) was in the news lately because the Mayor favored a charter revision to give the Planning Board power to approve the Preservation Board's designations before they went to City Council. Presently their designations go directly to City Council for approval.
Chuck Lesnick, the Yonkers City Council President, said their Landmarks Preservation Board which can designate neighborhoods or individual properties, makes the decision and doesn't have to listen to the Planning Board. The state legislature worked with mayors across the state to get the New York State Tax Historic Credit bill passed and signed by the Governor because adaptive reuse of buildings makes good sense and will preserve unique architectural historic buildings of all ages in cities across the state. He felt there is a need to find a balance between historic preservation and having a economically viable plan. Saving important elements of historic buildings can be more interesting than the chrome and glass of new developments.
Planning boards in Yonkers and elsewhere are used to review site plans, traffic and other development issues. In Yonkers the Planning Board is appointed by the Mayor with approval by the City Council, while in New Rochelle and White Plains the Mayor appoints the Planning Board. Only Yonkers in the Westchester area has a Landmarks Review Board. This brings up the question of the powers of Planning Boards in assessing historic preservation.
Since in New Rochelle there have been plans to demolish both the Armory building if Forest City Residential's plans are approved, and the possibility of tearing down the Post Office which already has a historic designation, wouldn't a landmarks review board in New Rochelle be an objective and fair way to determine the viability of these buildings?
Andrew Coviello said at the least the facade and murals of the New Rochelle Post Office should be preserved so people could look at them. He remembered churches that were torn down and the former "fire house" on North Avenue. He felt there were things we can preserve.
New Rochelle Councilman Lou Trangucci said if he had been on the Council when the Davids Island vote was taken he would have advocated to save one building as a museum for the service men who passed through there. He felt appointments to our Planning Board should be made by Council members and by council district. Right now there is a preponderance of North End residents on boards, including the IDA (Industrial Development Corporation).