Yesterday the City Council Landmarks subcommittee voted to deny legal landmark status to an 1817 townhouse on the Bowery, deferring to the local councilmember, Margaret Chin, who says the owner, First American International Bank, will provide a little affordable business space if he's allowed to demolish it and redevelop the site into a new seven-story building.
But Chin didn't get a written agreement from the owner or a community
benefits agreement, and she didn't research the surrounding sites,
particularly the ones on Chrystie Street, where the landmark's air
rights could have produced much more affordable space than in situ on the Bowery
and without destroying a historical site.
The councilmember didn't do
her homework to find and secure the best deal. Instead, she took the first offer of
the owner, without obtaining any guarantee that the community will get
anything. We're in a recession. In a moment of trouble, the bank might flip the site to someone else. How long will the affordable business space remain affordable? She can't tell us.
Merely having a good relationship with a supportive bank (for the creation of future
affordable housing, e.g.) is not enough for process and accountability.
Now she'll never know what opportunities were lost. But we know what
we'll lose -- yet another piece of the historical Bowery. The Bowery is a hot property right now. The new building will further
raise the real estate values of the entire strip. We can see where this
is going. She needs to raise the bar on her land use staff. A lot more work could have been done.
Chin has a long and distinguished career as a local affordable housing activist. But as councilmember, so far she's succeeded with this bank's development and with the BID, which happens to be promoted prominently by the same bank. Both accomplishments benefit business and development. Many, perhaps most, business owners in Chinatown don't actually live there or even have their headquarters there, so any indirect benefits for residents remain to be seen -- and indirect harm or secondary displacement also remain to be seen. This affair will tarnish her within her own neighborhood. That's a shame. It was unnecessary: all she needed was the homework.