Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York, Inc. on the Proposed Morningside Heights Historic District

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is a trade association with over 17,000 members including owners, builders, residential and commercial brokers and managers, and other professionals active in the real estate industry in New York. REBNY generally supports the proposed Morningside Heights Historic District, and would like to submit our comments to the Commission for consideration.

In many ways, the proposed Morningside Heights Historic District serves as a further continuation of the Riverside-West End Historic District and its Extensions. The proposed district is defined by the rapid development of a middle-class neighborhood, characterized by large-scale apartment buildings at the turn of the 20th century. The handsome buildings along Riverside Drive largely define the character of this district, representing many examples of beautiful and important architecture.

We want to commend the Landmarks Commission and its staff for producing and distributing their research presentation on the proposed district. In the absence of a draft designation report prior to a public hearing, the presentation offers important insight and transparency into the reasoning and research behind the landmarking process. The maps identifying periods of development and architectural integrity were particularly important, and we welcome these presentations prior to the designation of future historic districts.

REBNY also wants to commend the Commission for its thoughtful approach in determining the boundaries of the proposed district. It is clear that careful consideration was taken in creating boundaries around intrusions that do not contribute to the district in any architecturally or historically significant way. This is best exemplified by the decision to exclude prime development sites along Broadway from the proposed district. We think it would be appropriate for the Commission to consider establishing non-contiguous boundaries in order to prevent the inclusion of non-contributing buildings, as was done with the East Village/Lower East Side District.

While the proposal puts forth a mostly coherent district, it does include a number of buildings that seem to depart from the architectural continuity that the district represents. Noted below and highlighted in the attached map are ten properties (shaded in black and grey) that we believe should be excluded, they are:

1. 611 West 114 Street and 542 Cathedral Parkway: These are two properties built after 1960 (outside the relevant period of development), lacking architectural integrity, and completely incompatible with the surrounding architecture.

2. 545 West 111th Street, 605 and 611 West 112th Street, 614, 616 and 618 West 113th Street, and 2841 Broadway: These are seven properties that have been identified by the Commission as lacking architectural integrity.

3. 618 West 114th St: This vacant lot included within the boundaries of the historic district does not contribute to the historic character of a neighborhood.

We respectfully request that the Commission consider removing these non-contributing properties in order to make the Morningside Heights Historic District as coherent as possible. We think boundaries should be drawn as narrowly as possible to only capture buildings truly worthy of protection and preservation and exclude those inappropriate and non-contributing properties.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts and concerns about this proposed designation.