Dear Neighbors –

Here is Why We Lawyered Up for Tribeca

After four years of research and back and forth with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) over Tribeca Trust’s request to add 200-plus buildings to our historic districts (many of them under threat of demolition), the LPC told us “no”. That “no” came after years of run-around. To please the LPC over the past few years, we did preservation surveys of unprotected buildings in each part of Tribeca with multiple interns from Columbia and Pratt; we hired preservation consultants to do additional studies for us (at the request of the LPC for ‘more information’); and we badgered politicians and the community board to send letters of support for our “ask”. We rallied the support of preservation organizations across the city to opine on the sound merits of our case.

So, yes, we were angry after receiving the “no”. What was doubly infuriating was this: in their letter to us, the LPC mentioned how our Tribeca North request, in particular, had merit, but that the answer was still going to be “no”. No explanation was given that made any sense to us beyond vague reference to priorities, and that didn’t make any sense to us either given that the “South Village” got designated in record time last fall.

So we went to court. The lawyer we hired is Michael Hiller, who won the Clocktower lawsuit we were involved in a few years back. Hiller has won several other lawsuits of similar character. His website is here. The suit contends that the LPC’s decision not to calendar a hearing for extension of our historic districts is “irrational, arbitrary, and capricious” — this language comes from the law governing the actions of regulatory agencies. We ask for a remedy – that Tribeca’s case be heard in a public hearing and that the LPC develop clear guidelines and procedures consistent with international best practice for making decisions to extend a historic district. You can read Hiller’s brief here.

Michael Hiller, Tribeca Trust's attorney

Michael Hiller, Tribeca Trust’s attorney

To see why we are so infuriated, please take a look at Tribeca Trust’s on-line slideshow here. It shows a mere sample of buildings that were part of our “ask” for historic district protection.  When you open the slide show, try to guess which of the two buildings shown in each slide is inside the historic district and which one is outside. Without reading the captions, you can’t tell.

We expect our attorney to call us to court in late August and September. We urge all Tribecans who are in town to join us in the courtroom. We will announce the date as soon as we know it. If you come, you will get to see some legal history being made as Hiller argues our case. He’s among the best. When you see him in court, you will see that we made the right choice in legal representation and were good stewards of the money you gave us to hire him.

And for your reading pleasure, here are some key quotes from the various affidavits and memoranda that were submitted for this case.

“The establishment and application of procedures, standards, and criteria by which to engage in decision-making is essential to the integrity of administrative agency action. It is also essential to help ensure that statutes, including, in particular, the New York City Landmarks Law, are implemented consistent with their overarching purposes…..It is vital that the rules and criteria be adopted by administrative agencies of New York, including the LPC, to avoid, not only impropriety but the appearance of it.” (Hiller, Memorandum of Law).

“Strikingly, in a number of instances, the buildings that lie outside the district are superior to those within. I cannot sufficiently stress the way in which the Trust’s exhibit establishes what would appear to be completely arbitrary policy of valuation that preserves one building by an important architect, but excludes another of identical or better quality…The present district boundaries – especially when they occur midblock– have the potential to rupture any sense of ensemble that is basic to the very idea of a Historic District….(Affidavit of M. Sorkin).

“One objective in the creation of historic districts should be to provide to the public at large an honest and legible interpretation of a particular place so that the constituent elements of that place – architectural character, social history, urban plan, etc, – are clearly and logically presented in a true and easily understandable manner without pretense. In the case of Tribeca, the current state of affairs is that some historically and architecturally significant buildings are included, while others, for uncertain reasons, are excluded, thereby confusing any citizen’s clear understanding of the overall district and its deeper meanings, and greatly diminishing the District’s value as a public good.” (Affidavit of D. Rao).

We will be having a fundraiser in September, so stay tuned for more information on both the suit and the fundraiser. Please forward this email on to your neighbors and friends in Tribeca.


Lynn Ellsworth