Should government be allowed to tell businesses or individuals what to do with their properties, at the owners’ expense – or should they have to fund the measures they impose on owners? If it’s got nothing to do with safety or security, why should government have a say at all? The New York Times reports:
Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.
With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.
Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.
There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.
Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.
So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”
Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.
“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”
That the Strand could be threatened by its own preservation seems like a plot twist worthy of one of its books, she said: The very agency entrusted with preserving the city’s treasures is endangering one of them.
. . .
But Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, said she believed the Strand’s concerns were unfounded.
“No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties,” she said. “They’re doing it to honor the building.”
Ms. Breen wants more buildings in the area to be landmarked, and hopes that designating the Strand’s building and the other six would pave the way, especially as a $250 million, 21-story tech training center is being developed near the Strand.
Worried that the project will ignite a wave of local development, preservationists have called for the landmarking of roughly 200 buildings south of Union Square.
There’s more at the link.
It seems pretty straightforward to me.
- If it’s a matter of public safety or security (e.g. fire prevention, building codes/safety, disruption to other premises nearby, etc.) then local government should have the right to regulate activities, within reason (which should be testable by the courts).
- If it’s any other matter, the local government should regulate activities only if they pay for the measures they deem necessary, either in cash, or by granting tax rebates to the property owner or business concerned.
- Pressure groups (such as the preservationists mentioned in the article above) should not be allowed to impose their will on property owners or businesses via the regulatory process. If they want something done (e.g. a building preserved), it’s up to them to come up with the funds necessary to do so – and those funds should not come out of the public purse. Let those who support the measure, pay for it; and let those who aren’t interested, or who oppose it, vote with their wallets. (The same applies to public support for the arts, IMHO. If you want that, you pay for it. Leave me and my taxes out of it!)
Frankly, I regard an official body like the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission as a public burden, not a public service. If someone wants to preserve a building, let them buy it – then they can do as they please with it. Why should tax dollars be used to fund the commission at all, and why should the expenses resulting from the commission’s rulings be imposed willy-nilly on property owners?
Yet another reason I don’t want to live in big cities any longer . . . most of them seem to have gotten way too big for their official, bureaucratic boots.