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City Council Stated Meeting - December 8, 2005

by Mark Berkey-Gerard, Dec 08, 2005
 

Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"There are 75 buildings on the Greenpoint Williamsburg waterfront in this book, the AIA Guide to New York City, the Bible of what is beautiful and architecturally worthy in this city. This building not in here." - Councilmember David Yassky arguing why a Brooklyn warehouse at 184 Kent Avenue should not be an official landmark.

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MEETING SUMMARY:
The New York City Council overrode three vetoes from Mayor Michael Bloomberg; the council rejected a landmark in Brooklyn, instituted parking regulations on a Hindu holiday, and gave public administrators $32,000 raises.

REJECTING A LANDMARK
A week ago, the council overruled the Landmark Preservation Commission's recommendation to designate the Austin, Nichols, and Company Warehouse, located at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, as an official landmark.

Councilmember David Yassky, who represents the district where the building is located, said the building was not worthy of protection.

"There are 75 buildings on the Greenpoint Williamsburg waterfront in this book, the AIA Guide to New York City, the Bible of what is beautiful and architecturally worthy in this city," said Yassky. "This building not in here."

The current owner of the building has plans to convert it into luxury condos. Yassky and others argued that designating the building as a landmark would impede plans to transform the area from a manufacturing to a residential neighborhood.

Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the council's action; his spokesperson called it a "highly significant building designed by a historically significant architect."

Some members sided with the mayor, arguing that the council was giving too much power to developers and doing nothing to help the 50 current residents who are being evicted from the warehouse.

"I don't see how we can substitute our judgment over that of architects and historians," said Councilmember Letitia James. "We need a process that is free of influence from developers, free of influence of politics, and free of influence from politically connected lobbyists."

But most council members sided with Yassky, and said the council was within its power to reject the landmark commission's decision.

"If we have a vote, should we not be using our own judgment?" asked Councilmember Melinda Katz, who chairs the land use committee.

The council overruled the mayor by a vote of 37 to 8 with 2 abstentions. The council only needed 34 votes to override Bloomberg.

Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Letitia James, Margarita Lopez, Michael McMahon, Bill Perkins, and Al Vann sided with the mayor. Gale Brewer and Vincent Gentile abstained from the vote.

HINDU HOLIDAY AND PARKING
In September, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a new parking holiday (Intro 420-A) to mark the Hindu celebration of Diwali, also called the "Festival of Lights."

Diwali is a five-day celebration, which occurs in the fall, usually in October or November. The parking holiday only applies to the third day of the celebration on the day that Lakshmi Puja is observed.

Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the measure, arguing that there are already 44 other days of the year when alternate side of the street parking is suspended and the Department of Sanitation cannot clean the streets - and this measure would create one more.

The council said it was an important gesture to the growing Indian community. It voted 47 to 0 to override the mayor. The law takes effect immediately.

RAISES FOR PUBLIC ADMINISTRATORS
The council also overruled the mayor's veto and approved $31,896 pay increases for public administrators, five court appointed officials who handle estates if the deceased person has no will or others to claim a share of the inheritance. The Surrogate's Court judge in each borough appoints public administrators.

Public administrators currently make $91,134 and under the measure (Intro 719) their pay will increase to $123,030.

The override passed by a vote of 45 to 2. Council members Charles Barron and Allan Jennings sided with the mayor.

NOTIFICATION OF FIRE EXITS
The council also passed several new bills, including legislation (Intro 295-A) aimed at ensuring that audiences at theater performances, movies, and concerts know where the exits are located in case of an evacuation.

The bill requires that all exits at public performances be "conspicuously marked" and that "an audible announcement be made not more than 10 minutes before the start" to notify the audience of how to vacate the room. Movie theaters will be allowed to project the information on the screen.

Councilmember Oliver Koppell, who drafted the bill, said it was a response to a fire in a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003. In that incident, pyrotechnics used by the heavy metal band ignited a fire and some audience members were unable to locate the exits; 96 people were killed.

ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES
Another bill passed by the council (Intro 379-A) requires landlords who receive certain tax subsidies to purchase energy efficient appliances for their tenants' apartments.

Under the measure, when an appliance breaks down or is replaced, a landlord who receives J-51 or 421-a tax benefits must purchase a new product with the Energy Star certified seal. The bill applies to refrigerators, room air conditioners, dishwashers, and clothes washers.

The council hopes the measure will reduce pollution and lower energy costs for tenants. The measure passed by a vote of 46 to 1. Allan Jennings voted "no."

THE COUNCIL'S FINAL WEEKS
The City Council's legislative year ends in two weeks, and both the mayor and council are hoping to finish some last-minute business before Speaker Gifford Miller leaves office and a new speaker is elected in January.

The main item on the agenda for the final weeks is updating the city's 30-year-old noise code.

Last year, the mayor and the council said that they would work together to overhaul the outdated regulations and institute specific language about construction noise, nightclub music, barking dogs, and even Mr. Softee ice cream truck jingles. But negotiations broke down when Speaker Gifford Miller was running for mayor, and both sides accused the other side of delaying the process.

A hearing on the noise code is scheduled for December 14. The full council hopes to vote on new ordinances and other unfinished business at the final Stated Meeting of the year, scheduled for December 21, 2005.

 




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