Preservationists in Chelsea and Greenwich Village fear a loophole in a City Council bill could bring a blight of advertising into some historic neighborhoods.
“I think it is certainly likely to diminish the character of buildings in commercial and manufacturing zones in historic districts,” said Ed Kirkland, chairman of the Community Board 4 Landmarks Committee.
The bill, proposed Councilmember Melinda Katz (D-Queens), would legalize advertising on construction sheds that cover sidewalks when buildings undergo exterior construction. Advertisements wouldn’t be allowed to abut any buildings or sites that have historic designation from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, under the bill.
But advertising could still appear in historic districts originally zoned for commercial and manufacturing uses, which would include parts of Greenwich Village and West Chelsea, according to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
The Society created a map spanning from Madison Square Park to the Lower East Side showing the bill’s reach into historic districts, including the western fringes of the Meatpacking District.
“Not every historic place is landmarked,” Berman said. “Not every neighborhood is zoned purely residential. Many have commercial and manufacturing [zones].”
Jay Bond, a representative for Katz, said shed advertising “would be allowed in manufacturing areas where people may live.”
A Landmarks Preservation Commission representative said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.
The bill is supported by about 30 Council members and the union that represents sign hangers, Bond said.
“This bill is a common sense way to generate revenue for the city and is a great model for how we should regulate other forms of advertising, such as billboards,” said Councilmember Bill de Blasio (D-Brooklyn).
Boon to Business
One of the city’s licensed sign hangers said the bill would help his business.
“We’re down 60 percent in staff size,” said Andrew Montana, owner of Service Signs Erector Company.
He disagreed with preservationists’ calls for increasing fines for illegal signage. “If they were really concerned they’d foster employment and economic development rather than hinder it,” Montana said.
The dispute over the preservation of historic areas has brought some residents’ simmering frustrations about the proliferation of illegal advertising to a boil.
“I have reported a sign on the West Side Highway that’s five stories high that’s been there for years,” said Steve Lambert, the founder of the Anti-Advertising Agency, whose Web site encourages users to document illegal signs around the city and file complaints with the city Buildings Department.
“They haven’t had the chance to look at it for eight months,” he said.
The Buildings Department has 15 employees in its Special Operations program qualified to review illegal billboard complaints. The Department received 921 illegal billboard complaints from across the city last year.
A Buildings Department representative declined comment on the bill.
Bond said the bill would give additional revenue from new licensing to the Buildings Department to enforce signage laws.
“This puts a strength on funding at the agency,” said Bond. “They can’t enforce every single violation of sign laws when there’s other things they’re enforcing also.”
Some locals saw additional opportunities in the bill.
“No matter where they [sheds] go, one could argue when they end up in special districts their character or design should be modified,” said Lance Jay Brown, an ACSA Distinguished Professor of Architecture at City College and a 30-year Chelsea resident.
“In my travels,” he said, “I’ve probably seen some [sheds] that have been pretty nice.”