Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Small But Vocal Crowd Turns Out For LPC Hearing on Cordoba House

I'm actually somewhat surprised that the opponents to the project didn't make a stronger or louder showing than they actually did. The LPC picked a larger venue than usual to hold this hearing, expecting a large crowd, and while there were some vocal opponents, it was actually a somewhat typical affair.
The venue for the hearing had been shifted twice, both times to larger quarters to accommodate the expected crowds. But the hearing room at Hunter College, with a capacity of over 2,000, was filled by less than 200 folks who braved bag searches and metal detectors. Still, the LPC got an earful. Over 50 speakers gave testimony, the vast majority in favor of landmarking the building (and simultaneously making it clear that a mosque should never be allowed anywhere near ground zero). The media were out in force to capture the fireworks, and harsh words soon erupted.

The LPC is in an awkward position, as the designation proposal for the five-story Italianate building has sat in its files for over 20 years with no action. The Landmarks Committee at Community Board 1 hasn't made things any clearer: Last week they voted against awarding landmark status, but included in their resolution a statement saying that, while 45 Park Place wasn't distinguished enough for individual protection, the facade should be dismantled, stored and later used on the new building at the location.

Even if the building is given landmark status, the owners could still build above and around the existing building. The LPC also has no control over the plot next door, which is also part of the Cordoba House lot, and the proposed building does not require any zoning variances to rise to the planned 15 stories.
The LPC will take its time to consider the landmarking of the 45/47 Park Place properties.

As I've pointed out repeatedly, even the landmarking status will not kill the project, and the proponents could find ways to work around the project. The group sponsoring the project owns the properties from 45 through 51 Park Place, and could find ways to work around whatever restrictions are put on them with respect to the 45 Park Place parcel.

One of the most interesting opposition arguments was that the building should be landmarked because of the damage it sustained from debris from one of the two planes that struck the Twin Towers, forcing its closure since 9/11. That argument would actually suggest keeping the building shuttered forever in its current state, and I think that's a worse fate than repurposing the building to something that could benefit the community in Lower Manhattan that could use community space akin to the 92nd Street Y and other well known community spaces.

The group behind the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has held services in a small mosque in TriBeCa since 1983, is even contemplating changing the name to Park51, rather than the Cordoba Center. Where and how Rauf is able to obtain financing is an open question and while thus far hasn't raised any red flags, if monies raised come from dubious sources, that should be a serious concern. I would urge Rauf to be more forthcoming as to the financing and how this is a project to benefit the entire community.

Still, I don't think opponents will care much as for whatever the proposal is called or how much outreach Rauf and his group engages in. They're opposed to the project due to its proximity to Ground Zero, even as many opponents consider it part of Ground Zero (it is not). Moreover, they're opposed to the very concept of a mosque that close to Ground Zero.

A couple of GOP hopefuls think that the Cordoba House presents a security risk - by Islamic terrorists targeting the mosque/community center because it's seeking to be more inclusive and moderate than the Islamists want. He also thinks that such mosques shouldn't be in line of sight with sites of special significance, like the White House or Ground Zero (and ignores that this building site at 45-51 Park Place would fit that bill).

Moreover, the additional restrictions would violate federal law -
But providing an extra standard might violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a Republican sponsored measure which outlaws any regulations imposing a “substantial burden” on religious uses. (It passed the House unanimously, which means King supported it.)

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