National News

Landmarks Chairwoman Will Resign Her Post

Posted April 19, 2018 11:50 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — The chairwoman of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission announced Thursday that she was stepping down from her $212,044-a-year post, after nearly four years of a sometimes tumultuous stewardship.

The chairwoman, Meenakshi Srinivasan, had faced fierce opposition to a set of proposed rule changes that critics said would weaken protections for historic buildings.

Those changes would, among other things, put the commission staff in charge of some types of landmarks decisions. Critics said that would remove decisions from public view and eliminate the chance for public comment.

At a commission hearing March 27, an overwhelming majority of speakers voiced opposition to those rules; at least one speaker at the hearing called for the removal of the chairwoman, to loud applause.

Zodet Negrón, a commission spokeswoman, said Srinivasan was not leaving because of the criticism, but that her departure had been planned for several months. Srinivasan, who previously worked for the Department of City Planning for New York and was a commissioner and chairwoman of the Board of Standards and Appeals, will remain on the job through June 1.

Negrón said that the public comment period for the rule changes was extended to May 8, and a vote on the rule changes had not been scheduled. She was unable to say whether the vote would occur before Srinivasan departs.

Srinivasan becomes the latest woman in a senior position to leave government as Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York begins his second term. Other departures announced in recent days include the chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority, Shola Olatoye, and a senior adviser to the mayor, Andrea Hagelgans. The schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, retired at the end of March.

De Blasio has seen an exodus of female appointees since early in his first term. The new term has also brought the departure of some prominent men, including the first deputy mayor, Tony Shorris, and a deputy mayor, Richard Beury.

“It’s a natural transition,” said Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary.

In a written statement Thursday, de Blasio praised Srinivasan as “a talented, dogged public servant,” and he credited her with modernizing the commission and “slicing through decades of regulatory red tape.”

Early in her tenure, in 2014, Srinivasan said that the commission should wipe a backlog of nearly 100 proposed landmark cases off its books, without making a determination on their status. Many of the cases had lingered for years or decades without a decision, but the proposal to eliminate them from consideration drew sharp criticism from some local politicians and advocacy groups, and it was shelved.

Lynn Ellsworth, a co-founder of Human Scale NYC and the chairwoman of the Tribeca Trust, said that Srinivasan has been “hostile to historic preservation” and too often sided with landlords and developers. “The commission has been overly biased toward the desires of the real estate industry for too long,” she said. She was leery of who might be appointed to replace Srinivasan, but said, “It’s a great opportunity to right a wrong.”

John H. Banks, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a developer group, said that Srinivasan had “effectively balanced competing interests for the public good.” He added, “She did a terrific job.”