Preservation Issues

New Coalition Questions Landmarks Law And Process

West End Avenue Historic District Extension I

June 27, 2012

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has formed a coalition seeking changes in the City’s 1965 Landmarks Law, which is widely considered the strongest such law in the country.

While the coalition says it supports preservation, the members believe that the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has “overreached” in the number and size of recent historic district designations. REBNY singled out new districts in Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant, as well the proposed West End Avenue Historic District extensions—the first of which was designated by LPC this week.

The LPC has created a number of new or expanded historic districts because residents in those areas requested designation. Before voting on a district, LPC sends letters to property owners, holds public meetings in the area and seeks the support of the Community Board and local elected officials. There is still a long waiting list of areas throughout the City where residents are seeking to become historic districts.

REBNY says recent historic districts contain buildings that are not of “high architectural merit.” But historic districts are meant to hold an ensemble of buildings—from high style to vernacular—that contribute to an overall sense of place.

REBNY says the City Planning Commission must do an “economic analysis” that looks at the future economic potential of an area before voting on whether to affirm a designation. City Planning already has the leeway to consider that. But preservation is an important factor in the City’s economy.

Landmarking protects and enhances property values, provides homes and cultural institutions, promotes tourism, creates local jobs and helps maintain a good quality of life. There has been much new construction in recent years. But it is the great mix of architectural periods and styles that makes New York unique.

The West End Avenue Historic District extension passed by LPC this week will proceed to the Planning Commission and the City Council. The Conservancy will continue to support this designation. This new district, and the other proposed West End Avenue extensions, contains some of the finest apartment and rowhouse architecture in the City. The area embodies a comprehensive sense of place.

The Conservancy first alerted the public to the creation of the coalition on June 7th. We will continue to talk with our friends in the real estate community to underscore the benefits of preservation and work with them to keep New York a vital mix of the best of new and existing architecture.