Preservation Issues

Spirited Debate on Proposed LPC Rules Changes

March 29, 2018

The Conservancy spoke out (link to testimony) against changes to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) Rules that will add a layer of complicated bureaucracy and reduce public input, at an LPC hearing on March 27. Over 125 people packed the hearing room, offering several hours of testimony, some in favor, but much against the complex amendments.

Conservancy staff and board have been reviewing the LPC’s proposal for many months. The agency set forth goals of increased transparency and predictability for the public and a more efficient schedule for the volunteer Commissioners who hear items at public hearings. However, we did not find that the proposal met those goals.

The Rules overhaul reorganized the text, and codified policies the staff have been following in issuing permits and decisions that the Commissioners have regularly made at hearings. The result is a series of complicated guidelines that would be extraordinarily difficult for most building owners to comprehend. We recommended that the LPC expand and update its permit application guide and Rowhouse Manual, and offer similar manuals for other building types.

Much public outcry against the Rules amendments is in response to the plan to allow more applications to be reviewed at staff level, without a public hearing. This would reduce the opportunity for residents and Community Boards to know what work will take place in their neighborhoods and comment on it. We’ve found that local input is often a valuable contribution, with information about a building that only a neighbor can know. We recommended that certain LPC applications still have a public hearing at the Community Board and that the LPC improve and expand information about applications on its website.

We also called for removing a phrase that turned up several times in the proposal, creating a new category, “(w)here a building in a historic district is… not a building for which the district was designated.” This language, which is not found in the Landmarks Law would set a dangerous precedent. Many district designation reports don’t have one specific rationale for designation, and many districts have multiple building types and styles.

The Conservancy’s staff who were previously employed at the Commission pored over the 130 pages of amendments to call out confusing and vague language, ask for rationales on specific items, and reinforce the need for an expansive and illustrated guide to using the Rules.

The Commissioners did not comment on the Rules amendments or the testimony. In response to a request from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the Commission will keep the record open for six weeks; additional comments can be submitted here. The vote has not been scheduled.