Preservation Issues

Landmarks Commission Welcomes Public Comment on Revised Rules

UPDATE: JULY 31, 2018

The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted today to hold a public hearing in October to allow comment on recent changes to the controversial Rules revisions LPC announced last March. The public, the Conservancy, and other groups spoke out against portions of the proposals and we said we could not support them. We joined with our colleagues in April asking that the changes be rescinded.

We are pleased the LPC heard the concerns and outlined a series of updates that we hope will resolve these issues. The LPC website will post the revised rules after today’s vote.

The Conservancy was concerned that the first set of proposed Rules revisions would add a complicated layer of bureaucracy to the permit process, requiring hiring an architect or expediter. They would also have limited Community Board review of projects that have a strong impact on neighborhoods, such as rooftop and backyard additions. The revisions would also have created a new category of “lesser” buildings within historic districts, potentially allowing significant alteration or even demolition in a district without public notification or input.

We will be analyzing the new text to see if it addresses those concerns.

MAY 31, 2018
LPC Amends Planned Rules Changes After Public Outcry

In response to opposition from preservationists, Community Boards, and elected officials, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has revised its proposed Rules Amendments, ensuring that the public will continue to have an opportunity to learn about and comment on projects at public hearings. LPC staff previewed the changes at a May 29 public meeting. (LPC Proposed Rules) The agency did not issue the full text, which would flesh out the now-revised Amendments.

The new set of changes appear to address several concerns that had been raised at a lengthy March 27 hearing (see story below). The original intent of the Amendments was to reorganize the Rules, codify staff practices and typical Commission decisions, and send many applications that used to require a public hearing to be handled at staff-level. The Conservancy agreed with the overall goals of transparency and efficiency, (link to testimony) but found that in practice, the proposed Amendments were burdensome and would shut out the public from many permit applications affecting their own neighborhoods. We asked for increased information on the agency’s website regarding applications in process and an updated permit application guide, which explains and illustrates the complicated Rules. Other groups called out changes in how additions and requests to use substitute materials would be addressed.

This week, LPC staff introduced new features on their website which will allow searches of permits issued since January 2016 or currently in process, filtered by historic district, community board, or work type, among other layers. The revisions to the Amendments will no longer send many applications for additions to the staff. They will tighten the restoration Rules regarding substitute materials. They will rescind changes that would have eased the removal of sidewalk vault lights and allowed some simplified windows. And they will not change practices for sites labeled “no-style” or “non-contributing.”

The Conservancy looks forward to seeing the full text of the revised Amendments. LPC did not indicate when it would be released or when there would a final vote.

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March 27, 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.