Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves 30 Historic Districts

July 11, 2012

Following the recent designation of the East Village Historic District and the major expansion to the existing Upper West Side Historic District, the current Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has approved a total of 30 historic districts and 8 historic district expansions – the most approved by any administration since the LPC’s was founded in 1965.

It is fair to note that a good chuck of Manhattan is now landmark-protected – including many of the Boroughs most desirable and “hot” neighborhoods (e.g., the meatpacking district).  From SoHo to the Upper East Side, from Harlem to the Ladies Mile and from Chelsea to Fulton Ferry, a diverse array of landmark districts governs ALL development and ANY façade alterations for thousands of Manhattan properties.   In quiet, deliberative fashion – often without much publicity or notice – the LPC has dramatically expanded its jurisdiction.  And, since we’ve never un-done (repealed) a historic district once adopted, this authority is likely with us forever.

For REBNY and other NYC real estate interests, the LPC’s muscular approach and unprecedented expansion is more than a little troubling.  For landmark constituencies and several local groups (particularly those in the West Village), the LPC’s work is too timid and is merely catching up to decades of inaction.

Local media have, at long last, taken notice:  See a June article from the New York Post discussing “landmark backlash.”

But, the LCP’s work is not truly “news” – they’ve been at it for years now.  Often taking a back seat to the aggressive work of the City Planning Commission in rezoning a huge swath of the City, the LPC’s efforts are less noticeable in significant part because they are not subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Process and do not have public hearings at the City Council.  Unbeknownst to many, the LPC can “calendar” a landmark or historic district for designation without public hearings and without a lengthy review or environmental analysis.  Property owners in an affected area receive a notice via “snail mail” that their property is proposed to be included in a new (or expanded) historic district. Once calendared, the LPC may schedule a public hearing at its offices in the municipal building with minimal public notice – and then can act quickly and without prior review by local politicians. In practice, however, the LPC takes care to hold community meetings and forums with affected property owners.  After a public hearing, the LPC can designate a historic district – or an individual landmark building.  This is subject to review by the City Council – but the Council rarely takes a position and has only vetoed a designation once or twice in the past two decades.

Once landmarked, a building must be kept “water-tight” so as to avoid deterioration, but an owner need not to act to preserve ornamentation.  Still, any change to the façade or certainly an addition to the landmarked building is subject to LPC jurisdiction.

Next up, a review of the LPC permitting process.  For now, here’s to 30.

picture of East 10th Street via The Lo-Down