LPC speaks out against controversial landmarks bills

TRD New York /
May.May 02, 2012 03:30 PM

[Updated at 4:30 p.m. with comments from the Historic Districts Council] At a public hearing this morning, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission finally had its say on a package of 11 bills that could substantially impact the workings of the agency, a spokesperson for the LPC told The Real Deal today. The agency took particular issue with 11 bills that seek to impose a timeline on the LPC’s deliberation of potential landmarks and historic districts, including one that introduces a time limit of 180 days for LPC to respond to requests for evaluation and another that institutes a fixed deadline of 33 months for landmark and historic district designations.

“These bills, taken together, would significantly alter the discretionary, flexible and nuanced process that [city] charter and the landmarks law left in the hands of a capable and expert agency,” said Jenny Fernandez, director of intergovernmental relations at LPC, when testifying at this morning’s hearing, according to a transcript from the public meeting. “Establishing rigid timelines and processes with respect to requests for evaluation would make it extremely difficult for the commission to address changing conditions, set and adjust priorities and respond to true emergency situations.”

The commission also noted that a number of the proposed bills, including those which mandate a publicly accessible online database of requests for evaluation, would have an effect on the workload of other city agencies.

“It also should be noted that some of the provisions in these bills will dramatically impact other city agencies, Fernandez said. “Like many regulatory systems, the landmark process interfaces with and depends on other city agencies to be effective. [These bills] would require the Department of Buildings to audit all outstanding permits already issued when a building or district is calendared, to revoke all outstanding permits at the time of a landmark designation, to determine the qualifications of a new type of preservation professional, to stop properly permitted work without an inspection and, perhaps, to stop processing permits during the designation process.”

A spokesperson for DOB was not immediately available for comment on the bills.

The commission also addressed a contentious bill that proposes revoking an LPC requirement stipulating that building owners making changes to their properties use historically appropriate materials even when those materials were not in place at the time the owner purchased the building.

“One of the things that historic designation achieves is the improvement of the condition of the building and district over time by ameliorating many inappropriate conditions at the time they need to be replaced,” Fernandez said. “For example, if a house has aluminum siding at the time of designation, when the siding wears out and needs replacing, the Commission would require that the owner use a material that was used originally or historically on the property, or the owner could seek approval to use a better, more appropriate substitute material. This would no longer be the case and will perpetually grandfather inappropriate or unsightly conditions on historic buildings.”

A total of 53 people signed up to testify at the hearing, which is still ongoing, an LPC spokesperson said.

As previously reported, preservationist organizations such as the Historic Districts Council have been among the bills’ detracts. It argues that the success of the bills “would result in thousands of buildings being permanently prevented from becoming landmarks based on a mandated schedule rather than merit.”

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said the majority of testifiers in attendance spoke out against the “damaging” bills.

“At least three dozen people testified,” he said, “and only one testified in favor of the bills. Our feelings were clearly supported by the public.”

The one detractor, Bankoff said, was Michael Slattery, senior vice president of REBNY. Slattery said in his testimony: “The Landmarks Law, particularly historic district designation, has been misused to address neighborhood quality of life and development concerns that should and would be better addressed by zoning laws. This has distorted the original intent of the Landmarks Law to preserve the architectural, cultural and historic fabric of our city. You only have to look at the scope of the proposed Upper West Side extensions, especially as it compares to the original districts, to see that the application of the Landmarks Law has changed.”

No date has been set for the City Council to make a decision on the bills.

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