City Announces Plan to Protect Vulnerable Landmarks

Buildings on Lenox Avenue in the Mount Morris Park Historic District were preserved in part of efforts by LPC. Image Credit: LPC.

On April 7, 2023, Mayor Eric Adams, along with Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll and Buildings Acting Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik announced a new action plan to improve enforcement tools to preserve historic buildings in New York City. The plan aims to protect landmarked buildings that are at risk of unknown structural conditions, neglect from owners, and negligence by contractors who work on site. The plan aims to enhance communication between Landmarks and Buildings to identify issues early. 

The plan focuses on three areas of approach in handling these at-risk buildings: early detection and enhanced monitoring; engineering review and increased oversight; and enhanced community tools and outreach. To improve detection and monitoring, Buildings will share more data with Landmarks to identify vulnerable conditions earlier. Landmarks will work with Buildings, the Fire Department, and other relevant governmental agencies to use data to identify compromised roofs. Landmarks has hired additional enforcement staff to work on monitoring identified buildings. 

To enhance oversight and engineering reviews, Landmarks will increase the types of applications that will be reviewed by the agency’s consulting engineer to find more pre-existing unknown structural conditions prior to Landmarks approval and DOB issuance of permits for work at the site. Buildings’ Construction Safety Engineering Unit will also review certain applications, including excavation and additions that require demolition of significant portions of rear walls prior to Landmarks approval. 

To enhance community tools and outreach, Landmarks will upload violation information to its maps in the interest of transparency. Additional violation information will be directly provided by Landmarks to community boards and other stakeholders for earlier notification. Landmarks will also partner with citywide and area groups to help educate property owners. 

In addition to these enhancements to protect designated buildings, the agencies have taken additional steps to protect buildings under consideration for designation. All new full demolition jobs must be filed in Buildings’ online public portal DOB NOW: Build instead of the Buildings Information System (BIS). 

Landmark Chair Carroll stated, “Through LPC and DOB’s action plan, we will be able to identify at-risk buildings earlier and take meaningful steps to protect our aging and most vulnerable landmark buildings. he plan also outlines enhanced communications to property owners, community organizations, residents, and other stakeholders to address issues early on to further protect our historic buildings.”

Buildings Acting Commissioner Vilenchik stated, “Time and lack of proper maintenance by owners have a compounding effect on our city’s aging historic buildings. These new initiatives spearheaded by LPC and DOB are going to help us proactively identify at-risk landmarked buildings in our city, so we can intervene before structural stability issues worsen and the buildings deteriorate beyond repair.”

Prior to the release of the plan, Landmarks had held an expert engineering roundtable and conducted other stakeholder outreach, including asking for recommendations from preservation and community groups. One of the groups, the Historic Districts Council, issued a series of recommendations to Landmarks in February 2023. 

CityLand reached out to the Historic Districts Council following the announcement of the plan. Frampton Tolbert, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, stated, “We are pleased to see the announcement of the Action Plan as a first step. Implementation and transparency is key going forward. HDC does have concerns in light of the proposed cut to city agencies in the Mayor’s FY24 budget proposal and have requested that the City Council restore any cuts to the LPC. We, and our preservation partners across the city, believe elimination of staff positions and budget lines will only set the LPC further back in their ability to proactively address this pressing issue. For now, HDC plans to be in regular communication with the LPC to track how the Action Plan is being carried out and the specific actions LPC is taking on buildings at risk that we have identified.” (Please Note: Mayor Adams released the Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget on April 26, 2023, after these quotes were issued. In the FY Executive Budget, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has an expense budget cut of $40,591 from the FY 2023 Budget as Modified to the FY 2024 Executive Budget (FY Executive Budget, page 13). The City’s budget will continue to be negotiated with the City Council through the spring and must be approved before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.)

CityLand also reached out to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (Village Preservation) for comment. Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman shared some concerns regarding the plan, stating, “While we’re glad that the administration is saying some of the right things regarding addressing this disturbing trend of historic buildings being damaged or destroyed on the city’s watch, the announcement is long on pronouncements and short on any specifics as to how it will be achieved. ‘More coordination’ and ‘greater data sharing’ are great, but without particulars attached to them and specific commitments, they can ultimately be meaningless. The announcement also makes no mention of areas where the administration really needs to do more, such as ensuring there are sufficient penalties for law breakers, to deter such behavior rather than have them become a “cost of doing business;” stricter oversight for known bad actors, who’ve broken the law before; more careful monitoring of particularly fragile buildings which are vulnerable due to deterioration, structural weaknesses, or both; and ensuring that when landmarked buildings are destroyed, they are required to be reconstructed as they were, so there is no profit or gain from destroying them. It’s good to see that the administration is recognizing that there is a problem in their rhetoric. Now they need to offer some real details on what will be different and how they will prevent more of these protected buildings from being destroyed, and ensure that this administration is just as focused on how to “keep stuff standing” as they have stated they are about how to “get stuff built.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)




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