City Council Proposes Important Changes to Landmarks Law

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (“LPC”) has designated more than 1,400 individual landmarks and 107 historic districts.  Approximately 29,000 buildings are under LPC regulation. With only five percent of that total comprising individual landmarks,95 percent are subject to LPC regulation solely because they are located within historic districts, regardless of individual merit.

With the proliferation of buildings subject to LPC regulation, both as individual landmarks and within historic districts, attention has increasingly focused on the landmark process. On May 2, 2012, the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee and Land Use Committee, chaired by Erik Martin Dilan and Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., respectively, held a joint public hearing to consider eleven separate bills.

Some of the bills would provide landmarked or eligible properties with increased protection. Intro 80, for example, would extend existing protective requirements for historic buildings located near construction sites from 90 feet to 150 feet. Under Intro 20, the Department of Buildings must revoke a valid building permit once a property is designated or included within a historic district. This would eliminate the protection currently provided under the Landmarks Preservation Law whereby permits are grandfathered if issued prior to designation. A property owner could have a permit reinstated, but only upon an application to the Board of Standards & Appeals to prove “substantial performance and substantial expenditures” in reliance on the permit.

The majority of the bills, however, seek to bring increased transparency and certainty to the landmark process, and include the following:

Creation of a publicly accessible online database of public requests – known as Requests for Evaluation – that a property or historic district be designated. (Intro 532A)

Require LPC staff to make a written recommendation regarding whether a Request for Evaluation is accepted for further study within 120 days, with a 60-day extension right for a maximum of 180 days. (Intro 222A)

Creation of an appeal process for a Request for Evaluation denied by LPC staff.  An appeal by a Community Board or Borough Board would trigger a vote by the full Commission. (Intro 849)

For Request for Evaluations accepted for further study, LPC staff would have an eight month (for individual landmarks) or eighteen month (for historic districts) deadline to conclude its analysis. (Intro 850)

Require LPC to hold a public hearing and vote within six months after a property owner is notified that its property is being considered for designation. The public hearing must be held within two months after the designation is calendared for public hearing, with a one-time extension of three months if more than one hearing is required. (Intro 850)

Permit public testimony at LPC hearings to include evidence addressing the economic impact of a proposed designation. In addition, the City Planning Commission’s report to the City Council regarding the designation must include an analysis of the impact of such designation on the “development, growth, improvement, renewal, or economic development of the area involved… and shall specifically consider the relationship between the development potential of all properties affected by the proposed designation, both public and private, and the existing development on such properties at the time of designation.” (Intro 846)

Require LPC to issue a draft designation once a property is calendared for designation.  (Intro 846)

The concept of fixed time limits for agency actions reflects the provisions of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”), which governs the review of major land use actions by the Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission, and City Council. The requirement that economic impacts be disclosed is similar to City Environmental Quality Review (“CEQR”), whereby the potential for significant environmental impacts, including socio-economic impacts, must be disclosed during the period of agency consideration.

The landmark process is governed largely by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law, which was adopted in 1965, a decade prior to the adoption of ULURP and CEQR.  Given the tremendous growth in the number of affected properties since that time, it is appropriate for the City Council to revisit the Landmarks Preservation Law and focus on ways of increasing both transparency and predictability.

Howard Goldman is a partner at GoldmanHarris LLC.  Eugene Travers is an associate at the firm.


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