LPC rule change debated

Rule amendment would expand staff-level approval authority for some types of window and sign alterations. On March 1, 2011, Landmarks held a public hearing on proposed amendments to the rules pertaining to construction work on properties under Landmarks’ jurisdiction. Landmarks proposed the changes to streamline the application review process, codify current practices and policies, and address inconsistencies. Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that the proposal was partially intended to remove from the calendar issues that have consistently been decided based on similar circumstances and to make the City’s preservation law as “simple [and] transparent as possible.

The rules include permitting staff-level approval of modifications to certain visible windows, more staff-level approval of storefront signage, and expedited review of cellar and basement work provided it would not involve excavation. The new rules would no longer allow staff-level approval of modifications to non-visible windows on the top floors of rowhouses, keeping with comments from Commissioners regarding the significance of historic rowhouses. The changes would require staff to consider applications for rear or roof additions in the context of aggregate enlargements to the buildings, including approved and grandfathered additions. The definition of mechanical equipment would be broadened to include solar panels, wind turbines, and micro turbines, in order to ease the approval of green technologies.

The proposal would also formally establish a process for revoking approvals that were issued by mistake, misrepresentation, or for noncompliance. Using the Department of Buildings as a model, Landmarks would issue owners a notice of intent to revoke. The owner would be required to stop work and would have ten days to respond to the notice. The owner could challenge the Chair’s final decision to revoke by filing an article 78 petition.

The proposed rules were met with a range of support and opposition. Representatives of Manhattan Community Boards 7 and 5 claimed that increasing staff-level review would diminish a transparent public review process. Conversely, the Real Estate Board of New York’s Carol Van Guilder argued that the “unnecessarily formulaic” rules would force Landmarks staff to refer more applications for public hearings. Attorney Deirdre Carson, also speaking on behalf of REBNY, expressed several concerns about the revocation process, including that it would be more appropriately established through the legislative process and not through rule-making.

The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough testified that the rules “acknowledged long-standing problems” and offered appropriate changes and solutions. Tara Kelly, from Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, stated that her organization would be more comfortable with increased staff-level determinations if applications were made available online.

Landmarks did not specify a time frame for action on the proposal.

LPC: Agency Rule Making, Citywide (Mar. 1, 2011). The full text of the proposed rules is available online at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/calendar/rules_1.pdf

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