Sarah Carroll Confirmed for New Term As Landmarks Chair by City Council

Landmarks Chair Sarah Carroll. Image Credit: LPC.

Sarah Carroll confirmation followed hearing by Council Committee. On September 14, 2022, Sarah Carroll was approved by the City Council to serve as Chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Mayor Adams announced Ms. Carroll’s reappointment on August 5, 2022.

Landmarks is the largest municipal preservation agency in the United States. Carroll, who also serves as Commissioner, was first appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in October 2018. She manages a staff of approximately 80 people whose mission is to protect more than 36,000 architecturally, historically, and culturally significant sites in all five boroughs, and identify and designate new landmark buildings, sites, and districts. Her term will last until June 28, 2025.

Committee Hearing

Prior to her confirmation, the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections held a hearing on September 7th to discuss Carroll’s reappointment to the Commission. At the hearing, Carroll’s opening remarks focused on her lifelong devotion to preservation, highlighting how she led the Commission throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the Commission’s efforts to incorporate diversity and inclusion into their designation process.

Ms. Carroll stated “I believe I bring a unique blend of expertise and experience to the position of chair,” citing her 25 years of experience at the Commission and intimate knowledge of the range of activities the Commission executes that will help her in achieving the LPC’s goals. Following her opening remarks, Commissioner Carroll received questioning from members of the City Council.

Speaker Adrienne Adams’s questioning focused on diversity and inclusion in the landmark preservation process, and she commended Commissioner Carroll for carrying on the message of diversity to the LPC. Speaker Adams asked Carroll what she can do to dissipate the perception that historic preservation is dominated by wealthy elites. Carroll responded that the LPC will continue to survey, research, and designate sites that reflect underrepresented communities, both geographically and culturally, and that she will continue to prioritize outreach in communities that are underrepresented in the designation process. Speaker Adams concluded her questioning by encouraging Commissioner Carroll to continue to prioritize outreach and diversity, and to bring underrepresented communities into the designation process.

Councilmember Chi Ossé was next to question Ms. Carroll. Councilmember Ossé represents Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn (District 36), which used to be the home of the Jacob Dangler House at 441 Willoughby Avenue. The Dangler House was demolished in July 2022, less than two weeks after the LPC held a public hearing to consider its designation as an Individual Landmark. Despite Landmark’s attempt to save the Dangler House by commencing the designation process, the Commission was criticized for not acting quickly enough.

Councilmember Ossé’s questioning echoed this criticism, stating that the demolition was an “atrocity,” and that there was wide spread support for the building’s preservation. Commissioner Carroll responded by first stating that demolition was a “personal and professional hit” for her and her staff. She stated that the LPC moved as quickly as they could, calendaring the designation on the same day they learned of Councilmember Ossé’s support.

Ms. Carroll credited the delay in designating the Dangler House to a technological error from the Department of Buildings (DOB). The DOB electronic application did not designate the Dangler House’s application as complete, thus the LPC was not aware that the 40-day period to designate the building had begun. Ms. Carroll contends that had the LPC been aware of the application’s completion, they would have been able to move the designation process along in time to prevent the eventual destruction of the Dangler House. She acknowledged that the destruction of the Dangler House was very disappointing, and stated that she has worked with the DOB to ensure that something like this never happens again.

Councilmember Gale Brewer (District 6), asked whether buildings could be designated as cultural landmarks as opposed to historical landmarks. Carroll noted there was no term “cultural landmark” in the designation process but highlighted the Commission’s interest in designating sites of cultural significance. Councilmember Brewer also asked about NYCHA housing on the Upper West Side. Carroll stated that while the Commission has not focused on designating NYCHA housing specifically, they have started looking into the historic importance of housing complexes in general.

Councilmember Lincoln Restler of District 33 followed, expressing frustration with the lack of accountability in enforcement of the Landmark laws. He cited the Green Point Savings Bank specifically, stating that it has had graffiti atop it for well over a year. He went on to say that the communication process with the LPC is “mind-numbingly slow,” and asked what needs to be changed legislatively to give “some teeth to the Landmarks laws.” Commissioner Carroll defended the Commission’s enforcement process, and stating that it has worked historically. Councilmember Restler expressed concerns and reservations regarding this process, and requested additional information. He concluded by expressing appreciation for her attention and work in the agency.

After questioning from Council Members concluded, the floor was open to public commentary. Three preservation advocates came up to comment on Commissioner Carroll’s reappointment.

First to speak was Christabel Gough from the Society for the Architecture of the City. The Society is a small all-volunteer historic preservation advocacy group that has been monitoring the LPC’s actions and policies since 1984. Ms. Gough started her statements by declaring that, “Under former Mayor de Blasio, the city-wide assault on historic preservation was unremitting.” She went on to criticize Ms. Carroll for perpetuating de Blasio’s policies, and for the implementation of a program that allowed for approval of commercial modifications of historic buildings without public hearing. Gough concluded by stating that Carroll’s reappointment is “not a proud moment for the City of New York.”

Simeon Bankoff, a preservationist advocate since 1993, spoke next. He praised the relative transparency of the LPC when compared to other preservation commissions across the country, and pointed out that the renomination of Commissioner Carroll across administrations is unprecedented. Though he could not complete his testimony – pubic commentary is limited to two minutes per person – he concluded by expressing concern that the LPC has drifted away from serving the public, and toward servicing property owners and the real estate industry. He expressed hope that the LPC would prioritize public service under Commissioner Carroll’s tenure.

The final testimony came from Andrea Goldwyn from the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to preservation and protection of historic resources throughout New York through advocacy and technical and financial support. Ms. Goldwyn stated that “The Conservancy is pleased to support the reappointment of Commissioner Carroll,” and that they have worked with Ms. Carroll for decades. Ms. Goldwyn highlighted Ms. Carroll’s work in bringing underrepresented landmarks to the designation process. Ms. Goldwin also mentioned that, ten years ago, Commissioner Carroll received a Sloan Public Service Award, which recognizes outstanding public servants.

Vote Summary

On September 14, the City Council convened to approve Carroll’s nomination with a vote of 46 approved and three against. Councilmember Ossé was joined by Councilmembers Julie Won of District 26 and Jennifer Gutiérrez of District 34 in voting no. Councilmembers Charles Barron of District 42 and Crystal Hudson of District 35 abstained.

By: Samantha Silverstein (Samantha is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)


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