Landmarks Designation Process in Need of Reform

New York City’s Landmarks Law is important to preserve and protect our city’s most treasured buildings. Yet the system by which buildings or districts are chosen for designation is broken and needs to be reformed. 

The designation process is not open and transparent, particularly for property owners who will be subject to an entirely new set of government regulations; a consistently high standard is not applied in determining whether an individual structure or district warrants landmark protection; the law is not administered in a way that makes it easier for property owners to comply; and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and staff do not give enough weight to other policy considerations in designating landmarks and overseeing landmark properties. 

These concerns take on even greater weight given that the number of properties designated by the LPC has skyrocketed in the last several years.

At the beginning of May, the City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn, Land Use Committee Chair Leroy Comrie and Housing and Building Chair Erik Martin Dilan, began a process of examining how to improve the City’s landmark review process.  The Real Estate Board of New York believes several principles should guide future reforms.

The process should be open and transparent, particularly for property owners.  Property owners, who might be subject to designation, should receive notice well in advance of an LPC public hearing that their property is being considered for designation.

The LPC should also issue in advance of a vote for designation a draft designation report and draft rules or guidelines regarding preservation and maintenance of buildings providing property owners and elected officials a clear understanding of what is required to comply with the designation.

Next, high standards should be consistently applied when determining if a district or building warrants designation. Historic districts should be narrowly drawn to represent the cohesive and consistent character of a neighborhood. Vacant lots and substantially altered buildings should not be included. Furthermore, historic districts should not be designated to preserve the scale of a neighborhood or to make an end-run around zoning.

The Landmarks Law should also give property owners greater flexibility to manage and maintain their properties, and any regulatory burden on properties within a historic district should be fair and equal.

Currently, LPC’s regulatory practices for alterations and additions to buildings inside historic districts is severely restricted or prohibited.

The Landmarks Law hardship provisions are also extremely onerous and only available to those rare property owners who have the resources to proceed with a costly legal process after designation.

Finally, to remain a world class city, New York must address a series of policy goals.  As a result, the City Council and City Planning Commission should consider future land use and economic impacts of landmark and historic district designations. 

Landmarking decisions must be assessed in the context of other objectives like the need for more housing and jobs, more robust sustainability efforts and exciting new architecture.

REBNY hopes that elected officials will take notice that the system of landmark designation is broken and needs to be changed for the betterment of our great city.

In other REBNY News:

Attention sales brokers, mortgage brokers, accountants and bankers, REBNY is holding its First Finance Cocktail Party from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 7 at Club Metropolitan, 146 West 57th Street. Tickets cost $35. For more information, contact Desiree Jones at djones@rebny.com.

Don’t miss out on the Real Estate Industry’s Highest Honors for Commercial Retail Brokers when REBNY’s Retail Committee presents its Most Ingenious Retail Deal of the Year Award at the 14th annual Cocktail Party from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Tuesday, June 12 at the 101 Club, 101 Park Avenue. Register at REBNY.com and for more information, contact Desiree Jones at djones@rebny.com.

After being canceled due to inclement weather, REBNY’s Spring Golf & Tennis Outing has been rescheduled for Thursday, June 28.  It will be held at the North Shore Country Club, a beautiful newly-renovated golf course, tennis courts and clubhouse spearheaded by one of REBNY’s esteemed members Donald Zucker. The event includes a full day of golf or tennis with breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner at the North Shore Country Club located in Glen Head, Long Island. Golfers pay $425 and tennis players pay $315. For more information, contact Kathleen Gibbs at kgibbs@rebny.com or 212-616-5246.