Landmarks Preservation Commission Reforms are Another Step in the Right Direction

Later this month, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing to review an important proposal that, if enacted, would greatly reduce the burden placed on property owners and introduce much-needed efficiency to the agency.

The Real Estate Board of New York applauds this move, which would go a long way toward addressing long-held concerns that the landmarking process is overly-complex, slow, and unpredictable.

The proposed measures are a win-win for all stakeholders involved in the process. Property owners will benefit from a speedier, more ministerial process for routine applications that currently are lengthy and expensive for taxpayers.

This will, in turn, free up more of the Commission’s time, allowing LPC to devote more energy to evaluate which buildings warrant landmark designations — a win for the preservation community.

These reforms are necessary due to the fact that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has a small budget, limited staff, and aside from the Chair, is made up almost entirely of volunteers. The work expected of the agency, though, far outweighs these restrictions. Just consider that there are over 36,000 protected properties across the five boroughs.

Adding to the sheer number of properties is the onerous process through which even minor modifications must proceed.

A simple change, like window replacements or storefront signage, must go through the full public review process — which involves not just submitting detailed plans to the Commission for review, but often hiring consultants and/or specialists to repeatedly present at both local community board meetings and at the Commission itself.

This slow, expensive process takes months, despite the fact that the Commission nearly always approves the application.

In other words, this is unnecessarily time-consuming and costly. Moreover, it not only burdens property and business owners in landmarked properties, but also wastes the time of the Commission itself.

These changes would empower Commission staff to review and approve routine applications in far less time. This is a common-sense measure with meaningful benefits across the board.

These proposed changes make even more sense when placed into the context of other New York City regulations.

The zoning code, for instance, has been updated countless times over its century-long history — but the Landmarks Law has remained virtually unchanged since its inception.

Several years ago, the City Council enacted a law that imposed sensible deadlines for voting on landmarks and historic districts. While many feared that the bill would significantly weaken the landmarks law, the Commission assuaged those fears under the leadership of Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan by designating landmarks within months, a clear sign that improved efficiency does not come at the expense of the organization’s mission.

Smart, sensible measures to make New York more efficient should be welcomed by all New Yorkers. That is why the Real Estate Board of New York fully supports these proposed measures: they would solve a real problem without harming the overall mission in any way.

The Chair should be commended for this set of common-sense measures to make New York City a better place.