Bills That Could Severely Damage Landmarks Law to be Introduced in Council Tomorrow


At a 10 a.m. meeting tomorrow, the City Council’s committee on land use will be considering several bills related to landmarking, including some that have been gathering dust for years and a couple new ones. The Historic Districts Council, which has sent out several emails about the bills, notes two of them as being of particular interest:

1. “creates a 21/33 month maximum timeline for landmark and historic district designations. These bills would seem to answer the longtime community complaints about lack of attention to community requests. In truth, if these bills are adopted in tandem as written, they would risk overwhelming the LPC scant resources and could result in thousands of potential buildings in dozens of historic districts being rejected out of hand.”

2. “mandates City Planning Commission to analyze economic impact of designation on the development potential of proposed landmark and instructs City Council to strongly regard this analysis in their deliberations. The bill also requires the LPC to issue very detailed draft designation reports early in the public hearing process and promulgate rules for historic districts immediately after designation. This is a deliberate attack on the Landmarks Law , which was intended by its drafters to “stabilize and improve property value; protect and enhance the city’s attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business and industry thereby provided; and strengthen the economy of the city”. This is how Landmark designation worked in 1965, and it’s how Landmark designation works today.”

We’ve spoken to a number of preservationists about these bills, and it’s worth noting that concentrated attempts to weaken the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s power come into play every four or five years. Often they go nowhere. It’s also worth noting that about 3 percent of the city is landmarked, and none of these bills offers quid pro quo: If the LPC is going to do more work, it’s not going to be getting any more money to do that work. Landmarking helps keep New York unique, and it brings in tourist revenue by preserving our city’s past. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is not commenting on the matter at present.
What the City Council Proposals Really Mean [HDC]

14 Comment

  • “stabilize and improve property value; protect and enhance the city’s attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business and industry thereby provided; and strengthen the economy of the city”

    That, to me, is the proof that Landmarks needs rethinking. Property values are among the highest in the world, and a record 50 million tourists came through NYC last year. Landmarks has accomplished an awful lot since 1968, and I’d say it’s either time to change the mission or declare victory and go home.

    Right now NYC needs to focus on accommodating growth, not preserving facades for the pleasure of tourists and preserving property values of the rich. Ever increasing housing costs are choking growth in NYC, and landmarks is part of the problem, not the solution.

    I’d personally like to see any future landmark designations do one of two things: either allow for the sale of air rights to any development in any upzoned area (instead of immediate neighbors) or make it mandatory that any neighborhood landmarks designation (like the recent Park Slope and Crown Heights expansions) be accompanied by zoning changes the ensure increased growth potential in the surrounding area that wasn’t landmarked; essentially any restriction in potential inventory growth induced by landmark status must be offset by an increase in growth potential accomplished through zoning changes on the surrounding commercial corridors.

  • Declare victory? The battle is just beginning, not winding down. Landmarking does not just protect the houses of the rich, and certainly does not mandate housing costs. Blaming them is nice and convenient, but just not true.

    Crown Heights North, Bed Stuy, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, none of these areas are full of wealthy people, yet the majority of people here were obviously in favor of protecting what they have for the future. Yeah, for the “enjoyment” of tourists, etc. but more for the future generations of people who intend to hold on to what their families worked so hard to get.

    Not only rich people want to preserve their neighborhoods.

    In regards to housing, landmarking does not dictate how many people live in a building or how many apartments are there. That is dictated by zoning and other city regulations. How about we fix up the thousands of derelict buildings all over the city and renovate those before we start complaining that there is no housing stock? Most of those are in non-landmarked buildings, in all kinds of neighborhoods.

    Lastly, the bills mentioned above have been sponsored by a Queens citycouncilman on behalf of REBNY, which has hated landmarking since day one. Your lobbying dollars at work. Great plan, actually. Overwhelm the LPC, with no increase in staff or funding, and then cry foul when they can’t deliver. That’s their own form of Demolition by Neglect.

  • Declare victory? The battle is just beginning, not winding down. Landmarking does not just protect the houses of the rich, and certainly does not mandate housing costs. Blaming them is nice and convenient, but just not true.

    Crown Heights North, Bed Stuy, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, none of these areas are full of wealthy people, yet the majority of people here were obviously in favor of protecting what they have for the future. Yeah, for the “enjoyment” of tourists, etc. but more for the future generations of people who intend to hold on to what their families worked so hard to get.

    Not only rich people want to preserve their neighborhoods.

    In regards to housing, landmarking does not dictate how many people live in a building or how many apartments are there. That is dictated by zoning and other city regulations. How about we fix up the thousands of derelict buildings all over the city and renovate those before we start complaining that there is no housing stock? Most of those are in non-landmarked buildings, in all kinds of neighborhoods.

    Lastly, the bills mentioned above have been sponsored by a Queens citycouncilman on behalf of REBNY, which has hated landmarking since day one. Your lobbying dollars at work. Great plan, actually. Overwhelm the LPC, with no increase in staff or funding, and then cry foul when they can’t deliver. That’s their own form of Demolition by Neglect.

  • REBNY is always on the wrong side of this issue.

  • REBNY is always on the wrong side of this issue.

  • minard

    I detect some payback on the part of recently designated unhappy campers.

  • @Montrose – I have a few questions, and I offer them respectfully. First, is it an accident that most of the wealthier neighborhoods happen to be landmarked? Please see this map: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/freqsheen

    Second: all the neighborhoods you cited: crown heights, bed stuy, grand concourse (and I’ll add lefferts and fisk terrace to the list) just happen to be areas that are gentrifying now. Is that accidental?

    Third: doesn’t landmark status generally mean that the building may not change size no matter what the zoning permits? I just saw some 4 story walkups on Dominick Street approved for landmark status – are those buildings permitted to rise to the 12 stories of the commercial buildings that surround them? Definitely not. Landmark status supercedes zoning in most instances. For instance a townhouse on Bank Street I looked up was over 1500 sf under FAR; can he build another story? Nope.

    Thanks!

    • minard

      lala, you realize that your doubts about landmarking are not new. In fact it is the same criticism that has surrounded landmarking probably since the Mt. Vernon ladies decided to keep President Washington’s house smaller than allowable by zoning.
      Land use regulations in a complicated city are well, complicated.
      FAR is only one aspect though It tends to be the thing most real estate people focus on because floor area = money. However it is not the only or the default reg. There are all sorts of other regulations governing use and bulk including historic landmark designation. It is important for a savvy developer to know the limitations of how much he can expand a property before buying it. If the landmarks commission allowed people to add eight stories to their landmark three story building, there would not be much point to landmarking in the first place.
      in terms of wealthy neighborhoods, I have news, the whole city is wealthy now. Rich people are moving into the all kinds of places like downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg and Red Hook and need we say? Gravesend! None of those places have landmark areas but they are gentrifying. Some people prefer living in glassy highrises, others in historic brownstones. The landmarks law preserves the latter option in small pockets of the city tucked away here and there. About 3% of the total building lots in NYC are landmarked.

      • Also, the whole city is not wealthy – more of it than before, true, but not even close to ‘the whole’.

        From 2009 to 2010, 75,000 city residents were pushed into poverty, increasing the poor population to more than 1.6 million and raising the percentage of New Yorkers living below the official federal poverty line to 20.1 percent, the highest level since 2000. http://nyti.ms/pEsH4v

  • @Minard; I do, and I understand the importance of preserving our history, preserving the works of some of our finest architects, etc. However, NYC has a serious housing cost problem that has slowed growth/economic activity for a long time and it’s getting much worse with no end in sight.

    But Gravesend is a perfect example: Everything that sells in Gravesend is torn down and replaced with substantially bigger houses, according to current taste. That simply wouldn’t be allowed in any of the growing landmarks districts, no matter what the locals currently desire, and that would have crimped growth.

    Downtown Brooklyn (don’t forget it too is now partially landmarked!) and Williamsburg are exactly what I’m talking about though – those areas were allowed to grow exponentially precisely because they weren’t landmarked either. Many dislike the results but that’s aesthetics, and we shouldn’t be demanding aesthetic homogeneous design anyway (if you think this crap is bad, wait till design by committee).

    The way I see it there are three problems: one is regulatory creep, where, because the fine people at Landmarks and those who believe in that process simply expand way beyond the mandate. Remember wondering if the port authority office would be landmarked instead of getting turned into a beautiful park? Remember how well the St. Vincent’s Hospital landmarking battle turned out (no hospital instead of new buildings)? Have you heard about the gorgeous BP station on Houston Street that is a landmark:http://nyp.st/Hs0V1S?

    The 2nd problem is post-purchase landmarking. A property has a very different price if it’s landmarked than free-market; I have witnessed story after story where a developer buys a property and the landmarks crew swings into action to block the developer from building/altering, even when within existing zoning. That’s just un-american; it flies in the face of property rights. Which brings me to:

    Landmarks simply needs better funding. With so many wealthy folks benefiting it really is sad to see the pathetic state of landmarking. I say make 2013 the year of the landmark – hire a huge staff, identify every single damn property you want landmarked; identify it on property records as ‘evaluation pending’ and find some way to vote on all of the proposed properties by 2014.

    This would clarify the situation for homeowners and developers alike, landmark worthy buildings/areas, and we could put a moratorium on landmarks and turn it into a once-a-decade event, instead of a more or less constant sprawl.

    For the record: I’m a happy renter, and while I am indeed in real estate I just do rentals. I promise not to bring this up again (in public). I live in Kensington where nothing is landmarked and for the most part it shouldn’t be – nothing exceptional, but it does allow property owners to alter their buildings however they like (within zoning), and I like that just fine.

  • Really so pissed off that REBNY uses a good chunk of my hefty annual dues for lobying on things like avoiding landmarking and overturning rent stabilization – both of which I passionately support. REBNY is a great organization for the NYC real estate community in may ways, but this is not one!