Opening Shots Fired With Bills Involving Landmarks Law

Today the City Council’s land-use committee held a meeting to discuss a number of bills involving Landmarks Preservation Commission operations, including some that preservationists believe could severely damage the very essence of the city’s Landmarks Law. The meeting involved a great deal of political theater, as at least 20 Councilmembers made appearances, and several spoke on the bills that they had sponsored. Near the beginning of the meeting, which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours, the Landmarks Preservation Commission released an official statement on a number of the bills, which read, in part: “[T]hese bills, taken together, would significantly alter the discretionary, flexible and nuanced process that the Charter and the Landmarks Law left in the hands of a capable and expert agency. Establishing rigid timelines and processes with respect to RFEs [Requests for Evaluations] would make it extremely difficult for the Commission to address changing conditions, set and adjust priorities and respond to true emergency situations.” And after that, the fun began! On the jump, commentary given by several of the Councilmembers introducing the bills, including a snipe from Councilmember Jessica Lappin asking the LPC, “how is that going to overwhelm you?”
The bills that most concerned preservationists, as noted yesterday, were a package introduced by Councilmembers Jessica Lappin, Brad Lander and Dan Garodnick that seek to set limitations on how long requests for evaluations can processed. Councilmember Lander’s quotes on the subject included “I would love to have no deadlines” and asked the LPC why they felt having deadline to respond to requests would be damaging. The LPC responded by saying that they already have a process for responding to requests and have no way of controlling the number of requests they get at any given time. So, for example, if they have RFEs for 20 individual landmarks, an 800-building historic district and a 10-building historic district plopped on them at the same time, it would be impossible for them to respond to all of those in a timely manner in which current processes are followed. With reference to this, Councilmember Lappin said the following at one point: “The concept that you don’t have enough time to respond to the RFEs makes no sense to me. How is that going to overwhelm you?” Meanwhile, two other bills introduced by Councilmember Leroy Comrie also set off preservation alarm bells, as the Historic District Councils put it, in that one “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” and the other “deliberately misconstrues the economic value of landmark designation by emphasizing the false value of ‘property strictly as development.’ By enabling the sole criteria of economic value to be the highest use of a site, the bill strives to denigrate the economic value of landmark designation to property value.” The LPC’s official response to the latter bill reads, in part, that “it would significantly delay formal, public consideration of a building or district because it requires that a detailed draft designation report be created prior to calendaring.” In the end, the meeting was mostly just theater and posturing, but Councilmember Tish James got a round of applause with the following comment: “If in fact everyone wants to talk about timeliness…we at the City Council need to give the LPC more money to do that work.” Although more than 50 regular ol’ citizens signed up to speak, we did not stay to watch their statements.

19 Comment

  • I believe this is largely theater.
    Historic preservation has been one of the driving forces behind the City’s astonishing rebirth since the 1970′s.
    What’s the alternative? Urban renewal?
    One of the issues, believe it or not, is that many people are pissed that the Commission turns them down for landmarks status or keeps them waiting
    The LPC can’t win one way or the other.

  • There are many issues around the functioning of the agency, which is completely overwhelmed and overworking existing staff.

    Their mandate keeps expanding, without adding to the staff. I have a commercial client that has waited 5 months for an answer on window changes.

    Doesn’t sound like these bills are great, but when you have such huge discretion over real estate, things get out of hand. I am told there is essentially one person in the agency itself making final aesthetic decisions. Renovators have been told to match and replace brick that was made in 1850 or else….

    Moratorium on landmarking until staff expanded I say!

    • none of the proposed bills address the problem you cite. they concern delays in giving the public a yes or no about the creation of new landmarks and historic districts. And none of them propose staff or budget increases.

    • The Landmarks Commission makes its decisions based on its Rules, which you can find on its website. Its entire process is described in its Rules. I used to work at LPC and God I wish expediters/architects/contractors would read those Rules and submit complete applications. There is no such thing as one person making ‘aesthetic decisions’. That would be subjective and illegal. Work either meets LPC Rules or it doesn’t. Work that doesn’t meet the Rules has to go to public hearing for the commissioners to vote on, and their decisions are based on past LPC policy and preservation principles. End of story. And yes, some times you have to match brick, even very old brick. It’s done all the time. You just have to know where to look to source it. Ask the LPC staff person for help and they will give it to you.

  • The “hearing” was basically a platform for various City Councilmembers to work out their personal agendas- there’s the guy from Queens who always votes no to all landmark proposals because one in his district was declined by the LPC, the guy from Harlem who’s PO’ed because there’s a brownstone in his district that’s been calendared for 25 years, etc, etc. Tish James was super, as always. I couldn’t stay to testify but submitted written testimony.

    • The guy from Harlem was Robert Jackson, and what he didn’t mention, and what the LPC reps could not say, was that he wants them to move forward with its designation so he can have it reversed when it comes to the City Council for ratification. That’s why it’s taken 25 years – LPC has been waiting for him to be out of office. Politics comes into preservation unfortunately.

    • The guy from Harlem was Robert Jackson, and what he didn’t mention, and what the LPC reps could not say, was that he wants them to move forward with its designation so he can have it reversed when it comes to the City Council for ratification. That’s why it’s taken 25 years – LPC has been waiting for him to be out of office. Politics comes into preservation unfortunately.

  • Well, I stuck around and testified. I had never been to a City Council hearing before, and I have to say, if every hearing in all of the CC’s agendas are like this one, it’s been a miracle that anything has gotten done in this city. What a collection of pomposity, of self-congratulatory grandstanding, and “gotcha” speechifying. Political theater at its most tedious.

    Tish James was the only council member who spoke, at least when I was there, who was concise, made sense, and wasn’t so busy tooting her own horn that she couldn’t get the point across. Yea, Tish!

    The representative from REBNY was positively odious, and was spouting pure bs about what landmarking is, does, or affects. Imagine all the wrong information about a subject, any subject, presented as gospel truth, with a heavy tinge of righteous indignation while holding one’s nose, and you’ve got him.

    Most of the bills were royally dissed by every speaker who took the time to come down in the rain and testify. Hopefully the people’s voices will be heard.

  • MM I was so proud of you today.. Tish was the only council person that really understood landmarking today… Today I felt like I was in a meeting in a 3rd world country… We have a lot of scary elected officials in this city…

  • I attended the whole hearing and remained to give my testimony. i was one of the last to speak. I have not attended such hearings before. my boss asked me to attend. Of all the members of the public to speak only one–from REBNY–was in full favor of all 11 intro measures discussed. the other 50+ speakers were in support of LPC and their efforts. there was consensus that the agency is under staffed, underfunded and overwelmed with current activities and some of the measures introduced would be “paralyzing”. CM Comrie tried to keep things orderly and civil. There was sparring between certain CMs with axes to grind with LPC. DeBlasio made a rhetoric that the green intro that he sponsored is really to make more green jobs. total incongruent with the mission of LPC.

    I spoke as a long time architect (& brooklyn heights resident) practicing in NYC with experience doing alterations in various landmark districts from riverdale to clinton hill. I stated that my experiences with LPC have always been good and for the betterment of the building. We should not undermine LPC and we should reinforce the landmarks law. I did hear testimonials with seemingly legitimate complaints about LPC’s slowness to act or response to individual cases, groups, etc. I stated that NYC energy code and DOB are currently enforcing the energy code and NYC landmarks are not exempt from the energy code so the issue of greening landmarks is a bit off. Also zoning and DOB have a lot to say about roof top “green” aparatus such as solar panels and I cited an example of a house in clinton hill that i am working on that did get LPC approval for roof top solar panels that are not visible from the street however got hung up in DOB for zoning concerns/height limit. In addition, I stated that LPC currently accepts certain material substitutions in the repair and renovation of some building elements. I cited two examples of window replacement in brooklyn heights–old wood windows to new aluminum and old steel to to aluminum.

    The whole hearing was over 4 hours with citizens and groups from manhattan, brooklyn, queens and staten island. alas, bronx did not represent.

  • I attended the whole hearing and remained to give my testimony. i was one of the last to speak. I have not attended such hearings before. my boss asked me to attend. Of all the members of the public to speak only one–from REBNY–was in full favor of all 11 intro measures discussed. the other 50+ speakers were in support of LPC and their efforts. there was consensus that the agency is under staffed, underfunded and overwelmed with current activities and some of the measures introduced would be “paralyzing”. CM Comrie tried to keep things orderly and civil. There was sparring between certain CMs with axes to grind with LPC. DeBlasio made a rhetoric that the green intro that he sponsored is really to make more green jobs. total incongruent with the mission of LPC.

    I spoke as a long time architect (& brooklyn heights resident) practicing in NYC with experience doing alterations in various landmark districts from riverdale to clinton hill. I stated that my experiences with LPC have always been good and for the betterment of the building. We should not undermine LPC and we should reinforce the landmarks law. I did hear testimonials with seemingly legitimate complaints about LPC’s slowness to act or response to individual cases, groups, etc. I stated that NYC energy code and DOB are currently enforcing the energy code and NYC landmarks are not exempt from the energy code so the issue of greening landmarks is a bit off. Also zoning and DOB have a lot to say about roof top “green” aparatus such as solar panels and I cited an example of a house in clinton hill that i am working on that did get LPC approval for roof top solar panels that are not visible from the street however got hung up in DOB for zoning concerns/height limit. In addition, I stated that LPC currently accepts certain material substitutions in the repair and renovation of some building elements. I cited two examples of window replacement in brooklyn heights–old wood windows to new aluminum and old steel to to aluminum.

    The whole hearing was over 4 hours with citizens and groups from manhattan, brooklyn, queens and staten island. alas, bronx did not represent.

  • LPC is so under funded. They can not deal with the thousands of requests they already have. I do think some of these requests would help people understand and work with LPC better but they do not have the funding to change or improve their systems.

  • LPC is so under funded. They can not deal with the thousands of requests they already have. I do think some of these requests would help people understand and work with LPC better but they do not have the funding to change or improve their systems.

  • I also attended the hearing. I have to agree with MM and Amiz, Tish James was the only Council Member who understands the current LPC regulations. I stayed through the end and unfortunately, almost half of the individuals who signed up to testify had to leave before they were called.

    At the end of the Hearing Council Member Comrie, City Council Land Use Committe Chair, volunteered to me with HDC to discuss the bills.