Tuesday afternoon, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a second public hearing regarding their controversial proposal to change the rules under which the agency operates. And, contrary to the previous hearing, those who testified this time were generally in favor of the rules changes as they were currently presented.
“The rules have vastly improved,” said Blaire Walsh of the New York Landmarks Conservancy during her public testimony. “We are pleased to see that the updated text is clearer.”
First announced in January, the proposed adjustments will codify, consolidate, alter and add to the commission’s existing rules — changes the agency argues will streamline the application process. At the first go-round, critics said the changes would decrease transparency, allow alterations that were previously prohibited, and pave the way for development at the expense of historic preservation.
The commission altered its proposal in May following a contentious public hearing in March. At that time, Meenakshi Srinivasan was the chair of the commission before resigning in June. At the end of September, Sarah Carroll was appointed as the new chair.
Going forward, if the new rules are adopted, proposed rooftop and rear yard additions, as well as excavations, will continue to be heard publicly by the commission and will not be moved to the staff level. The commission did not vote on the proposed changes today and a date for a vote has not yet been set, a spokeswoman told Brownstoner.
Other changes to the proposal include the elimination of a provision for removal of cast-iron vault lights (typically found in sidewalks in SoHo), strengthening the prioritization of repair over replacement materials, and narrowing the eligibility of substitute materials based on original material type. The LPC also intends to remove all mention of two controversial terms introduced in the first round of proposed rule changes: “no style” and “non-contributing.”
Notably, a proposal that would have allowed owners in historic districts to rip out historic windows and replace them with new ones of any material without any oversight has been abandoned.
Windows remain an issue. Many of those who testified, including representatives from groups such as the Historic Districts Council and the Municipal Arts Society, had an issue with a part of the proposed new rules pertaining to the removal of wooden windows and the flexibility of using replacement materials.
“Unless in cases where LPC staff has determined that the wood is beyond repair, LPC should encourage applicants to replace historic windows with their original material,” said the HDC’s Simeon Bankoff.
In total, 17 people testified at the hearing. Many thanked the LPC not just for their changes but for the act of initiating a second hearing. There were other concerns, such as the loss of community board involvement with the move of some decisions to staff level, and some suggested periodic training sessions for commissioners and staff.
Many were pleased with the commission’s push toward transparency. LPC Chair Sarah Carroll also said that the commission is working on technology that will regularly send a list to local community groups alerting them to all LPC permits in their area.
The approval from those who testified was tentative. While they said they were glad to be included in the process and felt that a majority of their concerns were addressed by the commission, some, like Sean Khorsandi, the Executive Director of Landmark West, described this review as just the beginning.
“There is still more work to do,” he said.
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