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How to Make Changes to a Historic District Property

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to Today's topic: making changes to a property in a landmarked district!

Thanks to the Landmarks Preservation Law of 1965, any project that affects the exterior appearance of a building in a landmarked district requires Landmarks Preservation Commission approval beforehand, regardless of whether or not a Department of Building permit is also required. Changes to the interior of a landmarked building are not under the LPC's jurisdiction, unless the building is a designated interior landmark. LPC approval is also not required for general upkeep and maintenance, such as replacing a broken window or removing minor graffiti. For most other types of projects, though—restoration, alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction —this is how it goes down:

1) Application Form
The first step to gaining Landmarks approval is fill out an application form, including materials illustrating the current state of the building (pictures, usually) and what the proposed changes would entail (renderings, samples of proposed materials, written specifications, etc). The application should also include photos displaying the building's relationship to other buildings in the historic district. Once the application is filed, a Landmarks Department staff member determines whether more information is needed and what type of permit applies, then evaluates the proposal and can either suggest changes or schedule a hearing with the Commission. The three types of permits are Certificate of No Effect (where the proposed work requires a Department of Buildings permit but does not change the protected architectural features), Permit for Minor Work (does not require a DOB permit, does alter the protected features), and Certificate of Appropriateness (requires a DOB permit, alters the protected features). If the plans include a new structure or an enlargement of the building, they must be filed with the DOB first.

2) Public Hearing
Landmarks law requires that a public hearing be held for each Certificate of Appropriateness application, and that at least six commissioners vote in favor for it to be approved. There are no specific guidelines for a how a proposal should be considered (no restrictions on height, bulk, etc.) and the LPC reviews each proposal on a case by case basis, taking into account the building's architectural, historical, and cultural significance, its architectural style, and its relationship to other buildings within the historic district. The more thoroughly a presentation addresses these factors, and the more specific it is about exactly how the changes will relate to the character of the surrounding buildings, the less likely it is that further hearings will be necessary. However, many proposals require multiple public hearings to be approved.

3) Doing the work
If work is done on a landmarked property without a permit, or if work is done in addition to what the permit allows for, the LPC will issue first a warning letter and then a Notice of Violation if the problem is not resolved. If the violation was intentional or if there was already a stop-work order in place, the NOV can be issued with no warning letter preceding it. After a NOV is issued, an Environmental Control Board hearing is scheduled, before which NOV recipient can plead guilty and apply to the LPC. The LPC will then either retroactively approve the changes, if they are found to be acceptable, or mandate that they be fixed. If the recipient wants to contest the NOV, he or she can argue the case at the ECB hearing. If he or she is found guilty, a fine will be assessed (and the issue will still need to be taken care of). After that, if the problem is still not fixed, more NOVs are issues, and more fines are doled out, the fines getting progressively higher with each ignored NOV.
· Official site: Landmarks Preservation Commission website []
· Curbed University archive [Curbed]