On March 27, the Landmarks Preservation Commission spent five hours during a public hearing on one topic: changes to its own rules, which the agency says will help it operate more efficiently. Now, with a little time and some reflection, nine of New York’s biggest preservationist organizations have issued a joint letter calling on the commission to withdraw its proposal.
The letter was issued April 13 by the Historic Districts Council, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Brooklyn Heights Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Municipal Art Society, the Society for the Architecture of the City, the City Club, Landmark West!, and FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts.
The proposed changes would make more applications eligible for review by the LPC staff instead of requiring a public hearing before the full commission. But preservation-minded activists aren’t satisfied with the level of transparency or the standards that would be applied to those applications.
The joint letter cites five objectionable elements: The overall diminution of public review of projects; procedural incentives for the use of substitute and faux materials in restorative work; a broader allowance of more visible and larger additions to buildings; the characterization of some landmarked properties in historic districts as “building(s) for which the district was designated”; and a reorganization of work types that would not be appropriate given the variety of characters amid the nearly 150 historic districts.
“Any one of these concerns should be enough to cause this proposal to be re-examined,” the letter states. “All five of them, echoed by design professionals, community groups, concerned neighbors and preservation experts speaks to fundamental flaws in the proposal.”
Some local pols, including City Council speaker Corey Johnson and state senator Brad Hoylman, also oppose the changes.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, says the LPC’s proposal is “deeply flawed,” which led the nine groups to band together. “We decided that, in addition to our individual perspectives, we wanted to communicate what we felt in common, which was that the LPC should reverse course and drop these proposed rules changes,” he explains.
“Like environmentalists or dance enthusiasts, preservationists are not a monolithic mass. We agree on certain core principles but our individual focus is often nuanced and slightly different,” notes Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “Upon reflection and discussion, the professional preservation groups came to a consensus that the amendments to the LPC rules were, when taken as a whole, unacceptable in their potential to damage the way the LPC regulates designated properties.”
But the LPC is, for now, sticking to its guns. In a statement to Curbed, the LPC noted that the proposed changes “are important for fostering compliance with the landmarks law, as well as encouraging support for landmark designations by making the Commission’s policies and practices clear, and the regulatory process more efficient.”
The changes do have their supporters—developers, homeowners, and others are on board—and as the LPC notes, they were informed by meetings with stakeholders (including preservationists) prior to the March 27 hearing. There’s also a public comment period, which will continue until May 8.
“We continue to engage with stakeholders during this ongoing process,” the LPC says. “Once the comment period is over, we will analyze and consider all comments received as this process moves forward.”
Berman—who called the changes “a move away from transparency, good government, and public participation, and are not the direction our city should be moving in”—encourages New Yorkers to submit their own comments on the proposal; more 1,500 people have already written in.
“We should be seeking to get more people involved in the process of determining the fate of their neighborhoods, city, and surroundings, not less,” he says.