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LPC rolls back elements of proposed changes to landmarking process

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The changes come after an intense pushback from preservation groups and elected officials

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At its regular meeting earlier this week, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) decided to roll back some of the most controversial elements of its proposed rule change initiative, which the agency says will make the preservation process more streamlined and transparent.

Earlier this year, the LPC announced that it wanted to restrict some of the permit work to the staff level, meaning fewer projects would come before the full commission at public hearings. Some of these changes included allowing rooftop additions and rear yard additions to be dealt with at the staff level.

Predictably, that announcement led to an immediate backlash from preservation groups and many elected officials, who said the public was being cut from a vital civic process. In April, nine preservation groups issued a joint letter to LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, calling for the Commission to withdraw the rule change proposal.

Shortly after that, Srinivasan decided to step down from her position, which has largely been seen as a response to the fierce criticism the LPC weathered after the rule change announcement. June 1 will be Srinivasan’s last day.

Other proposed changes the Commission decided not to pursue include the removal of cast iron vault lights—presently, the permanent removal of lights that are beyond repair can only be authorized by the Commission, and it will remain this way. A provision for simplifying the process of matching non-historic windows to historic ones in a building’s visible secondary facade has also been removed. At present, the Commission determines whether these replacement windows match the historic windows, at least in terms of configuration and finish; they may have different details.

Preservation groups like the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation celebrated the Commission’s decision on Tuesday.

“The plan by this city agency, to cut the public out of the process and allow more substantive decisions by staff about buildings they determine ‘no style’ or ‘non-contributing,’ was a mistake from the beginning,” said Andrew Berman, GVSHP’s executive director, in a statement. “Government does not benefit from making decisions in the dark. More public input, more information, and more perspectives make for a better process.”

But Tuesday’s rule change presentation wasn’t a vote; it was merely a briefing by LPC staff members to the full commission, based on the public comments they had received on the rule change proposal. LPC staff will now meet with preservation groups, community stakeholders, and community boards to further discuss this revised proposal. Once that is formalized, the rules will come before the LPC for a vote at a later date.