GVSHP Report: Reform the Landmarking Process To Better Protect Our City’s History
We are proud to share with you a report GVSHP has commissioned which examines some flaws in New York City’s landmarking system, and urges that changes be made to better protect historic structures.
The report can be viewed here. It looks at the practices of the prior administration regarding the timing of landmarking properties and the notification given to developers and owners that the Landmarks Preservation Commission was considering landmarking their properties, well before taking any action to protect them.
What the report found is that while by far most property owners are responsible, some bad actors are primarily concerned with preventing their properties from being landmarked, and use the long advance warning given to them by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to destroy or compromise their historic properties before landmark designation takes place. As a result, sites designed by great architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Morris Lapidus, as well as other prominent and less well-known structures throughout our city, have been destroyed or altered before landmark designation could take effect.
This problem can easily be addressed. Current law requires that property owners be notified in advance of any vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar their building for potential landmark status -- a step which simply means that the building is being formally considered for landmark designation and will come before the Commission for a public hearing before any decision is made. Calendaring gives the commission a 40-day buffer within which they can chose to designate a property before demolition or alteration permits can be granted. This ensures that a property owner is made aware in advance of their property being considered for landmark designation, so they or any member of the public have the opportunity to provide information or comment to the Landmarks Preservation Commission before any decision is made, while also ensuring that the Commission can move to landmark a property before it can be demolished or compromised.
However, in recent years the Commission has begun the practice of letting property owners know that they are even thinking about considering their properties for potential designation weeks or months before any calendaring vote, thus giving bad actors advance warning to seek and secure demolition or alteration permits before the Commission can take action to protect the building. This extra-legal process, as well as the Commission's sometimes slow pace in designating buildings or districts once calendared, has allowed many historic properties being considered for landmark designation to be compromised or lost.
We hope the new chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and our new mayor will consider a more careful approach. Property owners must by law be notified of any potential action under consideration by the Commission, and certainly should be. But the current practices of the Commission, which go well beyond this, give bad actors too much opportunity to get around the law and subvert the landmarking process.
HOW TO HELP:
Read more about GVSHP’s report in The Real Deal and DNAinfo.