HDC Testimony on Revised LPC Rules Change

LPC Rules Public Hearing

Tuesday, October 16th (afternoon, time tbd)

Landmarks Preservation Commission, 9th floor, One Centre Street (the Municipal Building)


Over the course of 2018, HDC and our partner organizations met with LPC staff to discuss the agency’s proposal for a Rules change. The LPC’s Rules dictate how the agency regulates landmarked properties. Specifically, the Rules determine what types of work receive staff level permits or require a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A), a special permit which is vetted by the public and requires a hearing before LPC Commissioners.

HDC reviews every C of A in every borough, almost every week. Follow our blog, HDC@LPC, to see various examples of C of As that are applied for. Our testimony on the newly revised LPC Rules is below, and we will be testifying before the full Commission.

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

RL – Rule Citywide


The Historic Districts Council (HDC) acknowledges and thanks the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for meeting with our organization throughout this process and for this subsequent opportunity for public testimony on the revised Rule changes. HDC and community groups citywide advocated for a second Public Hearing, and the LPC’s obliging to this matter is appreciated and makes for a better public process. Since the initial hearing in March 2018, crucial and positive changes to the Rules include the elimination of codifying language related to “non-contributing” buildings, and much less permissive guidelines for replacement materials on properties and sidewalk features, including the retention of vault lights. It is evident that the LPC carefully considered the comments of HDC and our partner organizations, and has substantially revised the Rules to reflect the concerns of preservation advocates, community boards, and the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

Regarding the proposed Rules, HDC has a few comments and suggestions we ask the Commission to consider, the first being the staff approval of removal and replacement of wooden windows with substitute materials:

Page 58 ii (B) “At small residential and commercial buildings in historic districts, straight- and archheaded, double-hung wood windows for which the historic condition had no divided lights (without muntins) may be replaced with windows of a different material, including aluminum and fiberglass, but not including vinyl, provided the historic wood brickmolds are retained or replicated in wood, aluminum or fiberglass; the new windows are installed in the same plane as the historic window; and the window and brickmolds have a matching finish that replicates the historic finish.”

Given the age of our city’s building stock, one-over-one wooden windows are prolific, historic fabric. Allowing staff-level removal of wooden windows disincentivizes the retention, repair and/or replacement with wood, and green-lights wholesale removal with inferior materials. There is substantial research about the better performance and longer life spans of wooden windows (if maintained properly) as compared with replacement materials like aluminum and vinyl. Damaged wooden windows can be repaired and salvaged to achieve this longevity. 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, as this Rule will affect a majority of buildings in historic districts.

Regarding rear yard additions:

• Page 71 (5) A majority of the buildings of a similar type that share the open space within the interior of the block, within the historic district, feature rear yard additions or els;

Language regarding staff-level permits for rear yard additions should be clarified to distinguish between “els”, which typically date to the time of the original construction and are historic features, and “rear yard additions”, which are typically contemporary additions completed many years later. Further, clarification by staff of whether the existing rear yard additions within the interior of a block, which serve as “the majority”, are LPC-approved additions or constructed prior to designation should be determined. This context must be considered prior to issuing a permit for a staff-level addition.

Regarding excavation:

Page 72 §2-16 Excavation. (a) Introduction. Excavation on landmark sites or within historic districts must comply with all requirements of the Department of Buildings. The purpose of this section is to ensure that applicants demonstrate they have an understanding of the physical and structural conditions of the building and, where relevant, adjacent buildings, and to protect these buildings.

HDC is pleased that the LPC now retains a structural engineer to aid the staff in excavation permits. In the current real estate market, excavations are a common alteration to buildings to maximize square footage. This practice, however, has an impact on adjacent buildings, and HDC suggests to the Commission that adjacent buildings are always relevant in terms of excavation, not “where relevant”. Freestanding buildings are a rare exception of landmarked properties in New York, and a substantial amount of excavation work typically affects properties that are in historic districts and usually party-walled. The Commission should consider codifying a policy in the Rules for the protection of adjacent buildings in historic districts near excavation sites, and if possible, provide notification to property owners adjacent to this work. HDC receives many inquiries about excavation work from neighboring property owners, often who are unaware of their neighbors’ excavation. Their notification only commences after cracks or other problems occur in their adjacent properties.

Regarding paving regulation:

Page 91: Historic Districts Having Continued Sidewalk Regulation

Out of 6,000 miles of streets in New York City, only 15 miles of Belgian block streets remain, and much less so is protected as part of historic districts. As such, the section regarding sidewalk regulation should be expanded to codify the treatment of Belgian blocks as protected features in historic districts. Just as the Rules includes an appendix of historic districts where historic paving materials are typical, LPC should include historic districts characterized by Belgian block street beds and sidewalks. A few of these areas include DUMBO; Greenwich Village; the South Street Seaport; TriBeCa; Soho; Noho; and Gansevoort. Rules for how Belgian blocks are removed or replaced in districts that have them should be codified so that this is transparent to the public, applicants, and contractors. As LPC staff is aware, this historic paving material is being removed at an alarming rate.

Finally, HDC has one suggestion to add to the Summons section:

Page 129, Appendix A: Summons 25-322 (b)

In addition to Summons 25-322(b) which is “Failing to notify lessee of Landmark status in Commercial space”, HDC suggests adding an additional summons for residential space, such as “Failing to notify lessee of Landmark status in Residential space” to the list of Violations Descriptions. In a city of majority renters, it is good public policy to elevate landmark status into the public consciousness as much as possible.

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The Historic Districts Council (HDC) is the advocate for all of New York City's historic neighborhoods. HDC is the only organization in New York that works directly with people who care about our city's historic neighborhoods and buildings. We represent a constituency of over 500 local community organizations.

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