PRESERVING YOUR HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD:
NEW YORK CITY LANDMARK DESIGNATION PROCESS
The New York City Landmarks Law of 1965 established the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and authorized them to designate individual buildings, historic districts, interior landmarks and scenic landmarks of historical, cultural and architectural significance. For over fifty years, neighborhoods have sought historic district designation from the LPC because it protects their beloved buildings from demolition and insensitive change.
The Landmarks Law defines a Historic District as an area that has a “special character or special historic or aesthetic interest,” represents “one or more periods of styles of architecture typical of one or more eras in the history of the city,” and constitutes “a distinct section of the city.” Before making a formal request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider your neighborhood, it is good to have as much community support as possible. Unfortunately, the LPC has limited staff and financial resources and therefore is not in a position to put together the reports, hold hearings, and expend its resources in time, labor, and money on an area with heavy political support for development and no community interest in preservation. In an area where political and development priorities militate against a successful landmarking effort, it is up to local groups to generate pressure not only on the Commission but also on their local representatives.
There are several steps required to ensure designation. For further information on the designation process click the steps below.
Step 1: Request for Evaluation
Step 2: Calendaring
Step 3: Designation Hearing
Step 4: Designation
Step 6: Review by the City Council
Request for Evaluation
The first step in requesting a building to be a landmark or a neighborhood designated as a New York City historic district is to fill out a Request for Evaluation (RFE) form, which can be obtained by calling the LPC at 212-669-7817 or by downloading it from their Web site. The RFE is a single-page form requires your contact information as well as general information about the building or area being submitted for consideration, such as its address, block and lot, date of construction, and architect, if possible. The LPC requests that the RFE include a statement of significance about the district or building and current photographs of the site with the form. Supporting materials, such as written reports, primary sources, maps and articles can also be submitted with the RFE, as it is extremely helpful to have a minimum level of building and neighborhood history research completed. [Learn to Research a Building]. Once an RFE has been submitted, a formal conversation with the LPC can begin.
After receiving the RFE, the LPC’s research staff reviews the proposal and considers whether or not the proposed district meets the LPC criteria for designation and whether it be brought to the LPC Commissioners or a Committee of Commissioners for their review.
If the LPC research staff decides an area or building to be meritorious, staff will research the neighborhood and the buildings and will notify the owner(s) of the proposed Individual and Individual Landmarks and the building owners within the proposed Historic District about the calendaring. As both of these undertakings can be extremely time consuming, there is sometimes a lengthy period of time before calendaring and the next step, the Public Hearing. It is extremely important during this time to continue to get your message out to your neighbors and to garner support for the district. Keep the momentum going, as much more work is still to be done.
Once the staff, the Chair, and perhaps a Committee of Commissioners have agreed that the district has potential for designation and that they want to go forward with its designation, the district will be “calendared.” Calendaring is the first step in the public process of the LPC. Calendaring is the action that establishes that the item is to be scheduled for a Public Hearing— it means that the potential district is officially placed on the calendar of items to be considered by the LPC and that public notice of the future discussion is made to that effect.
The LPC establishes proposed boundaries for a district when it is calendared. These boundaries can be reduced between the time a district has been calendared and when it is officially designated, but the boundaries cannot be enlarged. Once a district or individual building is calendared, the Department of Buildings will consult with the LPC before issuing any permit, even though is not officially designated.
Once Calendared, the LPC has two years to designate a Historic District and one year for an Individual Landmark, Scenic Landmark and an Interior Landmark. The time can be extended for another year for an Individual Landmark, Scenic Landmark and an Interior Landmark with the written consent from the owner.
By law, the LPC is required to hold a Public Hearing to get the opinion of the building owners, residents, and merchants in the neighborhood as well as any member of the public before voting on a historic district. It is therefore extremely important to get your neighbors, elected officials, community board, and the city’s preservation groups to speak passionately at the hearing about why they support the district’s designation. Any supporter who is not able to speak at the hearing should be asked to write a letter to the Commission so that their voice can be heard. Although the LPC legally can designate any landmark over the opposition of the building owner, in general, they prefer to see as much support from the property owners as possible.
The public record is kept open for two weeks after the Public Hearing. The Commissioners then take time to review the public record and consider the merits of the district. The LPC staff at this time finalizes the district’s research and historic narrative and compiles the official designation report for the district.
The LPC will officially vote to designate a district at a Public Meeting. In general, the public are invited to witness the discussion and vote, but are not allowed to testify or voice their opinions. Once the LPC has voted in favor of the district, it is officially designated and the legal protections associated with landmarks are put in place. However, the district still must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
Review by the City Planning Commission
The City Planning Commission (CPC) has over-all responsibility for reviewing land use in the city, including zoning changes, housing plans and projects, and urban renewal. Among the CPC’s responsibilities under the New York City Charter is that of reviewing Historic District designations and producing a report for the City Council commenting on the effect the designation will have on the City’s plans for development in the project area. The role of the CPC is only advisory, and therefore a negative recommendation by the CPC does not necessarily mean the district will not be designated.
The public will again have the opportunity to voice their support or opposition to the district at the CPC’s public hearing. However, the CPC is not allowed to consider the “architectural, cultural, or historical” value of the district (the criteria used by the LPC), but can only comment on those areas of development and planning within CPC’s charter. Therefore speakers should construct their statements with the CPC’s role in mind. After the public hearing, the CPC will issue a recommendation report to the City Council.
Review by the City Council
The City Council is New York City’s legislature. Under the Charter, it can affirm, reject or modify the historic district. The City Council does not have the power to expand a landmark site, only to to affirm its designation or diminish it. After the City Council has received the CPC’s report, the LPC will present the proposed district to the Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses Subcommittee of the City Council’s Land Use Committee. This sub-committee recommends approval, modification, or denial of the district to the Land Use Committee, who then makes a recommendation to the full Council. In general, the public is only invited to speak at the Subcommittee hearing, although the full Land Use Committee can be opened to public testimony at the discretion of the Council.
If the City Council approves, the Historic District is affirmed as designated by the LPC. If the City Council affirms with modifications, the modified district becomes the official one, and the LPC staff re-draws the map and modifies the designation report to reflect those changes made by the City Council. If the City Council rejects, the designation is overturned.
Once the City Council has voted, their action is subject to a veto by the Mayor. The Mayor can only veto the Council’s action; he cannot modify it. In turn, a mayoral veto can be overridden by a vote of the super-majority (two-thirds) vote of the full City Council.
In the event of a full or modified affirmation, the LPC sends out letters to property owners informing them of designation and that there are now restrictions on exterior alterations to their buildings. From this point on, the district becomes the responsibility of the LPC’s Preservation Department and the Certificate of Appropriateness hearings of the Commission.