New City Council Bill Targets Landmarking

There are roughly 100 historic buildings that are stuck in limbo, potentially to become landmarked properties. The preservation of historic buildings and maintenance of historic neighborhoods is important, without a doubt. However, there are kinks in the landmarking procedure. Many of these are nominees from as far back as the 1960s. There is an incredible backlog because there are currently no definite rules on deadlines for landmarking; some properties linger on waiting lists for decades.

A new City Council bill, announced Tuesday, by City Councilmembers Peter Koo and David Greenfield, intends to correct this backlog by forcing deadlines. The bill proposes that a structure will have a hearing within 180 days of receiving a request, and a vote within the next 180 days. Although, if an entire district is being proposed, the Landmarks Preservation Commission then has two years to vote. If no action is taken, the property or district is ineligible for submission for five years. “Clearly, the landmarks law needs a predictable timetable that provides reasonable expectations for both the community and property owners,” Mr. Koo said in a statement. Currently, the calendaring process of the LPC can completely halt proposed development for an undetermined amount of time, which can make any construction plans relating to historic buildings and neighborhoods time consuming and costly.

The bill also aims to update public submission guidelines to require more reason for a building or district to be considered, including a neighborhood style guide to help the public understand what architecture is indicative of a neighborhood's character. As it is now, an alarming proportion of NYC is falls under the landmarked status. Manhattan’s Community District 2 – which includes the West Village, Soho, Noho, Hudson Square, Greenwich Village, and South Village – and Community District 7 – which includes the Upper West Side, West Side and Lincoln Square – feature the most historic buildings, and 70 percent of properties are landmarked, according to Gothamist. There are over 33,000 protected properties Citywide – 96 percent of which are located in 135 historic districts. The original Landmarks Law was intended to benefit the welfare of the general public by preserving iconic and historic architecture, but so much of NYC is landmarked that it is hindering growth. “We should not impede the construction of future landmarks by encasing large portions of our dynamic city in amber,” writes Real Estate Weekly.

Many landmarks are converted so that the integrity of the buildings remain intact while permitting the repurposing of the building to meet city needs, but these are only applicable to already landmarked buildings. The process of landmarking a building is still too open ended. By creating stricter and clearer qualifications for landmark status, we can still protect the hallmarks of architectural history while still promoting property construction and the development of NYC.