By: Michael Frech
Landmarks are an integral part of the New York City landscape. To those of us in the building envelope restoration field, we have experienced the great lengths and extensive measures that must be taken in order to match the specific brick, window frames, cornices, stones, etc. of any building with landmark status.
Many industry outsiders don’t realize the difference between the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and the New York Landmarks Conservancy (NYLC). As per their website, the LPC is a city government agency that is responsible for protecting New York City’s architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites by granting them landmark or historic district status, and regulating them once they’re designated. The private non-profit NYLC’s mission statement says it is dedicated to preserving, revitalizing, and reusing New York’s architecturally significant buildings.
These two statements would lead one to believe that the missions of these organizations are identical and aligned. However, recent events have shown that there are times when these groups are on opposite sides of a preservation debate.
The decision to designate the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II was made this past June.A This district was calendared in 2010 and was put in front of a review board in 2011. Even though there seemed to be tremendous support for preserving the architecture in this district, the process took 5 years for the area to receive this designation. So, why the delay? As it turns out, the LPC negotiated compromises with the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY) to exclude numerous properties along Broadway, in addition to several side streets. The NYLC expressed concern that the compromise with groups such as REBNY may encourage outside influencers to use money and status to dictate designations and set a precedent to exclude specific properties in the districting process. Meanwhile, the LPC was trying to balance the interests of varying parties while continuing to protect historically significant buildings.
Another example is the LPCas decision this past February to take a position of ano actiona on 60 properties that were on the backlog list. Disputes regarding designation can keep properties on this list for decades. The NYLC argued that the role of the LPC is to decide if a building is worthy of being designated or not and that they had no right to remove properties completely without ever making that decision. The NYLC feared no action buildings that were simply removed from the backlog would be vulnerable to demolition or redevelopment outside of LPC guidelines. The LPC position is that this was simply an attempt to clear the backlog of properties in order to streamline the process going forward. It should also be noted that approximately 30 properties from the backlog list were designated as Landmark.
While these two preservation organizations, one public, one private, often share the same goals for the preservation of historically significant buildings in NYC, these two examples demonstrate instances where they actually oppose each other over a preservation issue, while still pursuing similar missions and goals.