By: Grace Gallagher
If you’ve ever walked down 5th Avenue, through SoHo, or around Brooklyn Heights – or really, any of the 5 boroughs of New York City – it’s more than likely you’ve passed by buildings designated as Landmark Buildings or walked through neighborhoods designated as Historic Districts. Did you notice all of the unique architectural details and the older buildings? Enter the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), “the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation”. The LPC protects buildings, neighborhoods, and other sites in New York City that have architectural, historical, or cultural significance. Many of these iconic buildings and sites, such as Central Park, the Chrysler Building, and Grand Central Terminal, are what make New York City so memorable and impressive to its residents and visitors. The LPC works to ensure that these buildings and sites remain intact as they were originally built so that the present and future generations can appreciate them.
So what happens when landmark buildings require façade maintenance work or perhaps possess unsafe conditions at the façade? First, engineers or architects are retained by the property owner(s) to investigate the existing façade conditions and prepare design drawings and documents for the façade restoration. For buildings designated as Landmarks or are part of a landmark district, engineers and architects must submit an LPC Permit Application form, color photos of the entire building, an assessment of the deteriorated conditions, design drawings, written specifications on repair methods, material specifications, and color specifications or samples of all repair materials. In addition, if the proposed work requires a DOB work permit, two sets of the DOB drawings must be submitted with the LPC Permit Application. If any of the original exterior features of the building have already been altered and must be restored to their original condition, the engineer or architect may also submit documentation, including photographs, that proves that the original features of the building have been altered, as well as specifications on how the restoration work will be performed.
Correctly filling out the LPC Permit Application form and assembling the required documentation prior to submitting the application are crucial steps to obtaining LPC approval for restoration projects. The LPC Permit Application form must be signed by the Property Owner and cannot be signed by a tenant of the building or the Architect or Engineer of Record. Prior to submitting the LPC Permit Application and requisite documentation, the Engineer or Architect of Record should ensure that there are no existing LPC violations at the property; any existing LPC violations must be cleared prior to submitting the LPC Permit Application. In addition, the application must meet the LPC Rules, found in Title 63 of the Rules of the City of New York. The LPC Rules specify the type of work and materials that LPC staff can approve without bringing the application to a public hearing before the full Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness. If the Permit Application does not follow the LPC Rules, it will be rejected, and Engineer or Architect of Record must revise the Application prior to resubmission to the LPC.
After the LPC Permit Application and the accompanying documentation have been submitted, the LPC assigns the application to a staff member for review. If the application is complete and meets all LPC stipulations, the staff member assigned to the application issues the permit. If the application is incomplete, the LPC staff member issues a Materials Checklist that outlines the additional information needed in order to approve the application. The engineer or architect must review the Materials Checklist and submit all additional documentation as requested; once the additional materials are submitted, the LPC staff member reviews the material and either approves the permit or issues another Materials Checklist. Engineers and architects must be thorough when submitting the Permit Application and the corresponding documentation in order to avoid delays in obtaining approval from the LPC, as obtaining approval can be a lengthy process due to the high volume of applications under review and active projects requiring the LPC’s attention.
Once the permit is approved and construction is underway, the Engineer or Architect must submit photographic documentation of materials proposed for use in the façade restoration work to the LPC staff member assigned to the project. The LPC staff member reviews the submitted materials and either directs the Engineer or Architect to obtain additional samples, or approves the material for use as specified. In some cases, LPC staff members may visit the building to observe the proposed material in person and verify that the material matches the color, texture, and finish of the original material. If the material is rejected, additional materials that more closely match the color, texture, and finish of the original material must be submitted to the LPC for review.
When submitting repair or replacement materials to the LPC, it is usually helpful to submit multiple samples of the proposed materials – for instance, when performing brick replacement at a Landmark building, the Engineer or Architect may source multiple brick colors instead of only one. Submitting multiple samples allows the LPC staff member to quickly make comparisons between the new and original materials and may be able to expedite the approval of materials. The LPC specifies that all historic materials should be maintained, repaired, and replaced in-kind whenever possible; however, at times the Engineer or Architect of Record is unable to source repair materials that are in-kind with the original materials. The Engineer or Architect may then submit alternative materials to the LPC staff member assigned to the project. The LPC staff member may approve substitute materials only for certain work types; in some cases, the proposed use of substitute materials must be brought before a public hearing and approved by the full Commission. The Engineer or Architect may also propose unconventional or unique methods of obtaining the correct color, texture, and finish of materials that may be difficult to source – for example, if the Engineer or Architect is submitting a sample of stone patch material to the LPC for review, it may be helpful to prepare mixes of different stone patch material colors to obtain the correct color.