By Scott Etkin
Last week, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced the approval of new rules aimed at streamlining the application process for making sustainability and resiliency improvements to historic buildings. The amendments also cut red tape for some cosmetic changes. The rules expand the range of permits that commission staff can approve without the need for public hearing and review by the full commission.
The new rules are a direct response to accelerating climate change and the increasingly urgent need to adapt buildings to extreme weather conditions. New York City’s buildings account for 70% of the city’s carbon emissions, and the commission’s changes are designed to expedite applications for such sustainability changes as installing solar panels and more efficient HVAC equipment. Other proposed changes to be fast-tracked, according to a commission news release, include new and expanded tree pits and adding planting beds and rain gardens to sidewalk areas in historic districts.
Landmark West, a preservation nonprofit group based on the Upper West Side, supported the environmentally-conscious focus of the rule changes when it presented testimony to the commission in May. But the group cautioned that the changes could put some commission decision-making out of public view.
“Landmarks are for the community and thus the community’s voice should be considered,” Landmark West wrote in its testimony. The rule changes also “will shift responsibility to the dedicated but overburdened preservation staff, who often cannot afford the time to visit each site or fully appreciate the significant elements of each landmark.”
Megan Fitzpatrick, director of preservation at Landmark West, said in a call with West Side Rag that, while these rule changes largely codify existing practices, the organization remains concerned that more permits can be issued without public hearings. The changes do not replace public hearings entirely but could speed up more straightforward permit requests, such as those involving signage and painting.
Community Board 7’s preservation committee meetings and the LPC’s public hearings are two of the main ways for people in the community to share their views on historic landmarks that are under consideration for changes. The calendar for the LPC’s hearings, which take place on Tuesdays twice or three times per month, can be accessed at the link.