Landmarks commission closer to addressing backlog News

| 11 May 2015 | 06:37

The Landmarks Preservation Commission recently closed a public comment period on what to do about the backlog of properties that have been languishing - in some cases for decades - on the agency’s hearing calendar.

In December, after fervent pushback from the preservation community and elected officials, the agency abandoned a plan to simply remove the properties from their calendar altogether.

For a building to be designated a historic landmark it has to be nominated to the LPC for consideration and placed on the agency’s calendar. However, an actual hearing date does not have to be set. Being on the commission’s calendar gives a potential landmark some measure of protection because the Dept. of Buildings notifies the LPC if a demolition permit has been filed for a site that’s under consideration.

In this way, close to 100 potential landmarks and two potential historic districts have stagnated on the calendar for more than five years, and were the target of the LPC’s “decalendaring” initiative, as the process is called. Of the 95 sites that were set to be decalendared, more than 30 have been on the calendar for over 40 years. Twenty-five have been on the calendar for 30 to 40 years, and 24 have been under consideration for 20-30 years, according to the LPC. The remainder of the items have been on the calendar for between five and 20 years.

After the LPC backed off the bulk decalendaring plan, they opened the problem up to suggestions from the community. According to a LPC spokesperson, the agency is now evaluating the ideas that came in from the public.

“Currently we’re reviewing the feedback and we hope to develop a plan to address the issue by this summer,” said the spokesperson.

Several elected officials in Manhattan have asked the LPC that any hearing include a 60-day public notice and comment period prior to a public hearing for any property on the backlog.

“Most of these properties were calendared before the technology existed for public outreach and dissemination of information existed,” said Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos in a letter to the LPC. “Now, the LPC can and must make available to the public the extensive research compiled on these landmarks, including initial hearings’ files and statements of significance. Once the information is disseminated, 60 days of public input and testimony must be taken before any decisions on these landmarks are made behind closed doors.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also has her name on that proposal, and said the LPC’s backlog of items should be heard in geographic chunks.

“Items for consideration should be grouped geographically, at a number set to be reasonable by the LPC,” said Brewer’s office in a letter to the LPC. “It is recommended that a minimum of two hearings be held for Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens given the density and geographic spread of items within these boroughs.”

Brewer’s office proposed three outcomes of these geographically-grouped hearings. According to her office, the LPC must vote on record to: designate an item, keep an item on the calendar for a maximum period of one year, at which point a decision should be made whether to designate, or, given the summary presentation on the merits submitted by the public, the LPC should make a decision to either not designate or issue a no action letter.

The public comment period ended May 1, according to the LPC. The spokesperson said it’s unlikely that the agency will propose bulk decalendaring again.

“I do believe it’ll be a more nuanced approach,” said the spokesperson.