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South Village: Local Landmark Designation vs. National Register Listing

This section of Carmine Street has been designated as part of the Greenwhich Village Historic District Extention II (Phase One of our South Village proposal) and is included in the State and National Register nomination for the South Village Historic District.

Last week GVSHP took an important step in documenting the South Village for its listing on the National Register of Historic places by photographing a selection of sites to be included in the nomination report.  This nomination, written by architectural historian Andrew Dolkart, will soon be sent to the State Office for Historic Preservation to evaluate the area’s merit for listing on the National and State registers.  Off The Grid readers who follow GVSHP current events should remember that earlier this summer the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on Phase II of the proposed South Village Historic District.  While seemingly redundant to a preservation outsider, both forms of designation are important in the preservation of this area and other significant neighborhoods.  The goal of this post is to clarify the different advantages for both New York City landmark designation and National Register listing.

The three federal era rowhouses at 127-131 MacDougal are New York City individual landmarks and are included in the South Village National Register nomination.

Designation as a New York City landmark or historic district is a type of local regulation for historic structures.  The Landmarks law came into being in 1965 and subjects locally designated landmarks to regulation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Many of our readers are likely familiar with this type of designation and the regulations that accompany it. This regulation is important as it prevents our historic buildings from being lost.  The Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated Phase I and calendared Phase II of the proposed South Village Historic District; once designated, the law protects all the historic structures in those areas from insensitive alteration or thoughtless demolition.  This is the type of designation that keeps our significant buildings standing.

These altered rowhouses make up the locally designated MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District and are included in the State and National Register nomination.

There are different implications for buildings and districts listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and these are often misunderstood.  Unlike local landmarking, the State and National Registers in most cases do not regulate buildings, but recognizes their significance and enables owners of historic properties to take advantage of beneficial programs.  Owners of State and National Register listed properties can make alterations to their building without going through a review process.  The only regulation associated with State and National Register properties applies if the owner is taking advantage of state or federal money available through special programs for historic structures. Listing on the register also serves to “certify” significant buildings as historic.  This certification is an eligibility requirement for many great funding programs for historic buildings.

Once the South Village becomes listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, then contributing buildings in the district will be able to access powerful economic incentives.  Federal historic preservation tax credits offer a credit that amount to twenty percent of the cost of a rehabilitation project which is deducted from the income that property produces.  This rewards businesses that are willing to rehabilitate historic structures with lucrative tax breaks.  Official listing will also make properties eligible for a variety of grant programs.  While fortunately the South Village was mostly spared from heavy flooding during Hurricane Sandy, the funds from the National Historic Preservation Fund that will be available for historic properties damaged by the storm have National Register listing as a requirement of the grants.

These buildings on Sullivan Street have colorful historic storefronts and are included in Phase Three of our local South Village Historic District as well as the State and National Register nomination.

In most cases, it is only with the use of these tax credits and grants that properties listed on the National Register are subject to government regulation.  Projects under these programs must conform to a set of guidelines known as The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties which outlines the best practices for building rehabilitation.  Historic preservation experts from the National Park Service give guidance to people working on these rehabilitation projects and ultimately determine whether a finished project qualifies for the tax credits or grant based on these standards.  While the standards are restrictive, the tax credits are there as an incentive to revitalize historic buildings in a manner that is sensitive to their character.

As we move forward both with our fight to landmark all three phases of the South Village in addition to finalizing our National Register nomination materials, it is important to keep in mind why both efforts are independently important to preserving the beloved South Village.  New York City landmarking will serve to protect the physical buildings from insensitive alterations, thoughtless redevelopment and demolition by neglect, while listing on the National Register will open different funding opportunities limited to certified historic properties.  The funding opportunities will help foster sensitive economic development that not only preserves the built character of the area, but allows new projects to use the buildings and the character of the neighborhood as an asset.  Both the protection of our buildings and qualification for these beneficial programs will keep the South Village a vibrant place for residents and businesses alike.

Visit the New York State Historic Preservation Office website for more information on State and National Register listing.  Also read past Off The Grid entries for more information about local landmark designation and common misconceptions.

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