Every so often we get a call or an email here at GVSHP asking about a scaffold-like structure that suddenly pops up on a rooftop of a neighboring building. What is it and what does it mean?
Quite simply, more often than not these are temporary mock-ups constructed to help Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) staff determine the visibility of proposed work on a landmark. By visibility, we mean if it can be seen from the streets, and not from someone’s window. Examples of commonly proposed work includes additional floors, stair and/or elevator bulkheads, and HVAC equipment.
LPC staff works with the applicant (such as the project architect or the building owner) to sometimes bring down the height of whatever is being proposed so that it is either “minimally visible” or “non-visible” from the street (both are terms we use often, though admittedly they can be a bit confusing if you haven’t heard them before). Typically, projects that are visible require a public hearing in which the applicant presents the proposed changes to the local community board and the LPC commissioners.
In many cases, non-visible rooftop work is approved at LPC staff level, which is typically a faster approval than one that has to go through the public review process. These staff-level approvals tend to be less invasive, and they also follow the guidelines outlined in the LPC’s Permit Application Guideline available on their website.
If you happen to spot one and are concerned about its potential impact on the landmark and/or historic district, you can check our Landmarks Applications Webpage to see if the property is scheduled for an upcoming public hearing at the community board and LPC. The webpage also has a drop-down list on the right-hand side where you can look up past and present applications by category. Choose “rooftop addition” to be shown all the applications that have gone through the public review process for this alteration in the last several years (we started the webpage in 2010).
If you’ve signed up to receive emails from GVSHP, you’ll also notice that we send out announcements about upcoming landmarks applications about twice a month, so if it isn’t on our webpage yet chances are it might pop up in a few months’ time. Of course, it’s also possible that proposed rooftop work may just be approved at LPC staff level, in which case a hearing wouldn’t be held.
If you like learning about the landmarking process, be sure to check out the rest of our Landmarking 101 series!