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“Landmarks Wouldn’t Allow That, Would They?”

land 2This has to be the most frequently asked question that we get regarding landmarked properties.  This question can be in reference to any number of changes including demolition, a proposed new building, or an alteration.  We wrote a blog a few weeks ago about our Landmarks Application webpage as a resource for information on upcoming, pending and closed applications on landmarked properties in our area.

Today we are going to illustrate how to use this same resource to gain a better understanding of the criteria for decisions by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).  This can be a useful tool for both the owner wishing to make an alteration to their landmarked property as well as the neighbor who has concerns over changes to properties in their area.

A common misconception is that landmarked buildings, whether individually landmarked or within a historic district, may not be altered.  This is not the case.  However, the LPC must approve in advance any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affecting the designated building (see blog “Landmarking 101”).  To be more specific, LPC permits are required for exterior work when the restoration, alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affects the exterior of an individual landmark or a building in a historic district whether or not the project requires a permit from the Department of Buildings (DOB).  LPC permits are also required for interior work when the projects require a permit from the DOB, and affect the exterior of a building and/or affect interior spaces that have been designated as interior landmarks (click HERE for more information).

According to the LPC, the Commission reviews proposals for changes to landmarks to evaluate the effect of the proposed changes on the architectural and historical character of the building and the historic district (if they are located in one).  If you are thinking, “well, that’s vague,” you are not alone.  But the LPC does provide some additional guidance for certain common and specific alterations in its Rules Guidelines (click HERE); this includes HVAC, awnings, fire escape removal, sandstone restoration, new window openings, rear yard additions, building and facade restoration, temporary installations and rooftop additions.  Additionally, there is a separate section for window repair and replacement (click HERE).

Search feature on the Landmarks Application webpage
Search feature on the Landmarks Application webpage

A useful tool to gain a better understanding of permitted changes to landmarked buildngs is the GVSHP Landmarks Application webpage.  Here, just by doing a search, you can view past applications to see what has been approved.  At the top right of the page, you can search by address.  But below that, you can search by different categories such as street and historic district.  This allows the user to see what has been approved on a particular street or within a particular historic district.  Another searchable category is application type.  These include, but are not limited to, stoop, entry, excavation, mechanicals, legalization, signage, etc.  Again, this allows the user to see what has been permitted or modified by a specific type of work.

Searching in this manner is particularly useful for gaining an understanding of what the Commission may or may not approve, and why, because the decisions are quite varied and often reflective of how it views a certain district, a particular street, a building type, or a specific feature.  In other words, no one can tell you “the LPC will never allow X to be done to a rowhouse,” or “the LPC will always permit Y to be done to a storefront.” But you may see patterns in terms of how different districts are treated, what the Commission does (or does not) consider a significant alteration under different circumstances, and how intact they consider the fabric of a certain street, and therefore how flexible they might tend to be about proposed changes.

As of March of 2015, the LPC began posting decisions on applications rendered by the Commission (please note: the LPC usually takes several weeks following the public meeting/hearing before posting its decisions).  These decisions are posted on our webpage and they too can prove useful.  For instance, if you look at a recent application for 304 West 10th Street in the Weehawken Street Historic District, the decision provides insight into the criteria of the LPC decisions.   The proposed application called for the construction of a new balcony in the side yard at the second and third floors, replacement of existing windows at the side façade with doors, the removal of brick infill at existing window openings and installation of new windows at the second, third, and fourth floors.  The decision stressed that the changes: “will not result in any damage to or destruction of any significant architectural features of the building;” and “will not overwhelm any significant architectural features of the building and will not detract from the character of the historic district;” and “will not result in damage to any significant architectural features;” and “will not detract from any significant architectural features;”  and “will restore the building closer to its original appearance;” and “will maintain a continuity of style.”

Drawing of existing (left) and proposed (right) partial front facade for 304 West 10th Street
304 West 10th Street, drawing of existing (left) and proposed (right) partial front facade
304 West 10th Street, existing (left) and proposed in rendering (right)
304 West 10th Street, existing (left) and proposed in rendering (right)

A recent addition to our Landmarks Application webpage is yet another useful resource.  As of January, 2016, GVSHP has started posting community board resolutions on application.  As an aside, all applications prior to LPC hearing must be reviewed by the appropriate community board.  Reviewing these resolutions also can provide insight as to potential applications will evaluated by the community board.

We hope you will take advantage of this valuable public resource.  Any questions on the Landmarks Application webpage or specific applications may be directed to our us at info@gvshp.org.

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