REFORM THE LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION

Steven Spinola

The landmarks system is broken. First, there is a serious lack of transparency surrounding landmark and historic district designations. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has the ability to designate substantial portions of the city as historic districts without justifying their rationale before they act. It can also shelve decisions for decades, creating de facto designations. And it is not required to issue design guidelines for historic districts that describe which windows, storefronts, entryways and cornices are permitted in these distinct sections of the city, unfairly burdening and confusing property owners.

Second, let’s stop pretending landmark designations are always used to protect our city’s cultural heritage. The curtain has come down on why so many historic districts have been designated in recent years. Preservation advocates have stated clearly that landmarking is a planning tool that can be used to stop or redirect development. We have to think about how to preserve the City of New York’s future, not just its buildings. 

We therefore propose that the Landmarks Preservation Commission be placed under the management of the Department of City Planning. City Planning has the ability to examine every aspect of development citywide, including the city’s housing, economic development and open space. The Landmarks Commission, on the other hand, cannot consider any of these aspects that are essential to the success of the city. 

We should not landmark away the economic vitality of New York City. Let’s reform the Landmarks Preservation Commission and empower the Department of City Planning to make those decisions.

Steven Spinola is President of the Real Estate Board of New York, the real estate industry’s leading trade association in New York City.

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