The fox is guarding the chickens.
July 4, 2003
The (Inflated) Price of Preservation
By ANTHONY M. TUNG
New York's landmarks have always been a source of pride for the city now they may become a source of income. The municipal budget that passed last week includes a new charge to be imposed on owners of our city's historic properties approximately 1,000 individual landmarks and 21,000 buildings in historic districts when they upgrade or repair them. These fees range from $50 to $600 for most residential projects and can reach tens of thousands of dollars for the construction of a new commercial building in a historic district. In all, they are expected to raise about $1 million annually.
Budget crises often lead to bad ideas, but this one, which came from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission itself, amounts to an arbitrary punishment of conscientious citizens who want to do a service reconstructing an old brownstone stoop, recreating an ornate wrought-iron railing or restoring a lost historic cornice not just for themselves but for the enhancement of the city's architectural loveliness. (In many of the world's great cities Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, Singapore landmark owners receive substantial tax deferments and financial aid for restoration.)
The care of a designated landmark is not as simple as the upkeep of a typical private property. Under New York's landmarks law, a designated property must, at the owner's expense, be kept in good repair. But before any improvements can be made to a building (beyond minor ones like removing painted graffiti) owners must seek approval from the landmarks commission often a burdensome and costly process that requires an owner to hire an architect. Violators (those who make unauthorized changes) can be fined as much as $250 a day. The new fee which will be the subject of a hearing before the landmarks commission next week will only encourage violations and discourage owners of unprotected historic properties, particularly those in low-income areas, from seeking landmark designation.
But the greater danger of these fees is the spirit they undermine the hard-to-instill ethic of preservation. Without it, New York might be without its landmarks, majestic and humble the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim, the tree-lined blocks of row houses in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights. How could we ever replace such beauty? Lovely structures in the cityscape are testament to a life-affirming belief: that in the passing moment of our existence, we might make splendor of this clay. We should be helping, not taxing, those who do all of us the service of maintaining the city's architectural pride of place.
Anthony M. Tung, a member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1979 to 1988, is author of "Preserving the World's Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
The fox is guarding the chickens.
Is this just a proposed tax, or has it been passed by the City Council?
Is this because the landmarks commission has had their budget cut and this will cover expenses incurred during administration and oversight of projects? *I don't know if these fees are reflective of the costs of keeping paper sorted or not. *Anyone familiar with the hoops they make you jump through? *Do you have to submit for review proposed changes like a doorknob, or mailslot?
Will they decommission landmark status if you do insensitive renovations, or do they not issue a work permit, and hold you liable for breaking the law if you proceed?
Do people buy landmarked buildings because they are cheap and easy to take care of?
It seems to me a case of 'if you have to ask you can't affford it.'
It becomes a little more complicated when a district is designated historic, rather than an individual building.
A neighborhood in Brooklyn called Carroll Gardens contains a historic district consisting of two parallel streets running one block. It contains no more historic buildings than the rest of the neighborhood, but sometimes areas are designated
for sense of place. In the case of Carroll Gardens, the two streets are somewhat blocked off, and they have the large front yards characteristic of the area.
There may be property within the district that has had alterations before landmarking that is not appropriate to the historic nature. Let's say modern windows. The LPC can't make you restore the historic windows, but if they leak and you want to replace them, they will insist on the historic restoration - or you don't get the permit.
Buildings are not de-landmarked. If you do inappropriate work without authorization, you are royally screwed. You will be fined, and forced to make corrective repairs. Less trouble to murder one of the commissioners.
Good question about doorknobs and mailslots. They are exterior details. I'm positive a neon doorknob would be rejected.