Bergdorf Photo: mi michelle/Flickr

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission is in a difficult predicament. A backlog of 95 properties are under consideration for designation, but have yet to be designated or acted upon. These properties were all placed on the Commission’s calendar before 2010, and 85 percent of them date back to the 1990s or earlier.

Now the Commission is making a concerted effort to take care of the backlog and prevent it from happening again. We dug into the commission’s three-phase action plan to see how they’re aiming to resolve the backlog. Read more on the three phases below:

1. Public Review Period

Commissioners are just wrapping up a three-month review period during which interested parties examined background materials for each backlogged site. Beginning in July, the review period involved over 15,000 pages of research about sites up for consideration. The public was invited to weigh in by submitting written statements to Commissioners.

2. Special Hearings

The Commission has held two of four special hearings to speed through the backlogged items. Coming up on November 5th and November 12th, the last two hearings will be solely devoted to Manhattan’s backlog. Speakers will be given three minutes to advocate for their positions or add comments to written testimony. Notable sites up for consideration include the Excelsior Power Company Building, the Liberty Theater and Bergdorf Goodman.

3. Item Decisions

In early 2016, the commission will work to prioritize designation for some sites, essentially offering a fast-track status. Commissioners will also vote against designating the buildings that they feel have little historical significance or have been heavily altered over time. They may also issue no action letters, which are essentially neither a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no,’ and do not prevent sites from applying again in the future.

If these initiatives aren’t successful, it’s possible that the City Council will impose tighter timelines on the designation process with a new bill. Introduction 775 is sponsored by council members David G. Greenfield and Peter Koo, Chair of the Land Use Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses. If the bill passes, hearings will have to take place within one year of calendaring and votes will have to take place one year after the hearing, confining the entire process to just two years.

Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a group of CEOs from NYC’s top entrepreunerial, investment and corporate firms, advocated for the bill, arguing that the current process is ineffective and tough to navigate.

“Landmarking has become a highly political process that can leave building owners in limbo for years, potentially resulting in deterioration of the very properties that advocates are seeking to preserve. This bill would impose some discipline on the Landmarks Commission that is only fair and reasonable,” she said.

On the other hand, in a letter to Greenfield, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, expressed his disapproval of the bill.

“The bill, with its sweeping changes to the existing system, swats a fly with a sledgehammer, and would potentially have an enormously damaging effect upon the ability for many landmark designations to move ahead,” he wrote.

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