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City Council’s Intro 775a bill signed by Mayor

July 20, 2016

In June Mayor DeBlasio signed City Council bill Intro 775a, turning into law a new set of rules for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. The new rules impose strict deadlines for considering new individual and historic district designations. For individual properties, the commission will have one year from calendaring to vote. For districts, the period is two years. Further, action must be taken on all existing backlogged items, including Alvar Aalto’s Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Rooms, within the next 18 months. If action isn’t taken in the stipulated timeframe, the property or district must be withdrawn from consideration.

For those unfamiliar with the city’s Landmarks process, these deadlines might seem innocuous enough. However, research, documentation, and public outreach take time, especially for large districts that comprise hundreds of buildings. External schedule factors like municipal elections and changes in city administrations further hamper expediency. An earlier version of the bill included language that would have put a five-year moratorium on reconsidering an item after a vote deadline is missed. (This stipulation was removed from the final bill, to the relief of many preservationists.) Adding further concern, the new rules are not accompanied with any additional funding or staff to manage the accelerated workload. In recent years the agency has operated on a shoestring budget as the number of development projects has skyrocketed. These ill-considered rules do nothing to strengthen the 50-year old Landmarks Law. If anything, they will likely discourage the beleaguered agency from considering new designations—perhaps the intended goal of the bill’s proponents.

Mayor de Blasio signs controversial landmarks bill into law,” The Architect’s Newspaper, June 30, 2016

Interior, facing south, Kaufmann Conference Center, Alvar Aalto, architect, 1964. © 2014 Andrew Hinderaker