What can and cannot be done to your landmark building?
There are often many questions related to renovating or modernizing certain elements of your brownstone façade or your prewar apartment that is within in a landmarked district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission provides oversight on all improvements ensuring the history of the city is well-preserved for years to come. There are many complexities related to navigating the ins and outs of building department permits, as well as application and filing processes, so it is best to have a general idea of what is allowed and what is not regarding the work you are intending on undergoing. Hansel Hernandez provides answers to many of the most frequently asked questions.
What is a landmark façade?
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has jurisdiction over a designated Individual Landmark, or any building inside a designated historic district. Work proposed on the main street façade, the side, secondary facades, the rear façade, and the roof of any of these buildings has to be pre-approved by the Commission before the proposed work can take place.
What is the difference between a landmark building and a building within a designated historic district?
There is no difference in the level of protection between an Individual Landmark and a building located in a designated historic district. The difference would be that the Individual Landmark would have more architectural, historical, or social significance relating to the history of the City of New York. The Individual Landmark would have eminent architectural importance associated with a famous and prolific architect(s), or feature significant craftsmanship or particular building technique; important historical events would have taken place in it; or groundbreaking social issues, or an illustrious person would have been associated with it. At the same time, a row-house, office building, apartment building, or commercial storefront in a historic district may, as a whole, contribute as part of the streetscape which contains special architectural character in that particular neighborhood. Taken as a whole, the buildings in a designated historic district come under the purview and protection of the Landmarks Commission.
How do you make changes to a landmark façade – what is the process?
First you will need an application form. You can obtain an application and a copy of filing instructions from the Landmarks Commission’s Web site, www.nyc.gov/landmarks, by calling 311, or in person at their offices, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10007.
Applications must be accompanied by photographs, drawings, building material samples and/or photo-montages to illustrate the existing condition of the feature that is to be repaired or replaced, and the proposed new work. You can call the Landmarks Commission and speak to a staff member to discuss which materials are needed, or to arrange a meeting at their offices for further discussion of the proposed work.
After you complete the application form, and add the necessary descriptive materials, you can mail or deliver them to the Commission where they will be docketed and assigned to a staff member. The staff member then determines whether the application is complete, and which type of permit is needed for the proposed work. The staff member will contact you to discuss the proposal, the materials, and to indicate if anything else is needed to process the application and issue the work permit. The applicant has to wait until receipt of the Landmarks permit in order to do the proposed work.
The Commission issues two types of permits for work to be done on designated buildings:
Certificate of No Effect (CNE)
• Issued when the proposed work requires a Department of Buildings (DOB) permit, but either does not affect the protected architectural features of a building, or meets criteria spelled out in LPC’s Rules for specific alterations to the exterior of buildings
• Work covered: interior renovations, plumbing and heating equipment installation; rear wall alterations, cleaning or repair that requires DOB approval, such as Local Law 11 repairs
• Valid for four years
• Public hearing not required
Permit for Minor Work (PMW)
• Issued when the proposed work does not require a Department of Buildings (DOB) permit, and which either meets the criteria under LPC’s Rules for specific exterior alterations or is considered to be good preservation practice
• Work covered: exterior painting, replacing doors or window sash, installing storm windows, or masonry restoration, cleaning or repair, and restoration of architectural detail
What is the process to install new windows?
No permit required:
• Weather stripping, caulking, puttying
• Replacing broken glass
• Repairing suspension systems (cords, pulleys, etc.)
• Repairing or replacing window hardware
• Repairing window components by partial replacement, scraping, filling, or sanding
• Painting window sash or frames the same color
• Installing most interior storm windows or panels
• Installing interior security gates or grilles
• Installing regulation child guard
• Painting window sash or frames a different color
• Installing new window sash or frames
• Installing exterior storm windows and exterior storm window frames
• Installing or removing exterior shutters
• Installing window awnings
• Repairing or altering window frames
• Installing or removing exterior security window grilles or bars
• Changing the shape or design of window openings
• Blocking in existing windows or opening up new ones
• Restoring original or architecturally appropriate window openings
• Replacing (extensive) original window materials or consolidating with epoxies or other plastic
If you live in an apartment building and want to replace your window sash or frames you require a permit from the Landmarks Commission. With your application you should include photographs of the existing windows, measured drawings of the existing windows, measured drawings of the proposed new windows, and a color chip of the color that is changing. You generally get these materials from the window installer.
What is the process to install through-wall A/C units?
No permit required for installing:
• Window air conditioners that don’t require brackets affixed to the exterior, or don’t alter the window sash or frame
• Window fans that don’t require brackets affixed to the exterior, or don’t alter the window sash or frame
Permits required for installing:
• Window units that require brackets affixed to exterior or alter the window sash or frame
• Central air conditioning systems that require exterior condenser units, chillers or fresh air intakes
• Through-the-wall air conditioning units
• Split heating and cooling systems
If you live in an apartment building and want to install a through-wall A/C unit it requires a permit from the Landmarks Commission. The proposed unit should be centered beneath a window opening, the exterior grille should be mounted flush with the exterior wall, and the exterior grille has to be painted to approximate the color of surrounding masonry. With your application you should include photographs of the building or area where you are proposing the installation, measured drawings, and a color chip of the proposed color of the exterior grille. You generally get these materials from the A/C unit installer.
A good first step for either new windows or through-wall A/C’s would be to check with the building management to find out if the building already has a Landmarks-approved through-wall A/C unit or window replacement Master Plan. The Master Plan would have the approved window and/or AC unit drawings, which were reviewed, approved, and granted a building-wide permit sometime in the past. This would eminently expedite the application process with the Commission. All you need to include with your application are copies of the approved Master Plan drawings and photographs of the area where you are proposing the unit installation or photographs of existing windows. If management is unsure about the Master Plan, you may call the Landmarks Commission to find out if in fact the building already has one.
What is exempt from a Landmarks designated area/what are the exceptions?
As a general matter, the Landmarks Preservation Commission regulates all outside facades and the roof of all designated buildings. It also regulates “hardscape” features, such as the installation of sidewalks, paths, front areaways, rear gardens, patios, etc., but does not regulate “landscape” features. In addition, the Commission generally does not object to proposed interior alterations in a designated house or apartment, but it is does review interior work which requires a Department of Buildings permit. This type of review is done in an expeditious manner and only takes a few days.
What if the back of a building is not in a Landmark area?
The rear of designated buildings comes under the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Commission, as stated above. All buildings facades and the roof come under the purview of the Commission.
Can you do thru wall A/C in back of building?
Yes you can, see instructions for filing for a permit for the installation of A/C units.
Hänsel Hernández is an architectural conservator specializing in the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and monuments, and cultural resource management. He received his Master’s in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. He lives in New York City and has worked for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Park Service, The American Academy in Rome, and the Museum of the City of New York.
If you are a townhouse owner or on the Board of your building and would like more information and consultation on how to handle landmark issues, you can reach Hansel by email at firstname.lastname@example.orgRead More »
One of the great things about living in New York is the spectacular history it holds. Uncovering these unique morsels of interest around every corner is truly fascinating. 52 East 64th Street, a grand townhome on the Upper East Side’s Gold Coast which is currently on the market holds an exciting past. Not only was the architect, Frederick Sterner one of the country’s leading architects, but one of the houses residents was America’s most famous actress of her time, Ethel Barrymore!
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