If you think a particular building, structure or neighborhood has special historic or cultural significance for the community, see if the City, State or Federal government will also recognize the importance of the place. This happens in a few ways: The place may be protected as a local landmark building, site or historic district by the New York CIty Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) or it may be added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places through the New York State Historic Preservation Office.
Throughout the city there are also advocacy organizations that support local preservation efforts including the Historic Districts Council, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society.
New York City Landmark Designation
In New York City, landmarks designated by the LPC have special protections that regulate how the building, site or historic district may be changed. It is very difficult for owners to demolish or heavily alter properties that have been designated as landmarks by the LPC.
How LPC Selects Properties to Designate
The LPC has research staff that propose landmark designations, but individuals and groups may also suggest a landmark by sending a Request for Evaluation with supporting materials to the agency as a first step. The agency may then do additional research to be sure the place suggested can be protected by the Landmarks Law, meets the agency priorities and merits a full hearing. Hearings are listed on the agency calendar, and updated to reflect the individual properties that are being reviewed by the LPC each week (click on “Public Hearing Agenda.”)
At a hearing, the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners hears from experts and the public about the property in relation to specific criteria for local landmarking. After hearing testimony, the LPC will vote on whether to designate the property as a NYC Landmark; the vote can happen at the same hearing as the testimony or a later public hearing.
The NYC LPC also can make grant money available to owners for improvements to the exterior of local landmark buildings. The Historic Preservation Grant Program (HPGP) is for landmark property owners that are income-eligible non-profits.
Only the NYC Landmarks Law prevents owners from altering or demolishing private property without review.
National Register of Historic Places & State Register of Historic Places
Buildings, historic districts, landscapes and other places may also have State and National importance, and be eligible for inclusion on the New York State Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places. Designating a site happens for both Registers at the same time. The New York State Historic Preservation Office manages all applications and designations for both Registers.
Sites included on the National and State Registers have been recognized as significant, but are not automatically protected from alteration or demolition. Listing on the National and State Registers does comes with some financial benefits: owners of listed properties may be eligible for tax credits or funding for building improvements through New York State. HPGP funds may also be available for properties that are included or eligible for inclusion on the State or National Registers of Historic Places. When a building or collection of buildings is being considered for inclusion, property owners support is critical. A property owner may formally object to prevent the listing of a single building, while in the case of a district, a majority of property owners must object to prevent designation.
How New York State Historic Preservation Office Selects Properties to Designate
Inclusion on the State or National Register is largely symbolic and only provides minimal protections for special places. When the government owns a building that is on a Register, or eligible to be on one but not listed yet, it has to get public input before selling it to a private owner (it has to follow Section 106 Review rules).
If the New York State Historic Preservation Office determines that the property will be adversely impacted by the sale, it will require that the sale be accompanied by some plan for mitigating the impact. The plan might be something small, like a plaque or photo documentation, but sometimes it will be a covenant that protects the historic qualities of the property forever, no matter who owns it. The covenant will name who is responsible for enforcing it. For example, when USPS sold the building at 558 Grand Concourse in the Bronx, a covenant was placed on the property. It is held jointly by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission & New York Landmarks Conservancy. A covenant like this is the best protection you can hope to get for a property that is precious but not designated a landmark by the NYC LPC.