Major Tune-Up Coming to Landmarks Rules

The city’s regulations for historic buildings are getting a new and greener look, and the sustainability community should take note.

Over the past two years, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has been hard at work on proposed new rules, which were released last week. Urban Green worked with practitioners through the first half of 2016 to develop recommendations for this update and then directly with LPC staff to advance them. We’re pleased to see many of our priorities integrated here.

LPC’s proposed changes are intended to create a more streamlined, efficient and transparent process, in part by increasing Staff-level (instead of full Commission) review of proposed work. Many of the changes also aim to better incorporate sustainability and resiliency.

The sustainability highlights from the proposed rules include:

  • Express allowance for window improvements like caulking, weather-stripping, films and storms with no approval required
  • More flexibility for efficiency upgrades to windows, including replacement as-of-right (regardless of condition) in buildings that aren’t individual Landmarks, as well as Staff-level approval for simulated double-hung windows used in passive house construction
  • Clearer definition and expansion of Staff-level approval for substitute materials, including fiberglass, for repair, restoration and replacement of building features
  • Allowance for installation of insulated panels around window AC units with no permit
  • Inclusion of solar energy installations as part of provisions for rooftop mechanical equipment
  • Other provisions include expanding interior work eligible for an expedited review, reducing review of concrete sidewalk replacements in some districts, allowing more leeway for awnings and encouraging energy code compliance

This is all good news for the homeowners, designers and developers navigating the LPC’s requirements. But it’s also good news for our climate goals and the city’s historic building stock, because preservation and sustainability are indeed sister ethics. Preserving existing buildings saves embodied energy and avoids the environmental impacts of demolition and construction. Energy efficiency keeps operation and maintenance costs down and helps ensure resilient, healthy and lasting buildings.

With landmarks and historic districts making up roughly 10 percent of the city’s total building area and nearly 20 percent of Manhattan’s building area, that alignment is crucial to the city’s target of 80 percent greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2050. We need to find ways to both preserve and retrofit our historic buildings—and these proposed rules are a step in that direction.

The proposed LPC rules are open for comment until public hearing on March 27, 2018. See the LPC website to submit comments or register to testify at the hearing.

About the author

Christopher Halfnight
Chris works to advance Urban Green’s policy priorities with government and professional associations. He has experience in energy and water policy with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and Conservation Law Foundation.