Do I Need a Certificate of Appropriateness?

What developers in NYC’s historic districts need to know

By Andrew Brandt

If you happen to own a building that is individually designated as a landmark or is in one of New York City’s many historic districts, and you’re looking to make any changes to it, you’ll need to first check in with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

The commission, which preserves historic buildings and districts, requires that you fill out an application and submit materials for your proposed changes before you make them. Though LPC receives more than 13,000 applications per year, most don’t require public hearings and are approved within a month of submission.

However, if you’re looking to make additions or alterations to the exterior of your building, the process can get much more complicated; you’ll need to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness from the commission, which takes at least three months to obtain.

Submitting Materials and Community Board Presentation

To receive a Certificate of Appropriateness, you’ll first need to file an application and submit your plans, including building materials, to the LPC, where they will be reviewed by a staff member. This portion of the process is consistent with applications for minor work.

 “Once the application is filed, and it’s been reviewed by the staff, they set the item on the calendar for the LPC,” says Caroline G Harris, a land use/zoning attorney at GoldmanHarris. “Between then and when the commission has its hearing, you’re supposed to go to your community board to present the application proposal.”

LPC’s Public Hearing

Approximately four to six weeks later, the LPC will hold a public hearing, wherein a staff member introduces the project, the applicant presents the proposal and the public has a chance to comment, on the record. The community board’s recommendation is presented, too. The commission discusses the proposal and may, if no changes are suggested, vote at that hearing or a later meeting.

 “Landowners will often get counsel involved to help guide them through the process and fashion their presentation,” says Harris. “I often work with an architect and the owner to present the project and its rationale. We have the architect make the major substantive presentation.”

Harris notes that public meetings at the commission take place almost every week, and the public really does participate. “Local elected officials may come and speak,” she says. “Nonprofits and community organizations that are focused on landmarks will regularly appear at hearings and express their views.

“It’s a very open process,” she continues. “The commission listens to the comments, and if they agree with the comments, they may ask the applicant to respond—orally, right there at the hearing. If they have questions or comments about the proposal, the commission will express those at the hearing. If everything is perfect, and they love it, they can close the hearing. If they want the applicant to make some additional changes, then they’ll ask the applicant to make them and come back to another meeting to show how they’ve progressed.”

Getting Approval

At the end of the initial hearing, if changes aren’t requested, the commission may vote as to whether they approve the project as it’s been presented. It may also lay over the item and vote as a later meeting. This is typically done when changes are requested and the applicant must modify its submission. After it votes, the LPC issues a status update letter. The actual Certificate of Appropriateness won’t be issued until the applicant submits its DOB plans for review. If you have been approved, the LPC will then make sure they are consistent with the commission’s approval.

Then, when it’s approved, says Harris, “LPC staff will perforate the plans and issue the actual Certificate of Appropriateness for that project.”

If you’re looking to redevelop the exterior of your property and you live in one of New York’s historic districts, reach out to an experienced real estate attorney, in addition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

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