November 2017
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Fund the Landmarks Commission

New York’s Landmarks Law is the envy of cities nationwide, but despite the hard work of an increasingly overburdened staff, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is struggling to keep up with increasing demands on it. The single thing that would bring about the most fundamental change to historic preservation practice in New York City today would be to increase the commission’s budget enough so it has adequate staff to fulfill its mandate and ensure that the best of the city is preserved for future generations.

The Municipal Art Society has a long-standing interest in ensuring a strong and viable commission, one that is able to fulfill its mission to identify and designate landmarks and historic districts and to regulate changes to them. In the 1950s and 1960s, the MAS and its board helped lead the effort that created the Landmarks Law and the first commission.

In order to fully understand the commission’s current funding issues, the MAS compiled and analyzed data dating back to the 1960s about its staffing, spending, permitting and designations. Click here to download the tables and charts the MAS developed.

Workload Up, Staffing Down – Since the 1990s, the commission’s resources have been slashed. Its full time staff has been cut from 70 in fiscal year 1991, to 41 in 2005. But at the same time the number of permit applications it received has skyrocketed from 3,828 in 1991 to 9,019 in 2005.

What do these numbers mean? More of the commission’s dedicated staff must turn its attention to the rising tide of permits — at the cost of landmark and historic district designations. The commission and its staff work doggedly to process permit applications efficiently and to designate the few buildings and districts they can tackle. But with the upward trend in permit applications and the desperate need for increased levels of landmark and district designations, the commission needs a larger budget to hire more staff. Click here for an explanatory chart.

In a Building Boom, the Need to Preserve – While the increased permit applications mean more work for the commission, those numbers also tell a positive story about the state of the city’s economy. Neighborhoods in all boroughs are being redeveloped, jobs are being created, the city’s tax base is growing, and the city is generating increasing revenues. But the time that communities are redeveloped is when the commission’s power to protect key buildings and districts is most needed. Preservation and development must happen at the same time to ensure that the historic fabric and sense of place of our city are preserved.

Citizens are calling on the commission to designate more — the brownstones of Crown Heights, the churches of Harlem, the daylight factory buildings in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and the residential neighborhoods in Queens and Staten Island. The MAS will soon be requesting that the commission designate the brownstone neighborhoods, like Prospect Heights, that are adjacent to the proposed Atlantic Yards development.

Without increased funding, the commission will not be able to meet the hue and cry, and the need, for more designations.

Our Solution – An analysis of the 20 years of data showed that the commission needs a 16 percent increase in funding to allow it to bring its staffing back to 1991 levels. The commission’s share of the city’s overall budget would only grow from 0.007 to 0.008 percent — still less than one-one-hundredth of one percent — but the rise would enable it to address the rising tide of permit applications and the increased need for landmark designations.