Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004

EDITORIAL


Landmarks needs funds to do its job

As an article by Charles Hack in this week’s Villager details, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is both seriously under-funded and under-staffed.

The city’s smallest agency, Landmarks’ budget has been slashed to its 2001 level. Landmarks has just one enforcement officer to protect all New York City’s more than 22,000 landmarks.

Landlords are making violations — like the destruction of metal awnings and putting up illegal billboards in the Meat Market, for example — and getting away with it with nary more than a slap on the wrist, if even that.

Meanwhile, fewer new buildings are being designated, as manpower at Landmarks has been cut, leaving the remaining staff stretched thin and having to process more applications than humanly possible.

What can be done? Obviously, the issue is money, increasing the funds going to Landmarks. We hear the permit application fees proposed by Landmarks are close to being adopted. Yet, even if the permit fee structure is adopted, the revenue will not go directly to Landmarks, but towards paying off the city’s budget deficit.

One Landmarks commissioner, speaking off the record, said they hope if revenue from the new permit fees surpasses a given amount that the revenue would then start being directed to Landmarks. That seems like a fair deal and an excellent way for Landmarks to increase its budget and staffing. What’s more, if landlords are being asked to pay more, then they’ll expect staffing to increase at Landmarks so that applications and permits are turned around faster. It’s not justified for the city to impose a fee without improving service.

Another idea is to add a minimal assessment to landmarked properties, such as $50 or $100 a year. This would be painless to landlords, yet would have a big payoff in allowing Landmarks to bolster its staff and provide better, faster service. Since landmarking has been shown to increase the value of neighborhoods and buildings, this would merely constitute a very small tax on added value.

Then there is the private sector. An organization like the Central Park Conservancy, but for preservation, could have enormous benefit. There is an existing organization, Landmarks Foundation. However, it could be doing much more and needs to be energized.

Several years ago, the New York Nightlife Association did a study to show the economic benefit of nightlife to New York City. Perhaps, landmarking could benefit from a similar study to show the amount of income generated by tourism and business by historic preservation. Take the Gansevoort Market, for example, where a lively restaurant, gallery and nightlife district has evolved, thanks in part to the new historic district’s designation.

One thing is clear, under the status quo, landmarked buildings and districts — as well as those that are candidates for designation — are threatened due to Landmarks’ lack of funding. The buck stops at City Hall — which, of course, itself is an exterior and interior landmark, in a historic district.

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