New York Landmarks Conservancy Helps Kick Start Preservation Process

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is the largest preservation agency of its kind in the country, deciding what does and doesn't get landmark status across the city. However, getting something landmarked is no easy task. NY1’s Budd Mishkin takes a look at a non-profit organization that's been key for many building owners and preservationists - the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

As she so often explains, Peg Breen and the New York Landmarks Conservancy do not - repeat, do not - decide which buildings and neighborhoods get landmarked. That is the job of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. But for every other part of the process…

"Got a preservation problem, who you gonna call? The Landmarks Conservancy,” Breen says. “So I think of us as the Ghostbusters of preservation."

She and the Landmarks Conservancy are often called at the start of the process.

"People come to us when they want to have a building or a district landmarked, asking for our support,” Breen says. “So we often are advocates before the commission asking that a place be landmarked."

Breen and her staff also offer financial and technical support to buildings after they have been landmarked, occasionally when sites are in distress, most recently after Hurricane Sandy.

"We're on the national monument at Governor's Island. We're at Greenwood Cemetary. I'm at St. Paul's Chapel in Lower Manhattan," she says.

Breen is understandably a supporter of the landmarks law celebrating its 50th anniversary. But she says the battle goes on.

"I don’t think the current administration has preservation as one of its top priorities,” she says. “The Real Estate Board of New York has, you know, didn’t want the law in the first place and hasn’t entirely changed its mind."

In a statement, the Landmarks Preservation Commission says, " The administration's efforts to address the affordability crisis have not come at the expense of historic preservation.  In fact, under this administration the agency has designated more than 2000 buildings in the past fiscal year- more than in any of the preceding five years.  Not only is the Landmarks Commission continuing to designate worthy buildings throughout the city; we are doing it faster and more efficiently than ever before, as every designation initiated in the past year has been calendared, designated, and voted on in under two months.  LPC's record is not only an indication of this administration's on-going commitment to preservation, but also a reflection of its appreciation and advocacy of the city's diversity."

The Real Estate Board has cited what it calls "rampant landmarking" negatively impacting the production of affordable housing.

"I think that it’s ironic that on the 50th anniversary of the law, we are defending it against arguments that were there 50 years ago that have not proven true,” Breen says. “Landmarking was going to freeze the city and we’d be a museum and there would be no development. And look at New York; I think we’re pretty developed. I don’t think development and preservation should be at war. I think we’re a large city and there’s plenty of room for preservation and great new growth."

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