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A Co-op's Experience with Landmarks Preservation Commission, Part 1

Frank Lovece in Board Operations on July 23, 2013

227 Tenants Corp., Upper West Side, Manhattan

Landmarks Preservation Commission
July 23, 2013

For board-president Sosnick, however, that possibility is small comfort. "The Landmarks Commission rules with absolute autonomy, which creates significant challenges for buildings under its jurisdiction," Sosnick says bitterly. Other cash-strapped boards often feel the same way. Is it a fair charge? Is there anything you can do about it? And what exactly happened here that you could possibly avoid — or failing that, for which you can be prepared? 

Window Pain

Here it began at the April 2010 quarterly meeting of the seven-member board. Sosnick and managing agent Louis Sandberg, president of Sandberg Management, presented a window-replacement plan with the idea to do the installation in summer 2010. The board solicited bids from architectural firms, and that August hired Michael Notaro, a principal with Zaskorski & Notaro. Together, the professionals, the board and the shareholders chose a quality window with a wood interior and a type of exterior called "cladding," which means metal coating bonded to a metal core. 

"At this point it was our feeling we'd still be within five percent of our budget," Sosnick says.

We discussed the possibility of

canceling the project because

of the financial consequences

of the Landmarks ruling,

Because the building lies within a 34-block-long historic district, Notaro in January 2011 filed an application with the LPC. "Generally, the landmarks commission takes jurisdiction of things that are in either landmarked buildings or landmarked districts," explains attorney Steven Wagner, a partner at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, who is unaffiliated with this building. "If you're doing work that requires a building permit and the work is in a landmarked district, one of the things the Department of Buildings will require is approval of the work from the landmarks commission."

After some back-and-forth that included photos and revised drawings, Notaro heard from an LPC preservationist, Rita Wong, who said that for a staff-level approval, the commission would require "installation of the new windows in the same plane as the historic window and replication of the original brick molds."

This LPC requirement meant that the simple remove-and-replace project suddenly became much more complicated. "We immediately recognized it would involve a more expensive renovation due to the changed profile," says Sosnick, since moving the window position would expose openings that would have to be covered up by additional trim. It also meant more architectural fees. 

Hearings Aid

The board had two choices: accept the ruling and make the adjustments as indicated or appeal the decision by requesting a public hearing. "A public hearing would require a large output of additional money and a delay of at minimum several months because the co-op would have to get on [the LPC] schedule for a public hearing," says Sosnick, who adds: "Worst-case scenario, we'd miss the summer [construction season], which would delay it another year."

"The commission reviews 20 to 30 applications every Tuesday at public hearings," notes LPC Director of Preservation Sarah Carroll, who oversees more than 10,000 applications annually as one of seven directors for various aspects. "There are a couple of ways to get an approval at the landmarks commission: through the staff and through the full commission. The commission has adopted a set of rules, and if you follow those rules the staff can issue a permit administratively without having to get the full commission." In this instance, she says, preservationist Wong "reviewed the application and the windows initially didn't meet configuration details."

"We discussed the possibility of canceling the project because of the financial consequences of the Landmarks ruling," Sosnick says, "but realized the windows were continuing to deteriorate and were only going to get worse."

After having C & M General Contractor install a sample window with the profile the LPC required, the LPC signed off on it, and Notaro prepared a bid sheet. The architect found potential contractors, and the board met with finalists within the next six weeks, approving Basonas Construction Corp. in April 2011 and executing the contract a month later. On the first day of work, Sosnick says, the board learned that because of the changed window profile, the original sash pockets would have to be completely torn out and the surrounding areas repaired, requiring more time and more work.

What were the co-op board's options at this point? Does the Landmarks Preservation Commission have flexibility to address building's budget concerns? And do the architect and the board president agree on the result? Read Part 2.


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