Morningside Heights Historic District Committee

Preserving, Celebrating, and Discovering the Story of our Community

Frequently Asked Questions

We asked the Historic Districts Council, a leading city-wide advocacy group, for their answers to the questions below. Thank you to HDC for their insights!

What is a historic district?

An historic district is an area of the city designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) that represents at least one period or style of architecture typical of one or more areas in the city’s history; as a result, the district has a distinct “sense of place.” Fort Greene, Greenwich Village, Jackson Heights, Mott Haven and St. George/ New Brighton are examples of the more than 80 sections of the city that contain historic districts. Having a neighborhood designated preserves its physical nature and helps protect it from out-of-scale and inappropriate development.

Why was the Landmarks Law enacted?

The Landmarks Law was enacted in 1965 in response to New Yorkers’ growing concern that important physical elements of the city’s history were being lost. Events like the demolition of the architecturally distinguished Pennsylvania Station in 1963 increased public awareness of the need to protect the city’s architectural, historical and cultural heritage.

What is the difference between a New York City historic district and a National Register district?

A New York City district is overseen by the local Landmarks Preservation Commission and protects the character of the district through the local Landmarks Law. A National Register district is recognized through the U.S. Department of the Interior and administered by the New York State Historic Preservation Office. National Register of Historic Places listings are largely honorific and usually do not prevent alterations or demolition of structures within the district, but may entitle owners to tax benefits. Many, if not most of the city’s historic districts are also on the State and National Registers.

If my neighborhood or building is designated, will I be required to restore my property?

No. The LPC does not require restoration or force owners to return buildings to their original condition. The LPC only regulates proposed work on designated structures. It may, however, make recommendations for restorative treatment when other work is undertaken to the property.

Will I be restricted in the kind of changes I can make?

Yes. New York City landmark designation does place additional restrictions on historic properties, which most often involve exterior changes. Designation is designed to protect and preserve properties and neighborhoods. This can be beneficial to a property owner by preventing inappropriate changes to neighboring buildings that could take away from property values and the ambiance or enjoyment of the property.

What procedures do I follow to make changes to my landmarked property?

To make changes, you must apply for a permit from the LPC, which will review your plans and issue a permit or suggest appropriate alterations. The majority of LPC permits are for exterior work and can usually be issued within a few weeks.

Does it cost more to maintain a landmarked building?

It may. Although there can be an additional expense for historically appropriate repair and maintenance of designated buildings, property owners generally find the extra costs offset by higher resale revenue and property values.

Will living in a designated historic district raise my taxes?

No. There is no evidence that those living in an historic district pay higher property taxes than residents outside of the district.

How does historic district designation affect real estate values?

Studies all over the country show that designation improves property values. In 2003 the Independent Budget Office published a study showing that properties within designated New York City historic districts appreciate more in value over the long term than identical properties not in historic districts.

How does historic district designation affect development values within a district?

Development is permitted in historic districts. Developers are subject to the same approval process by the Landmarks Commission as are other property owners. Even though development may be reviewed in terms of aesthetics, height and bulk, developers may benefit from the prestige and association that come with designation. To encourage sensitive alterations and renovations, federal and state tax credits are available. The real estate community markets historic properties in a way that places emphasis and greater value on the building’s and neighborhood’s special character.

Doesn’t becoming a landmarked district speed up the process of gentrification?

No. There are no definitive studies that prove this. By preserving and protecting existing historic structures, designation prevents rapid, out-of-scale development that often leads to displacement.

How does living in an historic district affect zoning?

Zoning is a separate feature of a neighborhood’s character. The zoning dictates how large a building may be, its general shape and use. The LPC oversees all changes in an historic district but does not regulate contemporary use.

How does a neighborhood become an historic district?

The process of designating an historic district starts when the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) begins to consider an area worthy of special protection. However, rarely does the designation of a neighborhood happen without substantial community involvement.

About the Historic Districts Council

The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods. We work to ensure the preservation of significant historic neighborhoods, buildings and public spaces in New York City, uphold the integrity of the New York City Landmarks Law and further the preservation ethic. This mission is accomplished through ongoing programs of assistance to more than 500 community and neighborhood groups and through public- policy initiatives, publications, educational outreach and sponsorship of community events.

More information is available in HDC’s signature publication, Creating an Historic District: A Guide for Neighborhoods, available on HDC’s Web site, or by calling 212-614-9107.

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