Landmark Preservation Commission’s Power Upheld

May 22, 2019

In late November 2017, a divided Appellate Division, First Department, decided that New York City’s Landmarks Preservation and Historic Districts Law (Administrative Code of City of N.Y. §25-301 et seq.) (the Landmarks Preservation Law) permitted the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to require the private owner of property purchased subject to a prior interior landmark designation to preserve the historic character and operation of the interior landmark and to continue to permit at least minimal public access to it.

This ruling came down even though the LPC previously had determined that it did not want to impose such a requirement in the case, involving the historic New York Life Insurance Company building and, in particular, its clock tower at 346 Broadway in lower Manhattan. Matter of Save America’s Clocks, Inc. v. City of New York, 157 A.D.3d 133 (1st Dept. 2017). The First Department’s decision, as I pointed out in a 2018 Zoning and Land Use Planning column about that decision, seemed destined to itself become a landmark ruling. Anthony S. Guardino, “Landmarks Preservation Law Given Broad Reading by Divided Court,” NYLJ Jan. 23, 2018.

Now, a divided New York Court of Appeals has taken what appears to be an even broader view of the LPC’s authority. In doing so, however, the court reversed the First Department, which allowed the current owner of the New York Life building to complete the modifications that the LPC had previously approved—and to do so without any obligation to preserve the historic character and operation of the clock or public access to it. Matter of Save America’s Clocks, Inc. v. City of New York, No. 17 (N.Y. March 28, 2019).

Anthony S. Guardino, a partner with the law firm of Farrell Fritz, P.C., practices in the areas of land use, zoning, and environmental law. Resident in the firm’s office in Hauppauge, Long Island, he can be reached at aguardino@farrellfritz.com.

Reprinted with permission from New York Law Journal, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, Vol 261 – No. 98

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