(In Historic Districts) All Signs Lead to the Landmark Preservation Commission

We are renovating a Yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, one of New York’s many historic and wonderfully preserved landmark neighborhoods. This beauty is preserved thanks to the diligent work of the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC).

Eco Brooklyn, Inc., a green contractor, renovating a new yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

You could almost say the LPC is a green building organization since it encourages us to reuse the housing stock we have and doesn’t easily let us replace it. As a green building contractor we appreciate this.

Anyone who has tried to do construction in a land marked area knows that the LPC is a mixed blessing.  It is great that we have such an organization looking out for us, but boy can they be a pain in the butt.

Any work affecting land marked property requires approval from the (LPC) and woe to the person who ignores this. The general rule of thumb is, if the work affects the exterior of the building and you can see it from the street then Landmarks needs to be involved.

Work in the back of the building is generally, but not always, less of a Landmarks issue.

The trick to reducing the pain of dealing with Landmarks is to be diligent and play their game even when at times it can be time consuming and tedious. If you do this then you won’t have major problems.

Guidelines and Materials Checklists for Performing Work on Landmarked Buildings provides a comprehensive list of modifications that will obligate you to obtain authorization from LPC.  Our experience is the application and hearing process takes 20-30 days, although it can take months if Landmarks has objections or if the application was prepared with anything less than anal fervor. There is a program designed to expedite the process for certain projects within ten days.  So, if your renovation is plumbing, electrical work, construction on non-load bearing partitions or even HVAC work, you should start the application process here.

Photo taken by Ed Costello

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY

For the Brooklyn Heights yoga studio job we needed to put up store signage, and being a good green contractor we called Landmarks to apply for approval.  Here’s what we need to support our application:

  1. Color photo(s) of the entire building with proposed location of signage indicated.
  2. Close-up photo of proposed location of signage.
  3. Photomontage showing proposed sign location in relation to building and neighboring buildings and other storefronts in the building if the building has multiple storefronts.
  4. Detail drawings showing dimensions of the sign and how it will be attached to the building.
  5. Drawing of the sign with dimensions and sign lettering indicated.
  6. Material and color sample(s).

As you see the list underscores the importance of being detailed. Play nice, follow their rules and you will be fine. We expect to have approval in a week or two.

Things We Can Do, Must Do

Things we can do right away in a lousy economy:

–Conserve. Obama almost said the ‘C’ word in the debate­and you would think this is something radicals, liberals and conservatives would all agree on, as it requires no funding or investment and can produce huge rewards. If we had continued to conserve energy at the rate we did in the 1970s, we would be energy independent today!

–Pass tax credits for renewables.

–Enact fuel efficiency standards for new cars, trucks, etc. and for all big users of fossil fuels.

–Require energy efficiency in new construction, and white or reflective roofs, porous paving, etc.

–Put caps on carbon emissions for big users that will decline over time to zero by 2050 or sooner. (There’s a longer discussion of this in the Primer.)

–Take up Al Gore’s challenge to generate 100 per cent of our energy from renewables within ten years.

–Sequester carbon by building healthy soil through organic farming, no-till techniques, and planned rotational grazing. (More on this on the website.)

–Localize economies and food systems­farmers’ markets, CSAs, city farms and community gardens. Support barter systems and local currencies.

–End subsidies for nuclear energy, coal and oil.

–Bring the troops home­war has a carbon cost as well as a human cost and a financial cost. Employ diplomacy, not troops.

–Ratify Kyoto­no, it’s not nearly enough but gosh, if we can’t even do that, how are we going to have any global credibility on this issue?

Low Hanging Fruit: (Technologies and solutions that are already up and running, or nearly so, that have the best Energy Return on Energy Investment, will meet the least resistance and will give the biggest bang for the buck in the short run.)

–Onshore and offshore wind­already up and running.

–Photovoltaics­larger scale production to bring down costs, tax credits, rebates and cost-share programs for new construction and retrofitting.

–Concentrated Solar Power and solar thermal on both large scale and home scale.

–Electric cars and plug-in hybrids­in production or on the verge. Economies of scale­government purchasing agreements, tax credits, rebates or cost-shares or loan guarantees for purchasers can help replace our current transport fleet. Mandates for energy efficiency and requirements for zero-carbon vehicles, as were once in place in California, can support their production and adoption.

–Biofuels from waste and recycled materials and algae.

–White roofs. (A study from the Lawrence Berkeley labs suggest that white roofs not only save cooling costs but radiate heat outward and on a large scale, could have a major impact.)

–Regenerative farming and grazing that build soil organic carbon.

–Forest protection­a moratorium on the logging of old growth. Tree planting and restoration.

–Localization­building local food economies, sense of place, encouraging famers’ markets, urban agriculture, local small businesses, walkable neighborhoods,

–Pedestrian zones, bike paths, good interface with bikes and public transport­safe parking areas, allowing bikes on subways and busses.


Vital Investments: Even in a lousy economy, we absolutely need to do these things, and they will provide jobs and a vital economic stimulus:

–The national grid needs to be upgraded to be able to handle distributed sources of energy and Vehicle to Grid technology.

–Infrastructure for renewables needs to be built on the large scale.

–Technical help to developing countries: It’s only fair, equitable and good long-term security to help developing countries skip the 19th and 20th centuries and leap into the 21st with renewable energy sources. Offer to replace Iran’s nuclear plants with solar infrastructure, China’s coal plants with wind.

–Cost share programs and rebates for retrofitting existing homes for energy efficiency.

–Training programs and green jobs in the inner city.

–Job training for the unemployed in green industries and regenerative agriculture.

Long term investments: (Things we need to invest in now for the long term future. If we’re going to borrow billions, let’s spend them on:)

–Public transportation in and around cities. Making it efficient, cheap, easy and fun.

–Trains, busses, and other forms of transport to get people out of their cars.

–Research on all the promising technologies: new batteries and forms of energy storage, wave and tidal power, hydrogen from renewables­as a store for energy and as a replacement fuel for air travel. Aquaculture to produce biofuels. And so many more…(see that website for the full list!)

–Public infrastructure.

–Retrofitting of existing buildings for energy efficiency.

–Forest and wildland protection in large blocks to allow plants and animals room to migrate in response to climate change. Habitat protection and restoration.

–Quality education at every level on the environment.

Really Stupid Ideas We Should Oppose:

–Nuclear Power: It’s not quick to build or license safely, it’s not safe­low level radiation is proven to cause cancer and other diseases. We still don’t know how to safely store the wastes. To build a plant we actually produce huge amounts of carbon emissions as cement is one of the big carbon hogs. ——Nuclear power plants provide new targets for terrorists and makes it difficult to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. And­we don’t need it!

–Offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge­The U.S. has 3% of the world’s oil reserves and uses 25% of the energy. We can’t drill our way into energy independence, and drilling that compromises the safety of fragile ecosystems can cause irreparable damage for small, short-term gains. We need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, not drill for more. And new oil fields won’t come on line for over a decade and require huge energy investments to develop.

–“Clean” coal: There is no such thing.

–Cutting down rainforests to produce corn or palm oil for biofuels

–Replacing food crops with fuel crops.

–Solving problems with guns and weapons.

By Starhawk