New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission scored an important victory recently when a state supreme court justice ruled against a developer claiming to have suffered a “taking” following the Commission’s decision to designate the First Avenue Estate as a local landmark. First Avenue Estate is a group of historic apartment buildings located between York and First avenues at East 64th and East 65th streets. All First Avenue Estate apartments provided access to sunlight and fresh air, which represented an innovation in workforce housing at the time of their construction between 1898 and 1915. The buildings of First Avenue Estate—15 in total, all six stories tall—were known as “light-court tenements” and were intended to be alternatives to the dark and poorly ventilated tenement housing in other areas of the city.

Credit: Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts

Credit: Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts

The developer that filed the lawsuit, Stahl York Ave. Co., LLC, sought permission to demolish First Avenue Estate in order to build a new condominium tower. The Landmarks Commission, having designated First Avenue Estate as a landmark, denied the demolition request, a decision that Stahl sought to have overturned. The National Trust joined the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts as friends of the court along with a coalition of other groups. The coalition was represented by attorney Michael Gruen, a seasoned preservation attorney in New York City who has participated in several important lawsuits there. Our amici curiae memorandum is available here.
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About Will Cook

Will Cook is an associate general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry, a National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, was once threatened by a highway project. However, the Section 4(f) review process ultimately led highway officials to drop the elevated bridge idea and instead build a tunnel under Baltimore Harbor – a project that came in on time and under budget. | Credit: 1flatworld via flickr creative commons

On Friday, December 4, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which will fund and authorize the nation’s transportation programs and policy for the next five years. The preservation community had to fight hard to defend protections for historic resources while also trying to add new avenues of funding for the protection of historic resources.

The final legislation is very much a mixed bag. The bill included a significant attack on section 4(f) that we had fought since it was first proposed in the Obama Administration’s GROW AMERICA proposal for transportation policy in the summer of 2014. Yet the bill also includes language—also included in the Administration’s GROW AMERICA Act—providing a significant expansion of funding that can be used to survey and map historic resources early in the transportation planning process, which the National Trust worked hard and successfully to secure. In addition, the bill includes several changes to railroad policy and a couple of common-sense tweaks to current protections for historic resources that should have little to no impact on the preservation community.

The Bad News: Section 4(f) Streamlining

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About Adam Jones

Adam Jones is the associate director for Government Relations and Policy, at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Posted on: December 2nd, 2015 by Tom Mayes


The two ramps (brick) on the hyphens of Woodlawn Plantation were designed to be ADA compliant.

The two ramps (brick) on the hyphens of Woodlawn Plantation were designed to be ADA compliant. | Credit: Gordon Beall, Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Twenty-five years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, providing civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities throughout America, ultimately providing improved access to historic places, and enriching the lives of all Americans.

At the time, the passage of the law was met with trepidation by many people who worked in historic preservation and at historic sites. While the law incorporated a requirement that historic properties would not have to implement accessibility changes if the changes would “threaten or destroy” the historic significance of a qualified historic property, many were concerned that changes would have a significant impact on historic properties.1 Would owners and operators of historic properties be forced to make changes that would diminish the historic character of the buildings or sites?   How would access be provided in a way that wouldn’t fundamentally change historic properties?

The sky did not fall. Quite the contrary, old and historic buildings are more accessible to individuals with disabilities than ever before. Providing wheelchair and other access to older and historic buildings is now largely part of standard business practice, and is built into the rehabilitation process just like providing modern-day heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as it should be.

But that change – much of it attitudinal -- has not been easy and nor is it over.

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About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.