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Increased fees proposed for borough’s landmarks

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Under a proposal assailed by borough preservationists, owners of buildings in historic districts all over Queens will have to pay the city new fees to make renovations to their properties.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing last month on its proposal, designed to raise $1 million for the cash-strapped city.

A landmark designation requires building owners to get permission from the commission before making changes other than ordinary repairs and certain interior alterations, but such permits currently carry no fee. New construction in historic districts must be in keeping with the neighborhood’s character.

Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Diane Jackier said permits for minor work, which would include window installation and rebrownstoning, would not carry a fee.

“The work that really improves the look of the landmarks does not have a fee associated with it,” she said.

The proposed permit fees would cost 13 cents per square foot for new buildings in historic districts except for one-, two- and three-family homes, which would be subject to a landmarks permit fee of 6 cents per square foot.

New accessory garages would cost an additional $100; a $75,000 installation of a water tank for an office building would cost an additional $430.

Jackier said certain types of work on existing landmarked buildings totaling $5,000 or less would carry a $50 fee. For each additional $1,000 worth of work, owners would be charged $3, Jackier said.

Although such fees may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of renovation, “for many of us it’s a matter of principle rather than cash,” said Jeffrey Kroessler of the Queensborough Preservation League.

“We find it most unacceptable that the city would attempt to charge homeowners who already give above and beyond to the city for maintaining their historical properties ... while not going after those people who intentionally violate the law,” Kroessler said.

According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Web site, the agency has had the power to impose fines for violations of its regulations since 1998. But according to the commission, the fines are not intended to raise revenue, but to serve as a deterrent to violators and an incentive to correct infractions.

“The Landmarks Commission has never been a fee-generating agency,” said urban planning consultant and preservationist Paul Graziano, who is the Zoning and Land Use co-chairman for the Queens Civic Congress.

Graziano said the proposed fees would encourage builders to make renovations to landmarked buildings without notifying the city.

“It’s a not-so-hidden tax,” he said. “It’s going to put a chill in an already frigid situation.”

In Queens, Douglas Manor, Stockholm Street in Ridgewood and parts of Hunters Point, Jackson Heights and Fort Totten have landmark status. Individual buildings such as the former Loew’s Valencia Theater building in Jamaica and the Richmond Hill Republican Club are also landmarked.

Kroessler pointed out that owners of historic buildings already incur much higher expenses for renovations.

“If you’re in a historic district ... you can’t just buy whatever windows are on sale that week and slap them in,” he said.

Julia Schoeck, co-president of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society and a Douglas Manor resident, said “the position of the historical society is that the fees are essentially a penalty.”

“You’re penalizing people for doing the right thing, whereas enforcement is really where the effort should be,” Schoeck said.

Jackier said that if adopted by the commission, the new fees would take effect about a month to six weeks later. She said the commission would most likely reconsider the proposal in the fall.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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