Guidelines for Property Owners in Troy’s Historic Districts

Congratulations! You are the owner of a property in one of Troy’s historic districts. Or perhaps you are thinking of buying a house or commercial property in a neighborhood that has been designated as a historic district. A growing number of people are choosing to invest in Troy’s architectural heritage, and with good reason. Living or working in a neighborhood with historic significance and a palpable sense of place offers satisfactions that are reflected in rising property values. But preserving and enhancing the quality of our historic districts is a responsibility for the City of Troy, especially for the property owners in those districts.

What is my role as property owner?

The preservation of Troy’s rich architectural heritage depends on the willingness of owners to exercise proper care in the maintenance and management of their properties. The Historic District and Landmark review Commission exists to aid property owners in discharging this responsibility. If you are planning any modifications to the exterior of a building within the boundaries of one of the historic districts, you are required by law to have the project reviewed by the Commission and approved by the Planning Department before work can commence. While this procedure may sound burdensome, it is actually quite simple, and its purpose is to help you preserve the investment you have already made in a historically significant property. For advice on preparing a proposal for the Commission, contact James Rath at 518-279-7169.

Are there any types of work that do not require the commission’s approval?

Interior work and ordinary exterior repairs and maintenance, such as replacing broken window glass or repainting the same colors, do not require the Commission’s approval. The exception for interior work is if it affects the exterior, such as the blocking up of a window, in which case the project must be reviewed by the Commission.

The City’s Bureau of Code Enforcement can tell you whether a permit is needed for work you are considering. Typically, using ladders and scaffolds in the City right-of-way requires a barricade permit. Replacing (rather than repairing) a window or door requires a building permit.

What are some of the factors that the commission considers when it reviews my application?

The Commission reviews your proposal to evaluate the effect of the proposed changes on the architectural and historical character of your building and/or the historic district.

Can the commission make me restore my building to the way it originally looked?

No. The Commission reviews only changes that the property owner proposes to make.

Will the commission make me repair my building?

There was concern when the Historic District and Landmark Ordinance was passed in 1986 that certain owners might allow their historic buildings to deteriorate to such a degree that the buildings would be in danger of losing their significant features or even of falling down. To help prevent such “demolition by neglect”, the Landmarks Ordinance requires that designated properties be kept in good repair. This provision is similar to the Bureau of Code Enforcement’s requirement that all City of Troy buildings must be maintained in a safe condition. If you are interested in making repairs to your designated building, the Planning Department staff is available to give you expert technical advice.

Will landmark designation prevent all alterations and new construction?

No. Landmark designation does not “freeze” a building or an area. Alterations, demolitions and new construction continue to take place, but the Commission must review the proposed changes and find them to be appropriate. This procedure helps ensure that the special qualities of the designated buildings are not compromised or destroyed. In addition, new construction may occur when an owner of a vacant lot wishes to construct a new building on the site. The Commission has approved such proposals when the design of the infill was appropriate to the character of the historic district. Such an example is the MOSS Bookstore at the corner of Second and Congress Streets.

How can I find architects or contractors who have experience with historic buildings?

When selecting an architect or contractor, you should keep in mind that there is a growing number of professionals who are accustomed to working on historic buildings or with renovation methods that are sensitive to the historic character of old buildings. Ask professionals about their experience with landmark buildings and whether they are familiar with the Historic District and Landmark Review Commission application process. Request references and look at completed projects. The Commission does not recommend restoration professionals. Owners of historic buildings in your neighborhood and the City of Troy’s Planning Department staff may be able to provide information about area contractors. You may contact the Planning Department at (518) 279-7168.

I own a designated building. Should I tell the tenants in my building about the building’s landmark status?

Yes. You should inform each of your tenants that the Historic District and Landmark Ordinance protects the building and that the Commission must approve alterations in advance. If a tenant makes alterations without receiving Commission approval before doing the work, the building owner will be held responsible.

I want to sell my landmark building. Must I tell the commission?

No, you do not need to tell the Commission that you are selling your building. Landmark designation places no restrictions on an owner’s right to sell his/her property.

If I sell my building, should I tell the new owner that the building is a landmark?

Yes. Even though the Commission informed the owner of each property when they were listed, it will help the new owner to comply with the Historic District and Landmark Ordinance.

My designated building is not capable of earning a reasonable return. May I demolish it?

The Commission has a hardship provision. You may apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish your designated building or to alter it inappropriately on the grounds of “insufficient return” or “hardship”.

What are the City’s provisions regarding this?

The Commission discourages demolition of the historic fabric of the community.

Are landmarks owned by not-for-profit organizations subject to the same regulations as other landmarks?

Yes. The criteria for approving permits for work on buildings owned by not-for-profits are the same as the criteria on other buildings.

Is being designated a Troy landmark different from being listed on the national register?

Yes. The National Register of Historic Places is a list of buildings of local, state or national importance. The National Parks Service through the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation administers this program. The National Register has no connection to the City of Troy Historic District and Landmark Review Commission, although many of Troy’s individual landmarks and historic districts are also listed on the National Register. For more information, contact the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Office, Peebles Island State Park, P.O. Box 189, Waterford, New York 12188-0189, 518-237-8643.

How do I find out more about the effects of designation?

Members of the public are encouraged to call the City of Troy Planning Department to discuss questions or concerns about the effects of designation. The staff of the Planning Department is experienced in working with owners to help them meet their practical needs while preserving the architectural and historic character of the city’s landmarks.

This text is based on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s publication “What Landmark Designation Means for Building Owners.”