Perhaps one of the most frequent questions we here at GVSHP get from the public regarding landmarked sites or sites within designated historic districts is “what can they do here?” Sometimes it’s a neighbor wondering what might happen to a newly-purchased piece of property nearby. Sometimes it’s an owner or prospective owner wondering what they can do with their property. Oftentimes people seem to think the answer is one of two extremes; either “they can’t do anything” because it’s landmarked, so no changes can ever be allowed, or “they can do whatever they want,” as if landmark designation is a theoretical state of mind with no practical effect on private property rights.
The reality is perhaps best described as somewhere in between these two extremes — between “they can’t do anything” and “they can do whatever they want.”
Actually, the simplest and probably most accurate answer to this question is “whatever the Landmarks Preservation Commission says they can do,” and that, of course, is not necessarily always easy to predict. But there are some easy ways to gain at least some insight into what that might be.