You just bought a beautiful New York townhouse or one that needs work but has lots of potential. The only problem is there’s an ugly fire escape on the front of it. You then ask, is it possible to have a fire escape removed from the front of a Landmark Townhouse in NYC?
In most cases, you can get approval to remove a fire escape. If it is original to the building or has significant architectural value, this may be more complicated and can potentially be rejected by the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission).
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect and owner of Fontan Architecture in NYC. As I write this post, I am currently working on a townhouse in the Lower East Side where we are removing a fire escape. The home was originally built as a single family, but was later converted to a three family. My client purchased it after the conversion and has hired us to restore it back to its original occupancy and gut renovate the interiors. I’ll be using this particular townhouse project as an example throughout this post.
When Fire Escapes are a Means of Egress
When one of my clients wants to remove a fire escape, the first thing I would want to figure out is whether or not we need it as a means of egress. If we do, then this becomes a much bigger problem than just navigating the NYC Landmarks regulations, and can become an impractical endeavor.
For this project, we are performing a gut renovation that includes completely removing the fire escape. In this case the fire escape was added when the building was converted to three families, but we are converting back to single family.
There is no requirement for a second means of egress from a single family home. Therefore, removal is an acceptable alteration as far as the NYC Department of Buildings is concerned. Of course filing and permits are required, but there should be no building code issues.
Original or Architectural Significance
If you want to remove a fire escape on a townhouse or building within a landmark district, you need to understand the significance of the fire escape. There are two primary points to consider:
First, you want to know if the fire escape is original to the building or if it was added.
Second, does the fire escape hold any architectural significance? Is it located in a district known for architecturally ornate fire escapes? Or does it have decorative features that add to the overall architecture?
Landmarks Preservation Commission
Removing a fire escape on a Historic Landmark building or within a Landmark district will require approval from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), as well as a permit from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). When filing this type of application with LPC, there are two types of reviews that you may face: Staff level or Full Commission review and Public Hearing.
A staff level review is always preferable when dealing with LPC, as it is commonly an easier and faster review process. If the fire escape is not original to the building and holds no architectural significance, its removal can be approved by LPC staff. This is a preferable option as it will take some time but will not be as bad as Public Hearing.
If a fire escape holds architectural significance or is original to the building, the LPC may require a full review by the Commission with a Public Hearing. This will most certainly take longer and be a much more involved process. The biggest problem is that they could possibly deny your application to remove the fire escape even after the review and hearing. By this point, you will have spent a great deal of time, energy, and money just to receive a potential denial.
NYC Landmark Fire Escape Removal
New York City Landmark regulations can be complicated. This post is meant to give a general overview of some of the issues you may encounter when trying to remove a fire escape from a Landmark building façade. You will need an architect who is familiar with the procedure and pertinent issues. Understanding the prerequisite criteria, logistical protocols, and architectural elements will be critical in strategizing for this type of project. Most importantly, remember that not all fire escapes can actually be removed.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Removing Fire Escapes on NYC Landmark Townhouses.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.