I have LPC. I have OER. What the heck is PDC?

By Austin Regan

Every professional understands that obtaining DOB approval of their application requires resolution of plan examiner objections. In addition, every application must adhere to certain standards: required forms, plan naming standards, asbestos reports, etc. To help examiners track these requirements, the DOB computer system auto-generates a “Required Items List,” which the examiner can amend, as appropriate. To an extent, the DOB computer can customize the list based on application type and property location. For instance, properties in a Landmark district will automatically require “Landmarks Approval.” Little “e” sites will trigger OER approval.

Professionals and consultants are used to securing approvals from other agencies on certain properties and plan accordingly. When a New York City Agency owns the property for which the application is requested, the DOB computer adds a requirement to obtain “Public Design Commission Approval.”

Public Design Commission

The Public Design Commission (PDC) started as the Municipal Arts Commission, created to approve the artwork in public streets or sidewalks and in and on public buildings. Since its reformulation to the PDC in 1995, the agency’s jurisdiction has broadened considerably. Any proposed exterior work on a city property is subject to PDC approval. Also, any work on the exterior of an existing public building, no matter how minor, is subject to PDC review.

Certain city agencies are mostly exempt from PDC review. Projects for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) are exempt. Dormitory Authority and School Construction Authority are also exempt, but the NYC Board of Education is not. Landmarks and PDC have shared jurisdiction, with Landmarks controlling most direct work on the buildings. PDC does not have jurisdiction over interior work.

PDC Approval

Obtaining PDC approval is very similar to the process for a Landmarks public board hearing. The PDC has monthly committee meetings, where projects are initially discussed and commented on. The next step is a public hearing, where approval is granted or denied. Much like Landmarks applications, backup materials must be presented weeks in advance of the meetings or hearings. The approval process usually takes a minimum of two to three months and can last much longer.

The major difference between a PDC approval and other agency approvals is that the architect or engineer cannot apply for PDC approval. Only the NYC agency that controls the property can submit an application. They are also the only ones that can make presentations at hearings. Each city agency has a liaison that works with the PDC.

Be Aware

On major projects, the design professional’s agency contact would most likely be aware of the PDC approval requirement and secure approval before applying for a DOB permit. However, problems often arise with minor projects, like a window replacement, façade repair, or rooftop equipment replacement—all of which need PDC approval. The architect or engineer may not even be working directly with the city agency if hired by a contractor. In fact, project managers working for city agencies may not know about PDC requirements.

So be aware, professionals. If performing exterior work on a city building, ask your client, “What’s the status of the PDC approval?”