Preservation Issues

Council affirms Downtown Brooklyn Historic District

Update: January 24th, 2012

In a major win for the Landmarks Law, the City Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee faced down intense opposition to affirm the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District in downtown Brooklyn last Tuesday. The full Land Use Committee voted to affirm two days later. The 21 buildings in the District represent the Borough’s historic center.

Co-op residents at 75 Livingston Street wanted their architecturally impressive building excluded from the District based on unsubstantiated claims that landmarking would substantially increase renovation and repair costs. The Conservancy countered those claims with an informal survey of the architects, engineers and construction companies that work in historic districts. They reported minimal to no increased costs associated with designation. We shared our findings with Speaker Christine Quinn, Subcommittee Chair Brad Lander and Councilmember Steve Levin, who represents the District.

Speaker Quinn also asked the Conservancy during a meeting about owner claims that one building in the district, 186 Remsen Street, was too deteriorated to repair and should be excluded. The Real Estate Board of New York also opposed designating this particular building, and a second commercial structure.

The Conservancy believed the Remsen Street building was sound and quickly reached out to the Department of Buildings chief forensic engineer. He agreed, described the building as one of the best preserved of its era, and dubbed it “bomb proof.” We reported this to the Speaker and Councilmembers Lander and Levin as well.

The Conservancy regarded the fight over this district as potentially very damaging to the Landmarks Law. If influential opponents could use unsubstantiated arguments to remove buildings from this designation, future designations would be threatened.

The Conservancy thanks Speaker Quinn for a fair hearing and Councilmembers Lander and Levin for voting on the merits. The Subcommittee and full Committee actions usually signal how the full Council will vote.

The Conservancy worked with the Brooklyn Heights Association and the Municipal Arts Society to propose the district to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006.

Read the joint statement of Council Member Brad Lander & Council Member Stephen Levin On the Affirmation of the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District

The Conservancy Testified in Favor of Downtown Brooklyn Historic District

December 14th, 2011

The Conservancy strongly supported the Brooklyn Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District at a City Council hearing earlier this month and is working to counter opponents claims that designation would make repairs excessively costly. (read our testimony)

In the face of some vocal opposition, the Council postponed its vote until next month, closer to the February deadline when the Council must act.

This is a district that the Conservancy brought to the attention of the LPC along with the Brooklyn Heights Association and the Municipal Art Society when we produced a study of the area in 2006. Click here to read more about the study and our testimony.

Although the Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to approve the downtown Brooklyn District, the decision whether to affirm, modify or overturn now lies with the City Council. Historically, the Council has affirmed nearly all landmark designations, but it recently overturned LPC decisions on individual landmarks on the Bowery and in Queens.

Owners and residents of the sole residential and several commercial buildings spoke in opposition to the designation, raising fears that that it would incur excessive costs. Prior to the hearing, Conservancy staff met with residents and Council members in Brooklyn and at City Hall to counter those concerns. In addition to our testimony, the Conservancy provided the results of a quick survey of architects and engineers disputing those charges.

The District, which is composed of 21 buildings, forms the historic core of downtown Brooklyn. It is characterized by tall commercial buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, designed in a range of styles from the Romanesque-Revival to the Beaux-Arts to the Modern. The District contains many of the borough’s most architecturally distinguished business buildings, as well as its two most significant civic structures—the Brooklyn Municipal Building and the individually-designated Brooklyn Borough Hall. Click here to access the LPC designation report

The boundaries of this Historic District were drawn deliberately, to include a superlative group of buildings with an exception sense of place. In testimony at the public hearing, the Conservancy and other preservation advocates reminded the Council of these facts. We will continue working to ensure that a decision is based on merit, not on unsubstantiated claims.