Civic Council Wants to Supersize Park Slope Historic District

park-slope-historic-district-0509.jpgOn Thursday night, the Park Slope Civic Council set forth an ambitious plan to expand the Park Slope Historic District in three phases over the next several years; if completed, the effort would result in the largest landmarked area in the city, reported the Brooklyn Paper. Phase 1 would address the area bounded by Flatbush, Prospect Park West, 15th Street and 7th Avenue; Phase 2 would include the blocks between 5th and 7th Avenues between Union and 15th Streets; Phase 3 would encompass the strip between 4th and 5th Avenues all the way from Flatbush to 15th Street. In all, more than 5,000 new buildings would gain protection through the plan. “There is so much of Park Slope that is at risk and in danger of development,” said Peter Bray, chair of the Council’s Expansion Committee. We want to preserve everything that needs to be preserved. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will begin studying the request but in all likelihood will have its own opinions about whether the entire area gets designated. For a historic district, we look for a distinct sense of place, and a coherent streetscape, said LPC Spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon. (Click map to enlarge.)
Slope’s District Would Be Truly Historic Under Plan [Brooklyn Paper]

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  • It’s about time!
    The current boundaries date to the electric typewriter age.

  • Hmmmm, I don’t think that much of the “strip between 4th and 5th Avenues all the way from Flatbush to 15th Street” qualifies as a “coherent streetscape.”

  • arial

    I agree with snarkslope.

  • I agree that it’s about time, but I think the problem with the existing HD boundaries isn’t their age (which is irrelevant) but the fact that they were kept relatively small to avoid controversy–a problem with MANY HDs.

  • Any push to designate between 4th Ave – 5th Ave or 6th to 4th above 9th st is clearly more about anti-development than about historic preservation, and therefore should be universally fought….if you use Landmark designation as an anti-development tool, you actually risk the protections the designation should give in real historic districts.

  • Arkady

    There’s some awfully ugly stuff included in those blocs but it’ll probably take a lot of time for all 3 stages to get going so everyone will start dismantling the nice places to put up more trash before the HD designation takes effect.

  • Good luck to them, for the most part. They should be prepared to scale down a bit, however, and accept that the various phases will be smaller, and it will take many years to get it all done. LPC does not have the staff or the budget to investigate and document over a thousand buildings for one area, while also doing the rest of its job watchdogging what already is landmarked, and adding more historic districts from long lists from five boroughs, in addition to Park Slope.

    I think much of the Slope is certainly worthy of landmarking, and long overdue. But the same can also be said of Crown Heights North, Bed Stuy, Victorian Flatbush, parts of Bushwick, PLG, Bay Ridge, and other areas just in Brooklyn alone. Some people think too much is already landmarked, but in actuality, only 3% of the total buildings in the entire City of New York are landmarked.

    Landmarks needs more staff, a bigger budget, and more people on board who understand the needs and issues of preservationists in the outer boroughs, not just those in tonier areas of Manhattan. Since that is not likely to happen in this fiscal crisis, we all need to do all we can to aid in preservation efforts, and keep an eye out for any development trying to undermine those efforts.

  • the existing boundaries were created at a time when people’s idea of “park slope” encompassed a much smaller geographic area than it does today. In those days Park Slope barely extended halfway between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. Also, apartment buildings along CPW, which tend to date from the 20th century rather than the nineteenth, were excluded. That makes no sense and was done for political reasons as bob marvin stated. But CPW really should be part of the historic ditrict. The new district should extend to Sixth Avenue and go all the way from Flatbush to 14th. Most of what we think of today as Park Slope has no landmark protection. For now, that is not a worry, but when the next mutant asshat bubble hits, all bets will be off.

  • slopefarm

    There are definitely blocks worth landmarking that aren’t, and also many oddball blocks on the fringes. Some of these oddball blocks do have some buildings of historic significance mixed in with a lot of run of the mill stuff and worse. Expansion of landmarked ares is needed but Civics Council should work with an exacto knife to make a credible proposal. Montrose is right that some areas of CHN and elsewhere need protection before we start having landmarks enter the Slope’s vinyl siding district.

  • “The plan, a decade in the making” This pretty much sums up everything that is wrong in the world.

  • Please landmark 5th ave between Park and Sterling, that way we can get RA Hardware to clean up that ugly blue paint,

  • > “start dismantling the nice places to put up more trash”

    Yeah, because that’s what was happening. Beautiful historic buildings were being torn down in droves to make way for horror show Friday buildings.

    Please.

    Many of the new buildings in the Slope may be ugly, but it’s not as if – in the vast majority of cases – the buildings that were “lost” were prizewinners.

  • benson

    Not much time to post today, so I’ll just say that FSRQ and Snark are spot on.

    I also want to give a heary “here-here” to Billyboomer’s comment. Ten years in the making….bogles the mind.

    I wonder what happened to the optimism and can-do spirit that used to be hallmark of NYC. It was this spirit that was able to construct the Empire State building in a matter of 13 months.

    I wonder what would happen if someone tried to build such a structure today. First, the old, magnificent Waldorf-Astoria building had to be knocked down. Imagine the howls of protest from the busybodies (aka as the preservasionist community). Imagine the hand-wringing about the height, and the environmental impact from yet another group of busybodies.

  • stuyheightsarch

    Amen Montrose,
    There are many blocks in Park Slope that need to be protected and should have been in the original 1973 proposal. But Crown Heights North, Bushwick, Bay Ridge,the proposed Bedford historic district Stuyvesant Heights extension and Prospect Heights also need to be looked at by LPC. Montrose is right the LPC dose not have that many people on staff to do all the hard work of researching these buildings. Hopefully they will hire some intern this summer to help them out. The city really should protect themselves by increasing this department

  • benson, what’s your point? are you yearning for the good ol’ days of the Great Depression? Careful what you wish for….
    Most of the blocks between 8th and 7th avenues do not have landmark protection, all it takes is one homeowner to cash in and sell to someone who will build something like the “atrocity” in Carroll Gardens. If you live on that block, tough luck.

  • benson

    Sam;

    I specifically referenced FSRQ’s point, which I’ll reprint here:

    “Any push to designate between 4th Ave – 5th Ave or 6th to 4th above 9th st is clearly more about anti-development than about historic preservation”.

    Since you asked: I am yearning for a mindset that has some optimism that further development will be good for the city, rather than a mindset that takes 10 years to produce a plan to “save” frame, vinyl-sided buildings from “greedy developers”.

  • amzi, the prospect heights landmark district is being voted on june 23. but i agree with you and montrose that other districts ought to be reviewed before such a resource-draining sweeping area is considered. it’s not that there aren’t places worthy of landmarking, but separating the wheat from the chaff will be an exhausting exercise (assuming they do it right).

    while i support landmarking when done right, i admit that i do look at some houses in my neighborhood and wonder which way landmarking will cut for them. many are non-owner occupied rentals, still relatively low cost, and the owners already have little incentive to make improvements. am i glad they can’t sell out to a “horror show” developer? yes. is there also the risk that the owners will just let houses in poor repair rot rather than get messed up in landmarks approval? oh yeah. you’d like to think that all of the anti-development crowd will come out to donate their time and energy to encourage absentee landlords and old-timers to take proper care of their landmarked homes, but i’m skeptical that will ever happen.

  • benson i agree that the area west of 5th avenue. and most of the area west of 6th avenue, is not landmark quality. developers have been knocking themselves out on fourth avenue, what do you think? optimistic? I think it is pretty blah.
    But c’mon, the truly great blocks of park slope between 8th and 7th have to be protected. I do not believe this effort should take a back seat to crown heights for the simple reason that the development pressure is much greater in the slope than it is in crown heights. the park slope designation should be a red alert priority for the city.

  • FSRQ is 100% correct. This proposal is a textbook example of a civic organization attempting to use the landmarking process to achieve other land use goals…namely an anti-development agenda.

    I’m certainly not supportive of willy-nilly over development of a neighorhood like Park Slope. But the remedy should be thoughtfull land use policies that direct development into areas that are able to handle the population increase (IE well served by transit and other infrastrucutre).

    Its irresponsible to declare vast swaths of NYC unavailable to development. Its also irresponsible to hijack the landmarking process to achieve unrelated political goals. Its one of the reasons why LPC has so much trouble. Landmarkings should be done with a scalpel, not a chain saw. These sorts of proposals serve only to undermine the legitimacy of the entire landmarking exercise.

  • “the existing boundaries were created at a time when people’s idea of “park slope” encompassed a much smaller geographic area than it does today”

    Actually I lived in Park Slope back then and my idea of the neighborhood was the same as the expanded area shown on the map. That is not to say that there weren’t many blocks I’d never have considered living [or even walking] in.

  • slopefarm

    I’m not quite buying your view, clintonhillbuyer. this area has already been rezoned, so, apart from the 4th Ave corridor, there isn’t much risk of development in excess of the current neighborhood scale.

    For much of the proposed areas, however, the real risk is that people will do some ugly stuff to their houses marring the historic look and feel of the block (not every block needs protection, of course). People have broken through otherwide even blocklines and done strange stuff to their facades. And some of the new infill in the more marginal areas is particualrly disruptive.

    But I agree that landmarking can be overkill. What we could use for some areas are some modest materials, placement and feature limits for new construction and exterior renovation that would help keep some stylistic and neighborhoods feel continuity within existing zoning rules without imposing the exacting requirements that are imposed with true landmarking.

  • As Montrose notes, only 3% of NYC neighborhoods are landmarked. But i certainly agree the LPC should use a scalpel, not a chain saw. that said, I admit to being an ardent preservationist. It doesn’t mean I am against development. I am most emphatically not- but I am also most emphatically not for the kind of development that knocks down beautiful buildings to put up atrocious, out of scale and out of context buildings that add nothing to the community and everything to the developers pocket. Developers finish a building and then they get to walk away while the community is left to deal with the impact of what they’ve done.

  • Sorry, Sam, but I have to disagree with you on the Slope taking presidence over Crown Heights. Because property costs much less over here, there is more of a chance that someone can come along and try to develop here, if we are not protected. They may not want to build super expensive luxury condos, and get the return of a Park Slope address, but they will certainly try to build something. Neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Bed Stuy are viable locations for people priced out of the Slope and other places. If money can be made, some developer will go for it, if they can.

    A prime example can be seen on St.Johns on the corner of New York Ave, a block slated to be in Phase 2 of our landmarking process. A developer tore down the end house of a row of 3 story row houses from the 20′s, and is now putting up a bland and oversized 6 story condobox which is higher than every other building on the block, and will be totally non contextural. When he bought the property, he promised the next door neighbor and others on the block that he was only going to renovate the existing house. Soon after, came the bulldozers.

    We have hardly any empty lots in Crown Heights North, so any rebuilding means tearing down one of the existing buildings in our neighborhood. With very few exceptions, everything we’ve got is worthy of landmarking, and if in bad shape, could be rehabbed. Bed Stuy is ripe for overdevelopment because of empty lots. They have already lost a lot of buildings to development that would not be allowed if those areas are landmarked. No one wants to stop necessary development, but without the protection of landmarking, new development is not subject to any rules and regulations outside of building codes. We would like SOMEBODY to have a say in how our neighborhoods grow and how they look. At this time the LPC is it.

  • If communities do not want to see new buildings being built whose fault is that? the preservationists, or the developers and their architects? Seems to me that the preservation movement has done more over the past twenty years to make the city attractive again to a new generation than any of the uninviting and often hideous new residential towers that have popped up here and there. If you are a fan of the oro or the fresca (or whatever ricidulous name it has) you are in a distinct minority. those buildings are graceless and have all the charm of a finacial district corporate headquarters. There is a reason why the peasants are up in arms against this sort of new building. Blaming preservationists for the widely held view that new buildings are shitty misses the right target.

  • I don’t think so Montrosse.

    Nice try though.

    Historic district status in Crown Heights will help continue to stabilize the property values there and help cement pride in the neighborhood etc. Its purpose would not be to stem re-development pressure, which frankly I would guess is non-exitant, no disrespect intended.
    Both reasons for landmarking (stabilizing property values in certain areas and warding off over-development in other areas)are very legitimate. Another point is that there have been a couple of new districts designated in crown heights lately, and yet the heart of park slope remains with no protection, so with all due respect it is the slope’s turn next.

  • Slopefarm:
    What the city needs is a more effective, more nuanced and more widely mapped contextual zoning text that would establish guidlines for the sort of architectural features you descripe…uniform cornice lines, setbacks, and streewalls for example. Those sorts of designations would protect the general character of an area without freezing development, as landmarking does.

    My fustration with proposals such as this are that they irresponsibly mis-apply the landmarking statute in a manner that damages the credibility of the entire preservation movement in New York. In order to be practically and politically effective, landmarking must be based on BALANCE!

    The fundemental policy issue wiht landmarking, especially in NYC, is how do you balance historic preservation with the reall need to encourage development and growth. This is particularly important in a city such as NYC which is defined by its dynamism and constant change.

    See Benson’s imagining of what would have happened to the old Waldorf Hotel, site of the Empire State building, in a landmark era. Also consider the howls of modern day preservationists were they to be transported to a Brooklyn of the 1870s or 1880s as developers swarmed the rapidly growing borough building mile upon mile of our currently beloved brownstones on what was then farm land or virgin forrest.

    Proposals such as this one regretably ignore any sense of balance and make preservationists look like impractical zealots at City Hall.

  • I do agree- there has to be a better balance than what there is now. But benson goes entirely in the opposite direction- his take is, it’s my property, I’ll do whatever the hell I please with it. On the other hand, preservationists are not impractical, and their so-called zealotry is really the intensity of effort needed to protect historic neighborhoods.

    There is nothing impractical about an effort that helps sustain and stabilize a neighborhood. Developers are notoriously inconsiderate of the community and residents. They simply do not care- after all, it’s their property as far as they are concerned. Since the bottom line for them is all about profit, they will put up the least expensive structure for which they will try to get the maximum price. If this all happened within a vacuum, no one would care. But they don’t- look at the development on Myrtle. Catasiminidis (sp.?- can’t remember) tore down a neighborhood food store. To date ahe has not replaced it although he promises there will still be one. So,yes- developers impact a community far more than only the site they build on and like it or not they should be responsible about what they do. If that means staying within scale and context, so be it. But the wild west show we’ve had the last decade or so has produced more travesties than it has Empire State Buildings.

  • I absolutely agree, chb. But from the post a few days ago from an architect, it’s clear that maybe contextual zoning is not enough, at least in the way it’s implemented.

    You almost have to have design guidelines, including a materiel palate, to stop the abuses that are around us. Landmarking is a blunt instrument which forces total conformity, and does do the job, but at a high price. HOwever, it seems to be the only tool that’s available.

  • Sam, it does neither neighborhood any good to get into a pissing contest of who is more worthy. I fully agree that much more of the Slope needs to be landmarked, and should have been years ago. But we are equal in how many parts of our neighborhoods are currently protected – that’s one each. Our Phase 1 designation in 2007 is it.

    We are also not the undesired slum you seem to think we are. Development is not an alien concept here. Landmarking has had minimal to no effect on housing prices here, either. The properties are put up for the same perceived values as anywhere else. 90% of the higher priced mansions and extra large townhouses are not landmarked. Only about a fifth of CHN is landmarked, not most of it, and not the prime blocks of Bergen,Prospect Pl, Park Place, or Sterling.

  • Just to be clear, I support landmarking the area outlined in green in the map above. That is what makes sense. the other outlines are an over-reach in my opinion.

    Montrosse, I am very surprised to read words such as “slum” in your posting. I would never use such language in connection with crown heights or any other historic brownstone neighborhood. in terms of property values, I know that the LPC often sites studies that property values increase more in historic districts than in adjacent non-designated districts. whether that’s true i don’t know. i know that landmarking has worked out very well in the south bronx in various charming little districts that were on the brink and are now solid.

    The pity with CH is that it wasn’t designated fifty or more years ago when St. Marks Avenue was still lined with those great mansions. those were a big loss for your area.

    but nonetheless I believe CH has prirority at landmarks, they don’t want to be accused of only designating lilly white neighborhoods like dumbo or tribeca etc etc. But what bothers me is that people think that the slope is protected while in reality, many of the choice blocks are not.

  • Ok, Sam, peace. But the idea that we have priority at Landmarks does make me roll on the ground in hysterics. If that were so, we’d have the largest HD in the city, larger than the Village. We may be the poster child for some to use as examples of minority grass roots preservation, but that
    and a token will get you on the subway. It doesn’t cut us any slack or preferential treatment at LPC.

    Why wasn’t more of the Slope designated years ago? I’m not being snarky here. Was there no grass roots effort, no local political will, no community desire? Or did the LPC just keep back burnering you? I know that is part of a lawsuit, is it not?

  • i just glanced over this posting:

    did Landmarks release the report stating the historical significance of the different areas?

    my thoughts are these:

    1) I tend to agree that some of the yellow area might be pushing it as far as historical significance…but definitely park slope has a lot of beautiful old buildings worth preserving

    2) to touch on a previous conversation with CMU (the building unit or the school?): it shouldn’t be really considered a way to ‘regulate aesthetics.’ landmarks is more concerned with historical appropriateness than aesthetic excellence….it DOES however, force clients/builders to adhere to an approved design,and not cheap out, which is a good thing (and one reason landmark projects can be among the more rewarding finished projects for small architects)…

  • Late to the party, so I’ll just add, I live in the yellow outlined district and don’t believe it should be landmarked. The red is just a joke — and I say that as someone who used to live quite happily between 4th and 5th Aves, no snobbery here. It just seems to me that landmark districts should be for unique, really historically significant areas, not just every block in the city with a pretty building on it.

    Green area should definitely happen.

  • dear montrosse, Park Slope was designated back in the day when banks were red-linng every neighborhood within a one mile radius of an african american family. does that shock you? it should! you need to hear it from my friend everett ortner. the whole idea of the historic district was his wife’s idea. evelyn ortner was such a great lady. does anyone doubt that she did everything that she possibly could have done at the time? now she is gone but others must step up to the plate and forward the concept to fit our currrent reality.

  • Sam, no that doesn’t shock me, I am quite aware of that practice, as it has affected my family in the past. Mrs. Ortner’s accomplishments are legend, and she and her husband are the patron saints of preservation, as you know. But I would have thought by at least the 90′s, the hue and cry for an expansion of the district would have been taken up by others. I’m not slighting anyone here, I’m just wondering about the process.

  • The claim that “Any push to designate between 4th Ave – 5th Ave or 6th to 4th above 9th st [as part of an expanded Park Slope Historic District] is clearly more about anti-development than about historic preservation” rings false.

    Landmarking such areas will accomplish two things: First, it will be a means of preventing buildings that are already there – including the existing eyesores – from (a) being altered in ways or (b) replaced by structures that would be detrimental the appearance of the neighborhood. Second, it will encourage development that will enhance the streetscape of and, as a result, the desirability of living and taking advantage of business opportunities in Park Slope.