Brooklyn Pols Oppose Landmarking

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Newly appointed Chairman of the City Council’s Land Use Committee, Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield, who represents Bensonhurst, Borough Park, and Midwood, came out against landmarking Thursday, saying it reduces affordable housing, Crain’s reported.

“None of us exists in a vacuum,” he said to Robert Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, at a hearing. “In the grand scheme of the city we are very focused on affordable housing … those are two competing interests.”

As of March 2013, 2 percent of the city is protected by landmarking, according to the story, which cited a Wall Street Journal report.

At the same event, Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams also called for a slow down in landmarking, saying the lack of affordable housing in historic districts is “appalling.”

We respectfully disagree: Continuing to protect the city’s architectural heritage is not at odds with the Mayor’s laudable effort to increase affordable housing. Merely limiting landmarking will do nothing to increase affordable housing, as development in non-landmarked areas of Brooklyn such as Williamsburg and 4th Avenue has shown. We call on Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to step up the pace of landmarking in Brooklyn, particularly in Bedford Stuyvesant, an architecturally remarkable but largely unprotected area where developers have become very active lately.

If the proposed areas up before Landmarks were to be landmarked today there would still be huge sections of these neighborhoods where new affordable housing can be built, as well as many other means of increasing affordable housing in Brooklyn. It’s not a zero-sum game. Great architecture should be preserved for all to enjoy.

25 Comment

  • This is a no-brainer.
    Real estate interests, REBNY = big money
    Landmarks Commission, neighborhood preservationists = little money.
    case closed as to why pols are siding with REBNY and against the best interests of many of their constituents.

  • You have to at least be honest about this….
    For existing housing: Landmarking increases costs, therefore it forces LLs in non-regulated housing to raise rents. i.e. less affordable housing.
    It increases the cost (and often size) of new construction in areas protected by Landmarking – sure developers can build in non protected places but there is plenty of unused and under-utilized lots in many districts that are or could be landmarked, Getting new construction approved and built in landmarked districts is very expensive and therefore results primarily in luxury housing. It also limits the ability to get zoning variances to add more density in appropriate locations – again limiting supply.
    Point is – Landmarking has may terrific benefits but you have to be honest – it increases the cost of housing and therefore negatively affects affordability.

    • Statistically I imagine it would be very hard reliably to identify the differential impact of newly zoned HDs on rents (both within and near to the HD) vs other trends such as gentrification and zoning changes.
      I disagree, however, that marginally increased costs significantly drives increasing rents in non-regulated apartments; rather increased demand for those apartments drives higher rents. There may be some circumstances where LPC compliance forces a LL to seek a higher rent than they would have otherwise (e.g., passing on the additional costs in installing the correct windows), but those sorts of major improvements are not too common over the lifespan of a tenancy.
      Isn’t the problem more that, over the long run, landmarking tends to make the area more desirable, and thus incentivizes (a) LLs to raise rents to capture the heightened demand and (b) developers to build more grandly than they might otherwise in a more lower- or middle-class area?

      • It is definitely true that increased demands drives higher rents — that’s what drives higher rents *everywhere*, landmarked or not.

        People do not move into a neighborhood because it is landmarked; they move in because they like the neighborhood (or at least because it’s one of the better options they can afford). Landmarking may improve certain factors leading to desirability, but its impact on desirability, especially in the short-term, is extremely marginal, both because un-landmarked neighborhoods that originated with the same appearance as landmarked districts are just not that different in appearance from landmarked districts that have been landmarked for decades (one only needs witness how little difference there is between Stuy Heights and the currently proposed Bed-Stuy expansions) and because the time needed for the differences of landmarked versus non-landmarked to build up is quite long.

        However, it is definitely true that landmarking adds greatly to the costs of new construction in a landmark district (which in many cases would be replacing undesirable structures). See, for example, the absurd trials the replacement for the BK Heights theater is going through before the LPC even though the building it is replacing has no contributing value whatsoever and the replacement building is unquestionably better. It can also add costs to renovation, though the marginal difference there is smaller–but the mere annoyance of needing to file everything with the LPC can really discourage maintenance/renovation by individual homeowners, too, which may perversely reduce quality; at least, it may be a wash in a market where historic features are in demand regardless.

        If demand rises at equal rates in a neighborhood whether it is landmarked or not (which I will strongly assert is true; see above), but the landmarked version of the district has fewer/more expensive new developments, it is unquestionably true that landmarking, not rising demand, is what causes the hypothetical landmarked neighborhood to become more expensive than the hypothetical non-landmarked version of the same neighborhood. Now, it may be the case that the differences are relatively small, but even $50/month or so in rent can be a big deal on the margins.

    • Not sure about new construction in landmarked districts but renovations simply require landmark approval and if you’re not doing anything to alter the architecture of the building then you wont have any problems. I’ve had landmarks approve projects in as quickly as several days.

      • Well, obviously not for completely interior renovations, but facades must be maintained as well, and fences, stoops, etc. repaired or replaced from time to time. Also, the LPC has recently demonstrated that it will even push into features not visible from the street if the objectors are influential/monied enough–see the push against rear expansions in Park Slope.

  • FWIW Jumaane Williams was quite helpful with getting Council approval for our Ocean on the Park HD, in PLG [impressive IMO because it isn't even in his district], so there’s at least one Council member who, rhetoric aside, is likely to take a nuanced view of landmarking.

  • Unless I’m missing something, the mayor makes executive appointments, but the City Council speaker makes City Council committee chair appointments. Separation of powers and all that.

  • “Landmarking increases costs, therefore it forces LLs in non-regulated housing to raise rents. i.e. less affordable housing.’

    I’d like to see some back up on that statement. It assumes that one is doing major improvements to the facade of the house every other day. Most small landlords change windows, paint, refinish their facades or the sidewalks PERHAPS ONCE in the entire time they own the house. Landmarks doesn’t MAKE you do anything, and basic repairs pass through without review. To say that landmarking is the cause of rents rising is nonsense. It’s a great line for REBNY, but it just isn’t true in the real world.

    The rents in Crown Heights, Stuyvesant Heights and other landmarked working and middle class neighborhoods all across the city did not rise because they were landmarked. Stuyesant Hts was landmarked in 1971. Nothing happened. It was still the “ghetto.” Dramatic rent increases are a recent phenomenon, and not the result of landmarking.

    • Well said (and better said than my other post).

    • MM – I am not assuming anything other than the laws of economics. If you increase the costs on a provider of a good or service (LL), if at all possible, that costs will get passed on to the customer (Renter) – and in aggregate if it cant be passed on, there will be less of that good/service provided.
      I never said that Landmarking was a major cause of rent increases or that it is a bad idea to landmark these areas (related to affordability or any other reason). All I said is that the proponents of landmarking need to recognize there is an affect. Maybe the affect ends up being totally insignificant in the short, medium and long-term – great, that only helps the cause.
      But the people advocating for landmarking are requesting legal restrictions placed on other peoples property; therefore it seems to me that such proponents have the burden of showing that the social utility exceed the potential costs (inc rent increases)
      In the end all I am saying, is that it is a ridiculous argument to say that landmarking has no impact on affordability over some period of time, and since anyone with even a bit of commons sense can see that, it hurts the pro-landmarking movement to argue against economics. The argument should be the one you are making…that the effect is negligible and therefore affordability is not a good reason to prevent landmarking and it should be done for other social benefits.

  • Buildings don’t vote, people do. Take a walk around Sunset Park and tell me how you like the new additions to the once beautiful blocks.

    • Just sayin’, you might clarify whether those “new additions” you’re referring to are the aforementioned people or buildings. Cuz some people have that attitude about both, depending on the “people” we’re talking about. Although it’s funny that most of the ugly new buildings are being built by and for the new people one might hold these opinions about.

  • In the non-landmarked South Slope, there are plenty of lot-hogging new buildings that tower over their neighbors and intrude upon the area’s middle-class, humble but quaint aesthetic. None of them are aimed at the “affordable” market, many are more expensive per square foot than the older buildings. If they are more affordable, it is because each unit is smaller. They add no value to the neighborhood itself, rather their value is created by their location in an area with more desirable housing stock and a community that is slowly improving those older buildings, along with schools and other amenities. I’ve heard the argument that with the maxed-out FAR new condos, at least some kind of housing is being provided, but is the ugliness worth a slight increase in affordability? These units are being sold to the same Park Slope newcomer demographic everyone complains about.
    There is a reason why Bed-Stuy is a more cherished and fought over neighborhood than, say, Astoria, even though Astoria has a better Manhattan commute and a decades-long reputation as “safe.”

  • As MM says, Landmarking is not synonymous w/ gentrification. Rents rise w/ market demand which is dependent on many factors such as ease of transportation, safety of neighborhood, etc.

  • People should email Mr. Greendfield and express their opinion on the matter – dgreenfield@council.nyc.gov

  • Landmarking of the proposed Victorian Flatbush district will not reduce affordable housing as the houses are already selling for over a millian dollars and almost all of the homes are 1 family. I would guess that less than 5% of the homes are 2 family. There homes represent the largest group of free standing “Victorian” homes in the region and deserve landmark status.

    We were downzoned a few years ago to prevent teardowns and Fedders building that have unaffordable apartments.

    • Please remind Jumaane Williams that campaign promise(s) are remembered. Also, write to David Greenfield. He’s always been fair minded, and is a neighbor.

      VF has already been “DOWN ZONED”, so there are EXISTING density caps. The density limits restrict any affordable housing from being built there; but the ‘turn of the century character’ is at risk.
      Because it’s not a designated historic district, brick or block bunkers can replace the Victorian style housing. The zoning change helps, of course; but that’s only the first step. These neighborhoods need landmarking designation to be more fully protected.
      The area is a lovely, diverse, and historic. It’s important to protect small communities. They are our city’s and children’s heritage.
      If we don’t protect these neighborhoods now, once gone they are gone forever. It would be quite sad to destroy neighborhoods like Victorian Flatbush, or Bed Stuy, or Crown Hts. The REBNY groups are circling closer!
      Please ask your Council member to encourage LPC to do this, now!

  • The trend to preserve and restore the great old buildings and historic neighborhoods of New York City certainly coincided with the rebirth of much of the city. The more people want to live in a city, the more demand there will be for housing and the higher the costs of housing. That’s just demand and supply. If no one wanted to live here because it is boring or unsafe or ugly, houses would cost much less and rents would be much lower. So in effect we have reached this point due to success rather than failure. Maybe we have succeeded too well seeing that houses in Bed Stuy requiring total reno are being marketed at and above 1.5 million dollars. In a way, I think that is financially unsustainable but that is a different conversation.

  • I’ve had the blessing of living in a landmarked nabe since 1965. I am also a landlord with three apts.
    First off, landmarking helped stabilize an unstable area. It gave us property owners the confidence that no out-of-control developer would be threaten us with an ugly, inappropriate or tall, overshadowing building. Absentee owners began bailing out in favor the new owner. We began to have owner-occupancy instead of absentee owners. Why is that such a blessing? Simple, because the new owners were putting down roots and wanted to make the neighborhood cleaner, nicer looking, safer and good place to raise children which strengthened the local schools . It also strengthened the community because now we all had a real stake in it. Community is what comes about when you have a landmarked district. True, some rentals will go up. Why? Because the apartments are now being invested in. New kitchens; new fridge; refreshed bathrooms, and so on. (And, as has been pointed out, all such INTERIOR improvements are decided on by us and do not involve Landmarks at all. )
    So now, our house, the one we live in, has nicer apartments and we can move up their rent. Affordable, subsidized housing has nothing to do with landmarking. Don’t let the pols mislead us. These are separate issues.
    1>Landmarking stabilizes and improves neighborhoods.
    2>Affordable housing is done with new buildings subsidized by the City to artificially lower the rental costs.
    Keeping these tools for development and improvement separate and using them appropriately will help assure a better City all around.

    • These politicians should rethink their statements and address the real problems with affordable housing. Landmarking small areas of neighborhoods to protect them is a different issue. My neighborhood, Sunset Park, has long been on the National Registry of Historic Places, but has no protection from development at all. Please take a look at http://www.preservesunsetpark.org to see the developments here and the efforts to landmark. Stacking people on top of eachother is not affordable housing. We have a major problem with overcrowding and no increase in infrastructure. A very different problem from the typical “gentrification” that folks are all up in arms about. Landmarking is a totally different issue.