LPC Tells Developers Behind East New York’s Empire State Dairy to Come Back and Try Again

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Plans to restore and redevelop the landmarked Empire State Dairy in East New York and put up a new building next to it, adding more than 330 affordable apartments, did not pass muster with the Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday morning.

But first, the commissioners had to figure out what was under their purview. When a planned new building abuts a historic structure, it’s difficult to discuss one without bringing up the other.

A proposal calls for constructing a new 14-story building that will cantilever over the existing building at 2840 Atlantic Avenue, which was landmarked in December 2017 after years of advocacy work by local preservationists. The new building would rise in the place of two existing but not landmarked buildings and a parking lot, drawings show.

empire dairy

Photo by Susan De Vries

“When we designated this, we had a choice about splitting the site,” said Commissioner Michael Goldblum. “Here, the ramifications of that choice are manifest.” He suggested that a better way to go might have been to designate the entire site while leaving specific aspects of the site marked as non-contributing to the designation, something the commission recently did with Philip Johnson’s famous AT&T Building on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

So, while saying that the proposed new building creates an “unfortunate juxtaposition” with the historic structure, he also noted that this was not what the commissioners were here to discuss.

The two main concerns were the cantilevers, which fall under the LPC’s purview because of the way they hang over the historic structure, and the Empire State Dairy’s chimney, whose structural status, according to the proposal, is “currently under assessment.”

empire dairy

On the latter, all the commissioners were in agreement. “The chimney needs to stay,” Commissioner Michael Devonshire said firmly. “It needs to be restored, it’s part of the industrial character of the building.” Others remarked on the presentation’s “haziness” around the chimney.

Regarding the cantilever, the room was split. Some, like commissioners Goldblum, Devonshire and John Gustafsson were completely against the idea, while others, such as commissioners Wellington Chen and Jeanne Lutfy, had less of an issue. Fred Bland, acting as the chair of the commission in Sarah Carroll’s absence, even called the cantilever “exciting,” before admitting that his reaction was at odds with most of the other commissioners.

empire dairy

Three members of the public testified during the hearing, all against the proposal. “East New York is frankly a neighborhood under siege,” read Kelly Carroll of the Historic Districts Council from a prepared statement, before noting that, like some of the commissioners, HDC believes the cantilevers don’t work and the historic chimney should stay.

At the beginning of the meeting, the developers, nonprofit firm HP Brooklyn Dairy Housing Development Fund Company, stressed the “adaptive reuse” of the landmarked 1915 building known for its tile murals, as well as the affordable units planned for the site — more than 330, according to the developer. Dattner Architects is behind the design of the proposal. No new building permits have been filed for the property, whose other addresses include 266 Barbey Street and 181-185 Schenck Avenue. An application for a demolition permit for 266 Barbey Street was filed in November but a permit has not yet been issued.

Zulmilena Then, founder of advocacy group Preserving East New York, said she feels the project needs to set a better tone for the future of the neighborhood. “This project must set a precedent for how housing developments should look in our area and how they should also be integrated within the existing surroundings,” she said. At the moment, she and many others agreed, it does not.

[Renderings by Dattner Architects via NY Landmarks Preservation Commission]

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