By Sarah Trefethen
Twenty-one Brooklyn Heights buildings have joined the roster of structures subject to historic district regulations.
The City Council voted Feb. 1 to uphold the Landmark Preservation Commission’s designation of the Downtown Brooklyn Skyscraper Historic District.
The district encompasses five blocks around the intersection of Court, Fulton and Joralemon Streets and extends from the southern curbline of Montague Street to the northern curbline of Livingston Street. It is adjacent to the Brooklyn Heights historic district.
The designation, first approved by the commission on Sept. 13 last year, had the support of the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Historic Districts Council, the New York City Landmarks Conservancy, and the Municipal Arts Society.
But others have opposed the move, which requires landmark commission approval of any alteration to the facades of buildings within the district.
“In New York City, there are over 28,000 properties that are now subject to the arbitrary, unaccountable and bureaucratic Landmarks Preservation Commission and the onerous costs that it imposes,” Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a statement.
REBNY believes landmark status provides a way to protect significant historical buildings, he said. However, “that is not the case with these 21 buildings in Downtown Brooklyn that have no distinctive architectural style worth protecting.”
The buildings in the district were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. They include the Brooklyn Municipal Building and Brooklyn Borough Hall as well as the commercial buildings along Court Street between Livingston and Remsen Streets.
According to the commission, the buildings are valuable artifacts of pre-depression development.
“The ensemble of 21 buildings in the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District remain significant for their historic importance as the heart of Brooklyn’s downtown office district, as notable examples of the skyscraper and tall office building typologies, and for their continuing existence in a neighborhood that has undergone radical changes to much of its built environment,” the commission wrote in the report that accompanied its September decision.
The owners of buildings with landmark status are required to get permission from the commission before making changes to the appearance of their buildings.
REBNY conducted a survey of planned improvements in 44 percent of the 1,651,758 square feet total private sector space in the district. Based on that survey, it estimated that complying with permitting requirements will cost district property owners approximately $4.7 million – about $2.75 per square foot – over the next several years.
The Landmark Preservation Commission responded to REBNY’s statement by acknowledging that there may be some additional costs associated with the landmark designation. “But there are also benefits, including stabilized property values and, in some cases, increased property values,” the commission said.
The district includes one residential building, 75 Livingston St., the former Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce building, now a housing co-op.
Like REBNY, the co-op residents expect the designation will drive up their costs, according to Ellen Murphy, president of the board of directors. She said the co-op has invested $6 million in preserving the tower’s ornate terracotta and limestone façade over the past 22 years.
“Our voluntary compliance has earned us a surcharge from the city. That’s basically what it boils down to,” Murphy said.