Boro mighty are not so high on city’s ‘Skyscraper Historic District’ plan

The tower at 16 Court St., at the corner of Montague Street, is for sale.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

A veritable who’s-who of Brooklyn’s most powerful landlords is coming out swinging against a city plan to landmark nearly two dozen tall buildings in Downtown and Brooklyn Heights, saying that the proposal would handcuff building owners from cashing in on the demand for new retail in the area around Borough Hall.

Brooklyn Law School; SL Green Realty; developer Louis Greco; The Treeline Companies, which owns three properties on Montague and Remsen streets; Joseph P. Day Realty Corp., which owns four buildings; the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn Business Improvement District and the Real Estate Board of New York all oppose the so-called “Skyscraper Historic District,” which would subject the Municipal Building and a slew of early-1900s structures along Court Street to city landmark restrictions.

“It makes little sense to move forward on a designation that will impede Downtown Brooklyn’s ability to attract high-quality … retail tenants,” opponents wrote this month to Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

The opposition from building owners is not surprising, given that landlords are poised to exploit a new retail push in and around the Municipal Building — and landlords often complain that landmark protections increase repair and maintenance costs.

But the most vocal objectors to the plan live in 75 Livingston St., a 32-story co-op just west of Court Street that is the only residential tower in the proposed district.

“This is crushing us,” said Jordan Barowitz, who lives in the building, but also works for the Durst Organization, a major Manhattan real-estate firm. “It would put a tremendous burden on people who own property in district — and in the end what are we saving?”

Barowitz and other co-op owners claim that the designation would cause maintenance fees to soar because of the intricate rules of historic districts.

“I don’t know any building owners who are in favor of this,” said Ellen Murphy, president of the 75 Livingston co-op board, which has called for the building to be omitted from the final district when the commission votes on Sept. 13.

“We believe in preserving the historic building, but if anybody wants to renovate their bathroom, they’ll have to wait for the city to rubberstamp it.”

The Brooklyn Heights Association, a powerful neighborhood group, has been calling for such a district in hopes of saving Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts buildings on Montague, Remsen, Joralemon and Court streets.

Judy Stanton, president of the group, said that landmark status is worth the hassle.

“It results in better property maintenance and higher values in the end,” Stanton said. “We think these buildings are beautiful and distinctive and worthy of special notice.”

The district would also include the already-landmarked Brooklyn’s Borough Hall; the 14-story Temple Bar Building on Court Street; the 35-story Montague-Court Building at 16 Court St.; and the Municipal Building, which will soon be transformed into a mini-mall.

Stanton began pushing for the district in 2004, after St. Francis College demolished its elegant 19th-century McGarry Library.

“It has been a longstanding regret that we did not get a district sooner,” Stanton said. “The district is necessary to protect those buildings from being torn down — it does not prevent redevelopment.”

Landmarks spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said that the commission has demonstrated that businesses can thrive in historic districts, citing Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile as a high-end retail corridor.

“We always try to seek cooperation and do this in collaboration with building owners,” de Bourbon said. “In most instances, we get it.”

Landmarks Preservation Commission vote on the Borough Hall Skyscraper District [1 Centre St. at Chambers Street in Manhattan, (212) 669-7817], Sept. 13.

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