Eternal Sunset: City proposes establishing quartet of protected historic districts in Sunset Park

Eternal Sunset: City proposes establishing quartet of protected historic districts in Sunset Park
Lynn Massimo

Hundreds of buildings within four distinct swathes of Sunset Park could be forever spared from the wrecking ball if the city green-lights a recently proposed scheme to designate a quartet of new historic districts in the neighborhood.

Members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday announced they would formally consider establishing the districts in the neighborhood where existing city landmarks are few and far between.

“Sunset Park is a very special place — it really is unlike all of our other Brownstone districts,” said Commission Chairwoman Sarah Carroll. “This is something that is exciting as an area that doesn’t have a lot of landmarks.”

The agency’s decision to formally consider the districts came years after local preservationists with the so-called Sunset Park Landmarks Committee pushed the Commission to evaluate 22 neighborhood blocks for the designation back in March 2014.

That request led agency staffers to conduct their own survey of the neighborhood currently home to five individual landmarks, which resulted in the Commission identifying the four areas it may soon designate as historic districts. Those areas include:

• 44th Street between Fifth and Seventh avenues.

• 46th, 47th, and 48th streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues, plus the Sixth Avenue–facing blocks between 47th and 49th streets.

• 50th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.

• 54th, 55th, 56th, 57th, 58th, and 59th streets between Fourth and Fifth avenues.

City preservationists chose the four swathes because the buildings within them represent Sunset Park’s “primary periods of development and building typologies,” according to the Commission’s director of research, Kate Lemos McHale, who said the proposed districts “represent the best of Sunset Park.”

If all four are designated, the historic districts would preserve more than 500 buildings, which include a mix of wood, stone, and brick structures, as well as row houses built between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Commission’s announcement followed its 11 members’ unanimous vote to calendar the historic-districts proposal — the first step in the formal designation process, which now requires setting a date for a public hearing where locals can weigh in on the plan.

City law requires the Commission to designate historic districts within two years of a vote to calendar any proposed enclaves, according to spokeswoman Zodet Negron, who said the agency has yet to set a date for its hearing on the suggested Sunset Park districts.

Historic-designation status would landmark all of the properties within the four districts’ boundaries, requiring their’ owners to consult the commission before making any changes to the structures’ exteriors.

The local preservationists who initially pushed to establish a historic district in Sunset Park cheered the Commission’s decision, noting its quick approval of the scheme would go a long way towards preserving aesthetics in a neighborhood already experiencing a surge of development.

“Changes are happening so rapidly that if they were to wait, [these blocks] would be destroyed,” said Lynn Massimo, the vice chairwoman of the local Community Board 7’s Land Use and Landmarks Committee, who founded the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee with fellow residents Lynn Tondrick, Johanna Coxeter, and Rachel Carmean.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.