Fight the tower: Co-op dwellers say ‘Skyscraper’ district will make costs soar

Number 16’s ‘Court’-ing bids
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

A controversial new historic district in Downtown is sailing toward approval despite outcry from residents, businesses, and the borough’s most powerful landlords, who fear it will hurt commerce and raise the cost of living.

Locals are furious about the city’s plan to preserve nearly two-dozen early-1900s towers along Court Street in the so-called Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District — a plan that earned the backing of Councilman Steve Levin (D-Downtown) and cruised through the Council’s landmarks committee with a vote of 4-0 with two abstentions on Tuesday.

The city says the new district will help keep history alive, but some tenants at 75 Livingston St., the only residential building in the district, say all it will do is make their lives more difficult.

“This is a stupid, stupid mistake!” said Paula Ingram, a real-estate broker who lives in the 32-story co-op. “It’s going to negatively affect the business community and all it will do is save a few lintels.”

In recent months, co-op members and business groups have amped up their campaign against the “Skyscraper” zone, claiming that the intricate rules of landmarked districts would cause maintenance fees to soar and prevent commercial growth.

The Real Estate Board of New York even mailed flyers to local homes, warning that the preservation effort would “send Court Street back to the bad old days if we don’t act now.”

“This is another case of the city landmarking away its economic future,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board, adding that Downtown is already scrambling to find tenants with vacancy rates are hovering around 17 percent.

The district comprises 21 buildings along Court Street between Montague and Livingston streets, including the already-landmarked Borough Hall; the 13-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.

Levin and Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), chair of the landmarks committee, said in a statement that the district would boost development “while preserving the graceful, historic, early-generation skyscrapers that make it Brooklyn’s civic center.”

They said that they’d ask the city to ease rules for storefronts and work with Livingston Street residents “without imposing hardships on the co-operators.”

But those co-op dwellers hope to persuade lawmakers to nix the plan altogether.

“If [Levin] doesn’t protest now and hold off his vote when he has some leverage, what do you think he’ll be able to do once this goes through?” said Maxine Rockoff, a longtime resident of 75 Livingston St, who is demanding that the Landmarks Preservation Commission disclose statistics on any added costs that the owners of landmarked buildings must pay.

“I’m terrified that this will pass,” she said. “[The city council] is our only protective against menacing government intervention.”

The proposed landmark district will go before the full council on Feb. 1.

Reach Kate Briquelet at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.