Heights prospect: Preservationists support locals’ push for new P’Heights historic district

Heights prospect: Preservationists support locals’ push for new P’Heights historic district
CuRBA / NYC CityMap

They’re making their landmark.

Honchos at an influential landmarks-advocacy group are throwing their weight behind a grassroots scheme to protect more than 80 century-old apartment buildings in Prospect Heights from development, according to a local spearheading the preservation initiative.

“For them to choose us is a strong indication that preserving this part of Brooklyn has real value,” said Gib Veconi, a member of civic group the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

Leaders of the Historic Districts Council named the locals’ effort to preserve the so-called Prospect Heights Apartment House District as one of the organization’s “Six to Celebrate,” a distinction that comes with the group’s expertise in navigating the city’s laborious landmarking process, a member said.

“We highlight their efforts, bolster their work, and advocate on their behalf,” said Barbara Zay, manager of preservation and research at the Historic Districts Council. “We have a lot of experience.”

The proposed district contains 82 apartment buildings erected between 1909 and 1929, which are roughly bounded by Eastern Parkway to the south, Sterling and St. John’s places to the north, Washington Avenue to the east, and — oddly enough — Plaza Street East to the west.

The multi-family dwellings constructed in revivalist design styles including Beaux Arts and Tudor are much larger than the row houses built for single families that comprise an already-landmarked historic district in the nabe just a few blocks away, according to information from the local neighborhood development council.

Builders first erected the four-to-15-story apartment buildings near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum to entice residents accustomed to life on a swanky street in the outer borough of Manhattan, luring buyers with the promise of “Park Avenue apartments on Eastern Parkway,” but at far cheaper prices — a borough real-estate trend that is repeating itself, Veconi said.

“Think about what’s happening now,” he said. “You see a lot of upzonings for greater density, high-rise buildings going in with luxury apartments. That is no different from what happened at the end of the last century.”

And ironically enough, it’s that type of redevelopment that the local preservationist group is looking to prevent.

Some of the larger apartment complexes in the proposed historic district, such as the Turner Towers at 135 Eastern Pkwy., rise up to the full 15-stories allowed under current zoning laws, but the vast majority of the structures top out between four and seven stories, making them ripe targets for redevelopment, Veconi said.

“Many of the properties in the [proposed] Prospect Heights district are significantly under-built compared to what is allowed,” he said. “You could have some uncharacteristic additions made to those buildings, or you could just have outright redevelopment.”

This isn’t the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council first landmarking campaign. Its members successfully persuaded the city to create the Prospect Heights Historic District in 2009, spurred by fears of rapid change brought on by the then-in-development Atlantic Yards project, Veconi said.

And that success is a large part of why the Historic Districts Council chose to support the neighborhood group’s most recent scheme, according to Zay.

“They have a track record and a really good membership, so it was really a no-brainer,” she said. “We’re looking forward to see this come to fruition. I think they have a really good case.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.