High time! Downtown skyscrapers are now landmarks


City Council overwelmingly approved a controversial landmark district in Downtown and Brooklyn Heights that would preserve historic high-rises, but could raise the cost of living and trammel commerce in the communities, according to critics.

The Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District — which includes nearly two-dozen early-1900s towers on and around Court Street — soared past its Council vote on Wednesday, passing 46–1 with two abstentions despite a salvo of opposition from residents of the architectural gems and Brooklyn’s most powerful landlords.

Preservationists hailed the city for protecting a slew of Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts structures, including the tiered co-op 75 Livingston St., which housed some of the designation’s most vocal opponents.

“We’re thrilled,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, the powerful community group that helped push for the district. “The opposition exaggerated the negatives. This is going to be good for Brooklyn as a whole and very good for Downtown and Court Street.”

But residents of the now-landmarked co-op at 75 Livingston St. blasted the vote for subjecting them to the byzantine and potentially costly rules of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, claiming they’re already good stewards of their building, having spent $6 million in the last 22 years renovating its facade.

“I am appalled that a city agency is within the law to do this to us, and I am shocked that the City Council did not defend us against this unreasonable burden,” said Maxine Rockoff. “This will cause great harm to shareholders.”

In a last minute push to defeat the landmarking, opponents met with Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) while the Real Estate Board of New York amped up its anti-preservation efforts with a mailing campaign.

Levin and Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill), who came out in support of the zone last week, said that they secured a commitment from the Landmarks Commission that will make proposed changes to buildings pass through the agency more quickly. They also asked the city to be flexible with the co-op members’ requests.

“These are the last real examples of Downtown skyscrapers and in an era of aggressive development, they are worthy of recognition,” Levin said. “Increases to maintenance fees will be very minimal.”

Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie) placed the only vote against the landmark zone.

Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park) abstained because he does legal work for two tenants in the district, but lashed out at the historic area before the vote.

“We are cheapening the landmarks designation with districts like this,” he said.

Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) also abstained.

The historic district comprises 21 buildings along Court Street from Montague Street to Livingston Street, including the already landmarked Borough Hall; 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.

Rachel Greenstein and Maxine Rockoff are outraged that their building, 75 Livingston St., will be landmarked.
Stefano Giovannini