DUMBO residents, civic organizations and the area’s most-prominent developer were unified in their support for recognizing the neighborhood as a historic district at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on Tuesday.
The commission heard from 34 people during the two-and-a-half-hour public hearing, and all of them supported the designation. The commission said it also received about 15 letters in favor of the historic district from people who couldn’t attend the hearing.
To date, no one has gone on record against it.
Residents say they love their neighborhood, but worry that booming development is threatening its historic buildings featuring 19th-century industrial architecture, and historic infrastructure like its Belgian block streets.
“Six years ago, my wife and I moved here from Manhattan because we liked what we saw, and since then it’s gotten even better,” said Milton Herder of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association. “The neighborhood pulse has livened and new cultural events have come in a torrent. In human terms, it’s better than ever to live here.”
But Herder also sounded a cautionary note.
“New developers, unrestrained by any vision or public sense, have changed the picture, building with no regard for scale or context. Worse, some developers have hastily and furtively renovated or demolished their buildings in an obvious race to beat out landmark preservation.”
Herder specifically singled out Shaya Boymelgreen’s 23-story Beacon Tower at 85 Adams St., and Cara Development’s 33-story J Condo at 100 Jay St., as being out-of-scale with the rest of the neighborhood.
DUMBO Neighborhood Association President Karen Johnson, owner of the bar 68 Jay Street, gave a long list of reasons the commission should landmark the neighborhood, but most of them boiled down to “protecting” the neighborhood from “over-scale building,” preserving DUMBO’s “glorious historic architecture” and halting “the onrush toward luxury residences and the loss of affordable space.”
“Our future is threatened, but not doomed,” Johnson said. “There is still plenty worth saving, if the commission moves quickly to give landmark protection to this fragile treasure.”
Johnson’s group has been pursuing landmark status for the area for several years. But Irene Janner, a member of Community Board 2, told the Landmarks commission that her board has been pushing for the historic district since the 1990s.
Doreen Gallo, also of DNA, said the time to landmark DUMBO is “now or never.” And Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton said the issue was before the commission “not a moment too soon.”
To illustrate the need for landmarking, resident Heather Breen said the E.W. Bliss foundry building at 205 Water St. was torn down earlier this year, even as Landmarks was preparing to consider DUMBO’s application for historic district status.
“Had we had landmark protection [then], so much would be different,” she said.
Property owners and developers often oppose historic districts because they limit the scope and design of their projects.
Indeed, just last week, Two Trees Manangement, which is DUMBO’s primary development company and supports the DUMBO landmarking plan, asked the Council to grant it an exception to the height restrictions in the nearby Cobble Hill Historic District.
DUMBO property owner Peter Forman once opposed the landmarking, which would cover about 21 blocks and 65 buildings in the neighborhood, but testified in favor of it on Tuesday.
He did say that the city should upzoning other parts of DUMBO to encourage more residential development.
A Landmarks spokeswoman said the commission will probably vote on the proposed DUMBO historic district before the end of the year.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission will take comments in writing until Nov. 6. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney, 1 Centre Street, Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10007.