Pleading for preservation: Sunset Parkers beg Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate four historic districts

Landmarks to hold public hearing for four proposed Sunset Park historic districts
Preserving the neighborhood: The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will host a public hearing at its offices on the distant isle of Manhattan, where locals can weigh in a proposal to formally designate four historic districts throughout Sunset Park — one of which would include buildings on 44th Street between Fifth and Seventh avenues, seen here.
Lynn Massimo

Call it history in the making.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission must designate four historic districts in Sunset Park in order to protect the area from future development that could forever alter its character, a local pol and a slew of his constituents claimed at a May 7 public hearing hosted by the landmarks agency.

“It’s not just to preserve the fabric of the neighborhood, it’s also to preserve the future of Sunset Park,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park).

Menchaca and nearly two dozen Sunset Parkers testified in favor of the designations at the May 7 hearing at the commission’s headquarters on the distant isle of Manhattan. The hearing marked the last step of the formal designation process before the commission takes its vote on the designations at an as-yet-unscheduled public meeting, which city law mandates must take place within two years of a vote to calendar any proposed enclaves, according to spokeswoman Zodet Negron.

The move to designate the historic districts would forever preserve the more than 500 buildings that are located in the proposed districts, which 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;

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

The areas contain a mix of wood, stone, and brick structures, as well as row houses built between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which represent the neighborhood’s “primary periods of development and building typologies,” according to Kate Lemos McHale, the agency’s director of research.

Commission members announced their decision to calendar the proposal — the first formal step in the designation process — in January, years after local preservationists from the so-called Sunset Park Landmarks Committee first pushed the landmarks agency 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 only five individual landmarks — which resulted in commission members identifying the four areas they may soon designate as official historic districts.

One of the locals who helped lead the effort to push the landmarks agency to consider the designations said at the hearing that the widespread support for the measure among the eleven-member commission proved that the body of preservationists sees the risk of the current and future impacts of development and gentrification on the area.

“The LPC recognizes the threat Sunset Park is under,” said Lynn Massimo. “The LPC sees, as we do, how the architectural changes are taking away the sense of place.”

The proposal has the majority of locals’ support — the agency received 53 emails and two letters in support of designating the districts ahead of the hearing and only three letters in opposition, according to commission chair Sarah Carroll, who added that the local Community Board 7 also voted in support of the measure.

And Massimo said that more than 3,000 locals signed petitions and more than 400 wrote letters of support in favor of the designations.

A handful of locals who testified, including Massimo, said the landmarks agency should consider expanding the boundaries of the some of the districts to include the blocks of 40th – 43rd streets between Fourth and Fifth avenues due to their architectural distinctness.

Massimo said she particularly hoped the commission would consider adding the block of 43rd Street due to both its appearance and its location, which leads to the neighborhood’s eponymous green space.

“It’s a beautiful block, and it’s beautiful because of its connection to the actual Sunset Park, and the vista when you’re standing in the park,” she said. “I think it’s very unfortunate that it wasn’t included, and I hope that it will be in the future.”

But agency reps spent years studying the neighborhood to determine the areas that they think most warrant designation, according to the commission’s director of community and intergovernmental affairs, who added that the body could still consider designating other Sunset Park historic districts down the road.

“After careful analysis, the agency identified three major periods of historic development and proposed these four areas of Sunset Park as the most intact and cohesive row houses that best represent the neighborhood’s development history and significant architecture,” said Ali Rasoulinejad. “Considering these four districts does not preclude the commission from exploring additional designation opportunities in the area in the future.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcsh[email protected]chnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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