PLG’s Melrose Parkside designated historic district, but some residents have concerns

38 houses on Parkside Avenue have been landmarked.
Photo by Susan De Vries

Prospect Lefferts Gardens has a new historic district, with the Landmarks Preservation Commission voting unanimously Tuesday to designate two rows of 38 “remarkably cohesive and intact” townhouses on Parkside Avenue.

The support came despite trepidation from some homeowners, with eight local residents emailing the agency in opposition to landmarking and one attaching a petition signed by 20 people (six of whom had sent emails). LPC Director of Research Kate Lemos McHale told commissioners staff were “finding a balance in terms of support and then what we saw on the petition.”

The new Melrose Parkside Historic District includes 20 two-family Kinko houses with separate entrances for each duplex unit, a style that originated in Brooklyn. The other 18 houses were constructed as single-family row houses and marketed as “easy housekeeping” homes at the time. The rows were designed by two of Brooklyn’s most prominent architects at the time, Benjamin Dreisler and Axel Hedman, for developers William A. A. Brown and Eli H. Bishop & Son. Located between Flatbush and Bedford avenues, all of the houses were built between 1909 and 1915.

The single family ‘Easy Housekeeping’ houses.Photo by Susan De Vries

LPC researcher Marianne Percival told commissioners an in-depth study found that the “impressive collection of distinctive row houses” come together as a proposed district that “stands out within the neighborhood for its highly intact architectural quality.”

“The proposed Melrose Parkside Historic District has a strong sense of place that distinguishes it within the larger Flatbush area and has remained intact for more than a century. The research department recommends that the commission vote to designate the Melrose Parkside Historic District as a New York City Historic District,” Percival said.

A group of locals has been petitioning to have the houses landmarked since 2016, and the LPC in August voted to consider the proposed Melrose Parkside Historic District. At October’s public hearing on landmarking the area, all but one of the 14 speakers supported landmarking and many shared fears about the fate of the houses without protection from the LPC.

Parkside Avenue local Michael Lent told commissioners how neighbors became aware of the threat of development in 2015, when developers “started buying homes and adjacent lots on other blocks, tearing them down and building new multifamily dwellings, often not in keeping with the neighborhood’s or block’s character. The dwellings torn down included wonderful old brick and stone homes,” he said.

He said having to submit planned work on the houses to LPC for approval was a “worthwhile tradeoff” for the preservation of the character of the community. “Its architectural nature and historic nature is part of that character and is of vital importance,” he said.

The district’s boundaries.

However, local Kurt Flamer-Caldera said development could be controlled with legal mechanisms such as deed restrictions and restrictive covenants, which would prevent demolition “without having to impose the much more extensive and frankly micro-managerial elements of the Landmark Preservation Commission’s guide books and regulations.”

“I and a number of other owners here on the block, who actually live on the block, are opposed to the idea of coming under the scrutiny and control of the historical requirements. It’s not that we want to change it or damage it, I think it’s just unnecessary,” he said.

Commissioner Diana Chapin said she hoped those concerned would have those concerns eventually relieved. She added that judging by the “very good condition” of the houses, any changes should hopefully be minor and able to be approved at staff level and “would not occasion any particular problems for the owner.”

LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said the agency would continue to work collaboratively with property owners, “and I do hope that those owners who are still concerned will soon come to recognize the benefits of designation.”

The new Melrose Parkside Historic District is the city’s 155th historic district, Carroll added.

This story first appeared on Brownstoner.