Boro mighty are not so high on city’s ‘Skyscraper Historic District’ plan

The Brooklyn Paper
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A veritable who’s-who of Brooklyn’s most powerful landlords is coming out swinging against a city plan to landmark nearly two dozen tall buildings in Downtown and Brooklyn Heights, saying that the proposal would handcuff building owners from cashing in on the demand for new retail in the area around Borough Hall.

Brooklyn Law School; SL Green Realty; developer Louis Greco; The Treeline Companies, which owns three properties on Montague and Remsen streets; Joseph P. Day Realty Corp., which owns four buildings; the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn Business Improvement District and the Real Estate Board of New York all oppose the so-called “Skyscraper Historic District,” which would subject the Municipal Building and a slew of early-1900s structures along Court Street to city landmark restrictions.

“It makes little sense to move forward on a designation that will impede Downtown Brooklyn’s ability to attract high-quality … retail tenants,” opponents wrote this month to Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

The opposition from building owners is not surprising, given that landlords are poised to exploit a new retail push in and around the Municipal Building — and landlords often complain that landmark protections increase repair and maintenance costs.

But the most vocal objectors to the plan live in 75 Livingston St., a 32-story co-op just west of Court Street that is the only residential tower in the proposed district.

“This is crushing us,” said Jordan Barowitz, who lives in the building, but also works for the Durst Organization, a major Manhattan real-estate firm. “It would put a tremendous burden on people who own property in district — and in the end what are we saving?”

Barowitz and other co-op owners claim that the designation would cause maintenance fees to soar because of the intricate rules of historic districts.

“I don’t know any building owners who are in favor of this,” said Ellen Murphy, president of the 75 Livingston co-op board, which has called for the building to be omitted from the final district when the commission votes on Sept. 13.

“We believe in preserving the historic building, but if anybody wants to renovate their bathroom, they’ll have to wait for the city to rubberstamp it.”

The Brooklyn Heights Association, a powerful neighborhood group, has been calling for such a district in hopes of saving Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts buildings on Montague, Remsen, Joralemon and Court streets.

Judy Stanton, president of the group, said that landmark status is worth the hassle.

“It results in better property maintenance and higher values in the end,” Stanton said. “We think these buildings are beautiful and distinctive and worthy of special notice.”

The district would also include the already-landmarked Brooklyn’s Borough Hall; the 14-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.

Stanton began pushing for the district in 2004, after St. Francis College demolished its elegant 19th-century McGarry Library.

“It has been a longstanding regret that we did not get a district sooner,” Stanton said. “The district is necessary to protect those buildings from being torn down — it does not prevent redevelopm­ent.”

Landmarks spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said that the commission has demonstrated that businesses can thrive in historic districts, citing Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile as a high-end retail corridor.

“We always try to seek cooperation and do this in collaboration with building owners,” de Bourbon said. “In most instances, we get it.”

Landmarks Preservation Commission vote on the Borough Hall Skyscraper District [1 Centre St. at Chambers Street in Manhattan, (212) 669-7817], Sept. 13.

Updated 12:17 pm, August 29, 2011
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Reasonable discourse

al pankin from downtown says:
some of these building look historic, some not so historic. frankly some of these places look like they need to be knocked down. anything old is not historic.
Aug. 29, 2011, 6:26 am
Tommy Mac from MetroTech says:
So all those suckers who bought those condos now want the neighborhood changed to suit them? If you don't like it, leave. We were here before you, and we'll be here after you. So sorry.
Aug. 29, 2011, 6:44 am
jj from brooklyn says:
al, sometimes you're just too cranky.

downtowns w/classic buildings are thriving; others enjoy expansive parking lots and few jobs.

not every old building is classic, however, but there's something to be said for the strip along Court Street — which is above 95-percent occupied.

for those who enjoy soulless space, try metrotech (where Ratner can barely give his space away to legitimate business tenants).
Aug. 29, 2011, 8:58 am
gaston from brooklyn says:
It's good to see an article showing why landmarking is so valuable for Downtown Brooklyn. If those are the best arguments against preserving Brooklyn's history, then this gang of developers have shown the weakness of their argument. These are the same folks who are bringing Brooklyn backwards with uncreative architecture and reliance of public subsidies.

The way to move Brooklyn forward is by celebrating Brooklyn, including its beautiful architecture.
Aug. 29, 2011, 10:30 am
Factchecking says:
Ms. Murphy said: “We believe in preserving the historic building, but if anybody wants to renovate their bathroom, they’ll have to wait for the city to rubberstamp it.”

Are there any types of work that do not require the Commission's approval?
Ordinary exterior repairs and maintenance, such as replacing broken window glass or removing small amounts of painted graffiti, do not require the Commission's approval. A Landmarks Commission permit for interior work is required in the following cases:

when the work requires a permit from the Buildings Department or,
when work on the interior affects the exterior or,
when the interior has been designated by the Landmarks Commission as an interior landmark
Aug. 29, 2011, 12:08 pm
Dave from Park Slope says:
Given the roster of who's opposing the landmarking, it's probably a good idea to landmark it.
Aug. 29, 2011, 5:33 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
When this was before the Community Board, the rep from 75 Livingston Street asked that 75 Livingston Street and the Brooklyn Law School Building on Remsen or Joralemon be excluded because the owners have been good shephards and maintained their buildings. I had made the motion and I refused to accept the change(mainly because if the district is worthy at all 75 Livingston is the anchor and I didn't think anyone should be excluced) Within the week Brooklyn Law School announced the sale of the included building. I would exclude 75 Livingston if they voluntarily put a easement to run with the land that they will maintain the building exterior pretty much as is(something that is frankly more onerous than Land marking)....
Aug. 29, 2011, 6:46 pm

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