History can’t wait.
Park Slope preservationists are convinced Mayor DeBlasio is railroading their efforts to further expand the neighborhood’s cherished historic district in order to clear a path for developers, after his appointees on the Landmarks Preservation Commission recently shelved the arduous process of ratifying the historic district’s third expansion for at least a year.
“The city agencies do what the mayor tells them to do, and it’s been quite clear since DeBlasio has been in office that the LPC has slowed down considerably the pace of its landmarking,” said Peter Bray, chair of local civic group the Park Slope Civic Council’s landmarks committee. “People’s sense of belonging is being torn apart by a massive development boom prompted by the DeBlasio administration and this was done without any consideration of any historic resources in these communities.”
The commission approved the second expansion of the Park Slope Historic District in April — adding 300 houses on the streets bounded by Flatbush Avenue and Union Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to the protected zone — and Bray and his fellow architecture aficionados were hoping to kick off the process for a third immediately.
But Bray says the panel’s chair Meenakshi Srinivasan told them at a meeting in July that the city would not even discuss the geographic dimensions of the third extension — of a planned four — which is required before the four-to-five-year landmarking process can even begin. Srinivasan said the city had other priorities, albeit not what those were, he said.
That’s a big change from when the agency was operating under former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and structured the expansions so that when one was finished, the next could begin immediately, he claims.
“Under the old administration, conversations took place about the next phase as the active extension was being worked on, so that when we approached the point at which one extension was approved, there was already feedback from the LPC that they would consider for the new upcoming extension,” Bray explained. “That doesn’t exist with this administration.”
A commission spokesman defended the agency in a statement saying the third extension has not been “postponed” because it was never on its calendar, and that the commission looks at many factors when prioritizing which proposals go next — although not what those are.
“The commission sets its priorities based on many factors, including its responsibility to consider resources in all five boroughs,” said Damaris Olivo.
But another historical architecture lover believes it is a symptom of the mayor’s desire to create more below-market housing by fueling development in the city, which means everything else — including landmarking — has taken a back seat.
“Development has taken precedence over almost everything,” said Simeon Bankoff of preservationist group the Historic District Council. “All you ever read in the papers is ‘affordable housing, affordable housing, affordable housing,’ and to the detriment of other goals.”
Meanwhile, the extra time gives the owners of properties in the proposed third expansion — roughly between Union and Eighth streets along Sixth Avenue — an opening to make changes that undermine the area’s historical value, with threats ranging from entirely new developments all the way down to small-scale renovations that modernize buildings’ 19th-century facades, Bankoff said.
“You can start losing aesthetic integrity when people start changing the windows, or they want to do something modern,” he said.
Once an area becomes a historic district, building owners have to keep the height and look of their properties in harmony with the locale’s lookbook, and can’t make any changes the facade without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s okay.