They’ll keep the change: Biz owners on Atlantic Ave. want out of extended B’Hill historic district

They’ll keep the change: Biz owners on Atlantic Ave. want out of extended B’Hill historic district
Landmarks Preservation Commission

History has its price, and they don’t want to pay it.

City preservationists should nix the Atlantic Avenue buildings within their proposed extension of the Boerum Hill Historic District because paying to maintain the structures will make it harder for the commercial strip’s mom-and-pop shops to turn a profit, some small-business owners said at a Tuesday hearing on the plan.

“In an already challenged retail environment, landmarking restrictions will severely impact potential small-merchant tenants that might wish to upgrade a storefront by imposing added layers of cost delays and red tape,” said Rene Lynch, whose Atlantic Avenue store between Hoyt and Bond streets would sit within the district if it expands as proposed.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission established the Boerum Hill Historic District in 1973, requiring the agency’s sign-off on alterations — including small tweaks to windows, awnings, and signs — to the approximately 250 buildings, most of which are 19th-century row houses, within its area roughly bounded by Wyckoff, Hoyt, Pacific, and Nevins streets.

And last October, the preservationists suggested broadening the district to include 288 more buildings by incorporating three separate chunks of land into its jagged perimeter. Those swaths include the majority of buildings on the city block bounded by Dean, Smith, Bergen, and Hoyt streets; other structures standing within an area roughly bounded by Bergen, Bond, Wyckoff, and Nevins streets; and several Atlantic Avenue-facing buildings between Hoyt and Nevins streets.

And most of the proposed additions make sense — except for those structures on Atlantic Avenue, according to another critic, who echoed claims that designating them as part of the district would hurt local commerce, and noted that the commission even identified some of the buildings as newly constructed or altered without preservation in mind, reducing their historical significance.

“I’m afraid that a building designated as a landmark would be much more expensive to manage,” said the critical owner of another Atlantic Avenue small business between Hoyt and Bond streets.

Expanding the historic district to include parts of the commercial strip also threatens to destroy the tight-knit community by pricing out neighborhood merchants who know their local customers, leaving their empty storefronts to be filled by unfamiliar corporate retailers that can afford the costs to maintain historic sites, according to Lynch, who gave the commission a petition signed by more than a dozen mom-and-pop proprietors who don’t want their storefronts landmarked.

“These can drive away entrepreneurial tenants, and we fear that small-time landmark owners will be instead forced to accept chain-store tenants, and we will forever lose what is most prized about our special neighborhood,” she said. “If our neighborhood becomes landmarked, I’m afraid we’re going to end up like so much of Manhattan — turning into Duane Reade, because Duane Reade can afford it.”

Many Boerum Hillers endorse the expanded historic district in its entirety, however, as does local Councilman Stephen Levin. And one supporter argued now is the time to protect the neighborhood’s past, as massive new developments — such as the controversial five-building 80 Flatbush complex planned for just blocks away — start popping up in the area.

“It is necessary to create stronger protections of Atlantic Avenue through landmarking, to preserve the finest and most intact examples of 19th-century commercial architecture,” said Sandy Balboza, a member of business-boosting group the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, who also lives on the street. “The unique historical character of Atlantic Avenue is among the business district’s strongest assets.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.