Landmarks Pledges To Work With ‘Dissident’ Building

This is a map of the proposed Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District. The red line is the boundary of the district. The area is next to the existing Brooklyn Heights Historic District. Courtesy of Landmarks Preservation Commission.

by  Zach Campbell

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote on Tuesday to create the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District was unanimous.

As the Eagle has reported, the motion passed despite some community opposition, including from many of the residents of one of the newly landmarked buildings, 75 Livingston St.

Residents of the high-rise co-op fear that landmark status will bring with it extra costs and regulations from the city. They argue that their board has done an excellent job of maintaining the building and keeping to the original architecture, and that they should be able to opt out of the plan.

“We are extremely disappointed with the decision,” said Ellen Murphy, chair of the building’s board. “We had hoped they would take a more in-depth view of the building’s concerns.”

The group began lobbying their representatives soon after the district’s proposal, catching the attention of Borough President Marty Markowitz and Assemblywoman Joan Millman of the 52nd District.

Markowitz strongly supported the district’s creation, but wanted to see 75 Livingston St. excluded from the plan. “This is a residential building and the additional burden imposed by this designation will make it unnecessarily costly and more cumbersome to maintain this historic building,” he said in a prepared statement.

At least one resident of 75 Livingston St. said he was happy with the decision. “When I first heard about the designation, I was thrilled. It is a beautiful building and should be part of the district — it would be wrong for this to not happen because of fear of red tape,” said Robert Quidome, a resident of the building for the past 25 years.

Quidome explained that the board very strictly oversees the building’s maintenance and restoration, making sure all changes to the building still preserve its architectural character. Still, he says, “even though our residents have been conscious about respecting the building’s integrity, we don’t know about future boards.”

In their statements before the vote, members of the commission expressed similar reasoning for creating the district, citing the buildings’ beauty, history and architectural significance.

“It is this collection of buildings that make Downtown Brooklyn what it is,” said Landmarks Commissioner Michael Devonshire. “If there is a controversy, it is because of a misunderstanding of the benefits, both physical and financial, of landmarking the district.”

Commissioners also pledged their willingness to work with the residents of 75 Livingston St. “Their work will be respected and honored and carried forth by this designation, and not in anyway reversed,” said Commissioner Michael Goldbloom. “Their devotion to their building is a model to the other buildings in the district, and I’m sure that the commission will be cooperative with all the residents to make this a growing and vibrant district.”

Residents opposed to the building’s inclusion within the district still have some chance of remedy. The measure will now go to the Department of City Planning for review. After this, the City Council has 120 days from Tuesday to approve, modify or reverse the decision.

Reversing the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision due to residents’ complaints is not without precedent. Last January, the City Council reversed the commission’s decision to landmark the Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall in Jamaica, after intense lobbying by the congregation. The church citied financial hardship and worry of increased maintenance costs as reasons for its opposition.

According to a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a similar outcome could be possible for the residents at 75 Livingston St.

Still, despite the controversy over 75 Livingston St., all were overwhelmingly supportive of the district as a whole. “We can’t project the recent good care of these buildings into the future forever,” said Commissioner Frederick Bland, an architect. “They tell a story of the history of New York and of the history of Brooklyn.”

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