A DUMBO HD? – surprise! some landlords are against it

The ‘Burden’ of Making DUMBO a Historic District
BY ERIN DURKIN – Special to the Sun
July 26, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/59176

After a several uninterrupted years of stratospheric growth, the city could move toward restricting future development in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission this week voted 8-0 to formally consider creating a historic district in DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. If approved by the commissioners in a vote later this year, 55 buildings in the roughly 15-square-block area would be granted landmark status, strictly limiting alterations that could be made to existing buildings and the type and style of any new proposed developments. Perhaps as much as any New York City neighborhood, DUMBO has undergone a residential building boom in recent years, transforming the once rundown industrial area into a sought after hotspot, complete with new luxury condo towers, art galleries, and restaurants.

Preservationists say that DUMBO, like many of the waterfront neighborhoods along the East River, is in danger of losing its original, industrial character. Some landlords and residents, however, wonder why the city would move toward attaching any kind of additional restrictions on an area that has been revolutionized by real estate development. A co-owner of two buildings in the proposed historic district, Peter Forman, said he opposes the designation. “Landmarking obviously imposes a burden on landowners,” he said.

“You’ve got a neighborhood that everyone loves. It’s been built successfully without landmarking, and my argument is that we don’t need landmarking,” Mr. Forman said.

He said factors such as land use and density could be regulated by zoning rather than landmarking, and that recent development, far from imperiling the neighborhood, has “made the area very desirable.”

“I look at the neighborhood and I saw wow, what we have today is pretty nice. I guess I’m not too concerned about it being destroyed,” he said. “I think that market forces can work better at developing the neighborhood appropriately just as it has successfully over the past 30 years.”

Some neighbors and preservationists disagree. “It’s about time,” the vice president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, Doreen Gallo, said. She noted that though the neighborhood has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2000, many of its historic buildings, as well as its Belgian Block streets, have been destroyed or altered in the intervening years.

“Historic character has been in jeopardy because the pace of development has just quickened to the extent that buildings have been razed or defaced,” she said. “Without landmark protection, DUMBO’s unique character — forget it, it’s gone.”

“DUMBO is on fire with real estate speculation and real estate pressure,” the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, Simeon Bankoff, said. “Enormous new buildings have gone up which are not complimentary to the historic nature of the area.” He cited the 33-story J Condominium on Jay Street and the 23-story Beacon Tower on Adams Street as examples of out-of-scale development.

The area is worth preserving, he said, because it is an “on the ground representation of an era of New York that has been lost.”

There are more than 80 designated historic districts in New York City. Among those recently designated are Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and a section of Manhattan Avenue.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter some time this fall, followed by a vote. A spokeswoman for the commission, Elisabeth de Bourbon, said that before calendaring the district, the commission had met with local owners to discuss the ramifications of landmarking for their properties.

The commission’s “statement of significance” describes DUMBO as “one of the most significant industrial areas along the East River waterfront.” It cites the area’s brick factories with huge wooden posts and beams, terra cotta floor arches and steel frames, factories of reinforced concrete, and dramatic streetscapes as features worthy of preservation.

Ms. Gallo said that though some have been reluctant to speak out publicly, the effort to get DUMBO landmarked had faced active opposition from developers, which looked likely to block the landmarking at times. “There’s been a lot of political pressure from the developers having their way with DUMBO,” she said. “These guys have a lot of money and they have a lot of power.”

Posted Under: Brooklyn, DUMBO, HDC, Waterfront Development

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