Best of 2007: Brooklyn CM Bill De Blasio Supports Special Limited Height Restriction in Cobble Hill Historic District
An addition atop the former Independence Bank Building on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue in the Cobble Hill Historic District proposed by developer Two Trees caused quite a stir this year. After some design modifications, the LPC approved the proposal but the plan still required several zoning waivers from the City Planning Commission, including eliminating the rear yard to build to the back of the property line and allowing the building to rise to 60 feet in a 50 foot maximum height limited zone. These permissions were fought against at City Planning by a strong coalition of community activists and preservationists, including the Cobble Hill Association, the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Society for the Architecture of the City and HDC. In addition, we were joined in opposition by Brooklyn Community Board Six and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Unfortunately, local Council Member Bill de Blasio was supportive of the waivers and had testified in favor of them at the City Planning hearing. However, after several meetings with CM de Blasio, we successfully made the case that the height variance had the potential to set a very dangerous precedent citywide for all of the city’s historic districts and he asked his colleagues at the City Council to decline permission for the height waiver, which they did. HDC is proud of our neighborhood partners in Brooklyn for their successful advocacy and very grateful to CM de Blasio for his open mind on the issue, open-door policy to community members and willingness to re-examine the situation.
Winning CM De Blasio’s support was an essential step in ensuring the integrity of this Limited Height District. Which is why, to facilitate the future exposure of elected officials to current preservation and land use concern, HDC launched the League of Preservation Voters Initiative in February. Beginning during the special election for the local council seat in Brooklyn’s District 40, HDC and the Coalition of Concerned Preservation Voters in the 40th District sponsored a public forum with candidates for the District’s special election and released a corresponding Voter Guide. Candidates discussed important preservation and development concerns including questions of landmark designation, community rezoning and building codes within the district.
As the 2009 municipal elections approach, HDC hopes to host similar forums in contended districts throughout the city. These forums will be nonpartisan and will not endorse any specific candidates. Rather, the goal here is to expose to the public the amount of knowledge candidates have on these issues, and to likewise demonstrate that these are genuine concerns of communities throughout the city. To read the sample Voter Guide released in February, and to check out the candidate’s responses, please click here.
The precedent is a positive one. Dr. Mathieu Eugene, the winner and new council member, has since been supportive, listing “Neighborhood Preservation” as one of his top priorities and having testified in favor of a handful of proposed landmarks in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.