DUMBO Designation Efforts Continue to Gain Traction

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

At DUMBO Meeting, Encouraging Signs of Historic Designation
by Dennis Holt, [email protected], published online 05-17-2007

The issue of historic designation for DUMBO has been almost an obsession with the DUMBO leadership since its neighborhood association was created 10 years ago.

With a strong whiff of success finally in the air, City Councilman David Yassky, D-Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO, drew cheers when he said, “I look forward to being here next year when we have landmark designation.”

This prediction was made at the annual meeting of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association on Monday, when, after months of neighborhood reversals and lack of action by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, some measurable and meaningful progress was reported.

For one thing, Landmarks held a needed meeting in April that opened the books for further work and raised the prospect of calendaring, or setting a timetable, within a month or so. Calendaring starts the public and legal process that can lead to designation.

For another, Landmarks has drawn up a map of the proposed district. It covers a wider area than many had dared hope for, stretching from John Street on the north to a part of York Street, and includes almost all of Front Street.

From The Real Deal

May 2007
Racing the wrecking ball in Dumbo
Landmark preservation bill, rezoning move at odds
By Jen Benepe

A view of Dumbo looking toward Manhattan. Local groups fighting to preserve what remains of Dumbo’s industrial waterfront can look to Williamsburg as an example of a worst-case scenario when it comes to overexuberant residential development.

Hulking structures from a bygone era are being replaced on the Williamsburg waterfront, which saw an explosion of condo development last year after the city rezoned much of the area for residential use in 2005. The changes in Williamsburg have implications for Dumbo, which is experiencing rampant residential development and which the Department of City Planning is considering rezoning to allow for even broader growth.

At the same time, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently considering designating around 50 buildings in Dumbo landmarks, according to LPC spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon. If the buildings are landmarked, any significant structural changes to them will have to be approved by the LPC.

And Dumbo preservations may have gotten a significant boost in mid-March, when Councilwoman Rosie Mendez introduced a bill to the City Council that would allow the Department of Buildings to revoke building permits for newly designated landmark properties provided the owners have not completed a substantial amount of work or spent a significant amount of money on the projects when landmark status was granted. Thus, a developer who purchased a building knowing it was about to be landmarked — but intended to raze the building or alter its makeup significantly — would not be able to do so.

“Every time I go to Dumbo it seems radically changed, with big buildings being built that are lit up at night, and renovations made every which way,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. He’s been seeking landmark district status there since 1998.

In 2005, Dumbo led all neighborhoods in Brooklyn in condo units submitted for development despite its small size — encompassing only a four-by five-block area on the waterfront squeezed between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The number of planned new units dropped off a bit last year, according to data from the state attorney general’s office, which approves new condo projects — and much of the building stock in Dumbo has already been converted to luxury residences.

However, the Department of City Planning is studying the area’s land usage, which could actually mean more growth. The agency is trying to determine which manufacturing areas have been taken over for residential use — for example, looking for residential names on the buzzers of commercial buildings — according to Jennifer Torres, the agency’s spokesperson. The next step could be a plan for residential rezoning, a move that would speed anew the pace of development.

Since many developers are creating new housing stock out of old buildings, some might question why it is important to landmark Dumbo buildings. Preservationists argue that landmarking would save the structures from undergoing aesthetic alterations that rob them of their vital link to the past.

“It is quite simply the best waterfront commercial district that we have left in the city, with its unified architecture, that gives you an idea of what the area looked like,” said Bankoff.

Among the old buildings is 205 Water Street, a former foundry built in 1867 for the E.W. Bliss Company, a manufacturer of parts of the Brooklyn Bridge and torpedoes used in World War I. The building has arch-shaped reliefs and high clerestory windows under a sloped roof. “What is particularly fantastic about [205 Water Street] is that the railroad tracks go right into the building,” said Andrew Dolkart, an associate professor specializing in preservation at Columbia University and author of “The Guide to New York City Landmarks.”

Even while the building was being considered for preservation, its owner, Harry Katowitz, sought and obtained a demolition permit in October 2006, permissible under law.

“I am in disbelief,” said Doreen Gallo, spokesperson for the Dumbo Neighborhood Association, when she learned the building had received a permit for demolition. By law, unless a building has been declared a landmark, the DOB can not withhold a permit, according to a department spokesperson. The new City Council law could curb Katowitz’s demolition and others like it.

De Bourbon said the Landmarks Commission will be reaching out to the owner to discuss preservation issues. Katowitz could not be reached for comment.

In 2000, the 35-year-old Historic Districts Council raised enough money to put Dumbo on the national and state register of historic locations, which will allow owners to get federal tax credits to repa
ir their properties. But this does not protect properties from destruction, because only a city designation from the LPC is legally binding in New York City.

Though the commission can, after careful consideration, declare a property a historic site over the owner’s objection, de Bourbon said the agency prefers to work cooperatively with owners.

While several groups have been working in tandem to save large sections of Dumbo, the area is currently zoned as a mixed-use area and has yet to be rezoned for residential use.

According to some experts, when developers see a neighborhood about to “turn” in zoning, many of them rush to purchase buildings at a low cost. Then they obtain building permits to ensure they have the ability to renovate or demolish in the future, even if the properties are designated landmarks later on.

Posted Under: Brooklyn, DUMBO, HDC, Waterfront Development

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