Skip to main content

Promising prospects for Prospect Heights historic designation

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), with the assistance of the Municipal Art Society, has been pushing for historic designation for the neighborhood, and the process looks promising, if hardly assured.

Mary Beth Betts, director of research for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) said last night at a PHNDC meeting at P.S. 9 that, while, no timeline can yet be provided, "it's at the top of the list of [potential historic] districts that we're looking at."

(Photos by Tracy Collins, from the Municipal Art Society's Prospect Heights walking tour last Saturday.)

PHNDC points out arguments for designation:
Prospect Heights has remained remarkably free from large-scale physical change, making it a perfect candidate for historic district designation by New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission. But without such designation soon, that may well change. A strong real estate market and the development of Atlantic Yards just adjacent to the proposed historic district will exert immense development pressures on the neighborhood, posing a threat to its sense of place and historic character.

Indeed, PHNDC's Gib Veconi showed slides of buildings demolished for or disfigured by development and suggested that the zoning override approved for Atlantic Yards "may make it easier for other developers to vary from existing zoning."

Multiple goals

The designation of a historic district would accomplish four goals, according to Veconi's presentation:
--preserve historic 19th century buildings
--maintain neighborhood character and a sense of place
--reduce exposure to increased density
--promote stability of the community (because residents tend to stay rather than speculate).

PHNDC has photographed and documented more than 1000 buildings, and sent letters from Community Board 8, Council Member Letitia James, and Borough President Marty Markowitz supporting the designation.

(The PS 9 Annex, above, was restored by Forest City Ratner to house people displaced by MetroTech.)

Costs and benefits

Not every homeowner favors such designation, reported Denise Brown of the Crown Heights North Association, which successfully advocated for designation of that neighborhood, given that it can be costly to comply with LPC standards for building exteriors. Indeed, several questions from the audience concerned exactly what homeowners would be permitted to do. (Tax breaks and grants are available.)

However, pointed out Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council, an Independent Budget Office study found that designation improves property values and protects a neighborhood from the vicissitudes of the market.

LPC moves ahead

LPC's Betts explained that, thanks to new funding from the mayor and City Council, the commission has for the first time in 16 years begun to survey neighborhoods on its own, so it is well into studying Prospect Heights.

Given the LPC's completion of its survey, the next step is for LPC Chairman Robert Tierney to visit the neighborhood; if the commission decides to move forward, a community meeting would be held. After that would come votes by the LPC, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council, which could veto or modify a designation.

(As the sign on the building shows, several buildings in Prospect Heights, once not so valuable, were bought decades ago by social service and treatment agencies.)

AY omission

As shown last night, LPC's Prospect Height survey map--not necessarily the boundaries of any historic district--was even larger than that considered by the MAS (below); it included most of the blocks bounded by Flatbush Avenue to the west, Dean Street to the north, and Washington Avenue to the east.

Conspicuously absent was most of the Atlantic Yards footprint, including the Spalding building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street, a handsome condo conversion of a manufacturing building. Betts said that, because the footprint had been under environmental review, "we determined we were not going to include the Atlantic Yards area." (Actually, from the map shown to the group last night, it looked like part of Dean Street in the AY footprint was included.)

Note that the map above, as I wrote in April, was prepared by MAS, not LPC; a Prospect Heights Historic District (blue outline) is already listed on the State and National Registers, but S/NR listing, as it's known, does not protect the integrity of buildings the way an LPC designation would. The map prepared by MAS suggests a much larger outline, in red. Note that the northern finger of the existing and proposed historic district, on the west side of Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, would be directly opposite the Atlantic Yards project at its north and east edges.

Perhaps any effort to include Atlantic Yards was futile, in the eyes of a city agency; after all, it was pointed out, historic designation does not protect against eminent domain.

Zoning and affordability

The desire to protect against inappropriate development is understandable, as is the wish to preserve valuable architecture. And while historic districts do allow new construction on vacant lots and to replace unworthy structures, they are not generally places to accommodate increased density and affordable housing--issues raised by Atlantic Yards and the city's steady growth.

I asked Council Member James about balancing such goals. She noted that she and Council Member Al Vann have funded Community Board 8 to hire an urban planner, who's conducting a zoning study. That study, due in perhaps eight months, will recommend what blocks in Prospect Heights, both inside and outside the (presumed) historic district, can accommodate growth and provide builders a zoning bonus in exchange for affordability.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…