Council Panel Upholds a Historic Skyscraper District in Brooklyn

A historic district composed largely of early office towers in downtown Brooklyn was approved in its entirety Tuesday by the City Council’s landmarks subcommittee, all but guaranteeing that the entire Council will ratify it in turn.

The vote, by the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses, was considered critical because the proposed five-block, 21-building district along Court Street had run into forceful opposition since its designation in mid-September by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. [The 57-page designation report, as a PDF file.]

Councilmen Brad Lander, who heads the subcommittee, and Stephen Levin, who represents the district, issued a joint statement. “After close consideration,” they said, “we believe that this new historic district will strengthen the character of Downtown Brooklyn, allowing for new development and growth, like the new retail space planned for the Municipal Building, while preserving the graceful, historic, early-generation skyscrapers that make it Brooklyn’s civic center.”

The co-op board at 75 Livingston Street, arguably the most distinctive tower in the district, objected to the prospect of added scrutiny and review by the city, saying it had already invested more than $6 million and taken great care of the property, formerly the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Building.

The Real Estate Board of New York raised the specter of a regulatory regime that would make it difficult for owners of even the most undistinguished buildings in the district to make alterations required to attract or keep tenants. “Landmarking will send costs skyrocketing for local residents and business owners,” the board said in a mailing to the neighborhood. “In these economic times, when every dollar counts, landmarking threatens to send Court Street back to the ‘bad old days’ of empty storefronts and dirty streets.”

But Mr. Lander and Mr. Levin said in their statement that new guidelines being proposed by the commission “will allow many more new and relocating stores — in Downtown Brooklyn and around the city — to obtain a quick, staff-level approval for exterior work (much of which currently requires a more extensive review and vote by the full commission).” They also called on the commission to “show maximum appropriate flexibility” in their dealings with the co-operators at 75 Livingston Street.

The vote in the subcommittee was 4-to-0, with 2 abstentions.

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