The city is moving toward protecting a wide swatch of Prospect Heights — but the proposed “historic district” would not hinder a project that some neighbors think is the biggest destroyer of the area’s history: Atlantic Yards.
Last week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission began the process of designating approximately 12 blocks in Prospect Heights as a historic district that encompasses 870 buildings from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries.
The district would stretch from Flatbush Avenue nearly to Washington Avenue and from Sterling Place to Pacific Street — up to, but not including, Bruce Ratner’s $4-billion mega-development.
That inclusion could have saved the neighborhood — if “it had been done in time,” said Candace Carponter, a lawyer who has worked with the anti–Atlantic Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
Deciding the boundaries of the proposed historic district is a matter of determining which buildings have a distinct “sense of place” and a coherent streetscape, said Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.
“The purpose of our agency is how to protect the historic fabric of the city’s neighborhoods, not to stop development,” de Bourbon said, noting that Landmarks primarily looks at architecture, dates of construction, and the streetscape. “It certainly may have been a part of the motivation of people who wanted us to designate the district, but that’s something that we really can’t consider.”
Supporters of the district are happy to take what they can get, given that Ratner’s 16-building mega-project is supposed to rise so close to the landmarked area.
“We certainly believe that Atlantic Yards could be the pretext for other developers to do out-of-context development, and we would like to prevent that,” said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
“Atlantic Yards certainly increased the awareness of … the negative effects of overdevelopment.”
Many buildings within the proposed district have particularly deep lots — a zoning quirk that could allow voracious developers to put up large-scale buildings. A landmark designation would preserve the neighborhood’s character, scale, and density, community leaders said.
“We’re all very under-built and there’s a danger that as those buildings are transferred over, they can be developed into overbuilt structures, which demolish the historic character,” said Robert Witherwax, a member of Community Board 8.
Architecture critic Francis Morrone said the threat of Atlantic Yards pushed neighbors a little harder to research which buildings to include.
“I suspect that the whole Atlantic Yards probably lent urgency to designating Prospect Heights, and that’s why it’s being done now,” he said. “But I don’t think anything on the Atlantic Yards footprint would or could have been included in a Prospect Heights historic district. I don’t think the boundaries could have been drawn in such away to have [included] Ward [Bread] Bakery.”
That historic bakery, on Pacific Street near Vanderbilt Avenue, is being torn down to make room for thousands of units of housing. The city ruled against landmarking the factory in 2006.
“We’ve been very concerned about Ward Bakery, but we’re using [the proposed historical] designation as a tool to protect other parts of the larger area of Prospect Heights that are not part of Atlantic Yards,” Veconi said.
— with Michael Lipkin