Crown Heights

Fresh landmarking push for Crown Heights North

Eye On Real Estate

February 18, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Crowning Glory: The Crown Heights North Association will press for historic district designation for the portion of the neighborhood known as Phase III. This is Virginia Place, one of the streets located in the area. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Let’s Get This Party Started.

A neighborhood advocacy group, the Crown Heights North Association, is gearing up for a fresh campaign to get the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to declare a 640-or-so-building swath of its neighborhood a historic district.

The area, which is mostly between Kingston and Albany avenues from Pacific Street to Lincoln Place with a few blocks between Kingston and Brooklyn avenues, is referred to as Phase III by preservationists. It was calendared for consideration as a historic district in 2011.

It is located beside two other sections of Crown Heights North that have already been designated as historic districts thanks to the group’s efforts and the support of local elected officials.

To aid in its campaign, the Crown Heights North Association (CHNA) is receiving year-long strategic assistance from the Historic Districts Council, which chose Crown Heights North as one of its “Six To Celebrate” award recipients.

Winning historic district designation for Phase III is “a numero uno goal” for CHNA this year, but there’s lots of other important work to be done, Deborah Young, CHNA’s chairperson and president, told Eye on Real Estate.

Another crucial task on the to-do list for her and board members Suzanne Spellen, Gail Branch-Muhammad, Ethel Tyus, Valorie Bowers, Annette Kavanagh, Dr. Michael Combs, Hal Drellich and Phil Hawkins is increasing the amount of outreach to the neighborhood’s older homeowners.

“People don’t know their rights,” said Spellen, an architectural history expert who writes for under the pen name Montrose Morris. “There’s so much misinformation. They think the city can take their house away if it’s in a landmarked area, and they don’t restore it correctly. They’re just vulnerable.”

Elder members of the community who have owned homes since the 1940s and 1950s felt the impact of bank redlining in hard times. They worked several jobs and took in renters to be able to hold onto their homes.

“They are now sitting on houses selling for up to $1.8 million in some cases — and we don’t want them to get ripped off,” Spellen said.

Another priority for the year is promoting the creation of affordable housing in the neighborhood.

“There’s this notion that once a neighborhood is landmarked, it’s like it’s suspended in amber and nothing can be changed,” Spellen said.

“That’s not true. There are derelict buildings in the neighborhood that present great opportunities for rehabbing and generating affordable housing. You can also build new buildings, but you can’t build just anything you want.”

There is a mistaken notion that landmarking is a cause of gentrification. It has a number of elected officials thinking that if they support landmarking, they are supporting gentrification, Spellen noted.

What happened in Crown Heights North, really, was that “prices shot up because the neighborhood got ‘discovered’ as being affordable — and now it’s no longer affordable,” Spellen said.  

Also, CHNA, which was formed in 2002, plans community outreach to increase membership numbers and attendance at its meetings and find additional people to join its board.

“We need new energy. We need a new vision,” Young said. “We need new people with new ideas who are maybe a little younger.”

Interested Crown Heights residents should see for more info.

After the push to win historic district status for Phase III, there’s another piece of Crown Heights North called Phase IV for which CHNA will seek landmark protection.

CHNA board members have had an initial meeting with Historic Districts Council’s executive director Simeon Bankoff and two staff members.

“They will help us move the association to the next level,” Young said.


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