East New York

Cantilever conflict: East New York landmark plan panned

April 16, 2019 Lore Croghan
The Landmarks Preservation Commission was divided on the use of cantilevers above the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings. Rendering by Dattner Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A sharply divided city Landmarks Preservation Commission told Bushburg Properties to change its design for an affordable housing development that would cantilever over a landmarked East New York dairy with quirky cow murals on its facade.

The developer plans to construct the 14-story residential building on the unlandmarked portion of the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings site at 2840 Atlantic Ave.

Dattner Architects’ design for the new building included cantilevers, meaning portions of it would extend horizontally over the landmarked dairy’s roof.

“The cantilevers are a non-starter,” Commissioner Michael Devonshire said at a hearing on Tuesday. Commissioner Michael Goldblum also gave the cantilevers a thumbs-down.

In contrast, Commission Vice Chairperson Frederick Bland called the cantilevers an “exciting” idea. Other commissioners said they found cantilevers acceptable, or they would if the cantilevers were reduced in size.

Bushburg Properties’ Sholom Laine said at the hearing that cantilevers would allow the developer to construct an additional 24 bedrooms and nine apartments there otherwise wouldn’t be room for in the 100 percent affordable project. John Woelfling of Dattner Architects said the development would have a total of 335 apartments.

Dattner Architects presented this Empire State Dairy development design to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Rendering by Dattner Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
Dattner Architects presented this Empire State Dairy development design to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Rendering by Dattner Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

The preservation agency’s legal counsel told the commissioners they shouldn’t consider cost issues associated with affordable housing development when deciding about the cantilevers’ appropriateness.

The commissioners also had concerns about restoration plans for the century-old industrial complex, which Borden Dairy occupied for several decades. For instance, several said it was important to preserve the landmarked buildings’ iconic chimney. Woelfling said the smokestack is leaning but he hopes it can be retained.

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Cantilever design ‘disrespects’ the dairy, one advocate said

The Atlantic Avenue property is known among New Yorkers who like quirky buildings for its unusual tile murals depicting fine bovines in Alpine settings.

Activist groups campaigned for the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings’ landmark designation, which occurred in December 2017. City landmarks cannot be demolished, nor can their exteriors be altered, unless the Landmarks Preservation Commission gives its permission.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Zulmilena Then of Preserving East New York objected to the inclusion of cantilevers in the project.

“This design gesture disrespects the existing structures,” she testified.

Unusual murals adorn the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings’ facade. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Unusual murals adorn the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings’ facade. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Historic Districts Council rep Kelly Carroll said at the hearing, “Cantilevers of this nature are seldom successful on most historic sites as they visually shift attention away from the historic building and towards looming, threatening bulk precariously perched above it.”

The dairy’s original architects a century ago were prominent Brooklynite Theobald Engelhardt and Milwaukee’s Otto Strack.

The American Encaustic Tiling Company made the property’s two unusual murals. One depicts a milkmaid with a cow and a calf. The other shows a lederhosen-clad man with a cow. The tiling company was headquartered on East 41st Street in Manhattan.

How much did the property cost?

The Atlantic Avenue complex was originally Empire State Dairy Company’s headquarters. By 1916 its onsite facilities included a pasteurizing plant, a cheesemaking plant and a bottling department, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 2017 designation report about the dairy.

Borden Company became the property’s owner when it acquired Empire State Dairy Company in 1924. According to city Finance Department records, Borden Dairy sold the buildings in 1982.

This Empire State Dairy mural depicts a milkmaid. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
This Empire State Dairy mural depicts a milkmaid. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The property has frontage on Schenck Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Barbey Street.

HP Brooklyn Dairy Housing Development Fund Co. bought 2840 Atlantic Ave. for $16.75 million in September 2018, Finance Department records indicate.

That entity is the property’s title holder on behalf of the actual owner, Empire State Dairy LLC, with Abraham Hoffman as authorized signatory. Hoffman is the CEO of Bushburg Properties.

The seller, an LLC with Christopher Barry as president, had purchased the property for $11.05 million in January 2017, Finance Department records show.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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