By Alejandro Lopez de Haro
The historic district of Park Slope has had the highest property values in the neighborhood, and has been able to ride out the slump in housing prices in recent years. Now, the Park Slope Civic Council, a community group, is campaigning to expand the neighborhood’s historic district, which could prevent the kind of real estate speculation that led to the slump.
“The district is the center of the neighborhood and also has the best housing stock,” says Marc Garstein, 64, the president of Warren Lewis Realty Associates, an agency that has a focus on Park Slope.
Garstein believes that the advantage of this expansion is that it will further prevent what he calls “bad fit” development projects that have fed speculation and real estate bubbles, especially through the destruction of old buildings to construct new residential developments.
A historic district designation limits the amount of new construction in an area by protecting the façade and size of buildings of historic character. The Park Slope Civic Council, which began its attempt to expand the boundaries of the current Park Slope Historic District in 2007, sees the expansion as a safeguard for a neighborhood that wishes to defend its residential property values from massive speculation.
This anti-speculation premise was partially confirmed in a report by the New York City Independent Budget Office in 2003. The report concluded that prices for residential historic properties have increased at a lesser speed then for similar properties outside historic districts.
The City’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing on Oct. 26 about the proposal and next year the commission is expected to rule on the first stage of the Park Slope proposal. The proposal covers a block of 545 mostly residential buildings that the Civic Council considers to be architecturally and historically significant, a process known as “landmarking.”
The Civic Council argues that the landmarking process will stabilize general property values, an issue of broad appeal in the neighborhood. “Landmarking tends to raise property values, because people want to live in neighborhoods protected from radical demolition and development,” says the Civic Council in its website.
“The responsibility of maintaining the façade of your house to historic standards, and the knowledge that you won’t be subject to a tremendous increase in the number of people living in your immediate area, are prime factors that make living in a historical district desirable,” said Michael Cairl, the president of the Park Slope Civic Council. He added that the height and bulk of residential buildings will be protected under the expansion. By limiting the amount of residential space in buildings, the value of residential properties is further protected from the perils of excessive construction.
Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a non-profit that advocates for the protection of historic districts in New York City, believes the historic district expansion will offer further protection from price speculation. “People can’t tear down buildings to create new developments,” said Bankoff.
The non-profit Fifth Avenue Committee, which provides low-income housing, supports the expansion. The organization does so despite the necessary outside renovations that will be required if their buildings are designated as part of the historic district. The Fifth Avenue Committee manages and owns over a dozen properties for low-income families in Park Slope.
“At times there are more expenses attached to the requirements, but there are definitely programs available to defray the costs associated with renovating property to historic standards,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee.
The Civic Council foresees that the renovation and limits to the façades of buildings will be a main topic of discussion with businesses in Park Slope. The first stage currently being reviewed by the LPC is made up mostly of residential buildings. However, the expansion is a long-term project and later stages will include streets that have various businesses. “When you get to commercial property it is a different discussion,” says Cairl. This is because business owners are sensitive to what sort of exterior treatments they can do in their stores.
If the LPC approves the expansion of the Park Slope historic district, the new buildings will fall under their oversight. Exterior alterations will be subject to a permit process by the LPC and the department of buildings. As of now such alterations only need to be approved by the department of buildings.
The Park Slope Chamber of Commerce has yet to discuss and take a side in support or against the overall expansion project of the historic district. The Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District also has yet to take an official stance on the project.
Garstein, the real estate agent, said he believes that a historic designation will protect the neighborhood from developers, and that property values will increase at a stable rate in the long run. But speculation, he said, will not be eliminated entirely. “If you have the money,” he said, “you can speculate whatever the price.”