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The city is weighing whether to extend the Carroll Gardens Historic District, an increasingly controversial initiative backers hope will retain the neighborhood’s brownstone aesthetic.
Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission said the agency is in the early stages of evaluating the district, which currently includes 149 buildings in an area bounded by President, Carroll, Smith and Hoyt streets.
“However, the commission has not yet surveyed the area or scheduled a meeting with property owners, which are among the first concrete steps we take before moving forward with a district,” she noted. “Extensive community outreach would take place in advance of any formal consideration by the commission. ”Extending the district was broached in 2007, but supporters were told that it would be faster to initiate a neighborhood-wide zoning change, which was recently passed by the City Council, according to Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association (CGNA). “What we are advocating for is further protection, so we can conserve what we have of the brownstone row house neighborhood,” she said.
But the renewed initiative is attracting skepticism in the neighborhood, as evidenced by a recent discussion at the CGNA’s monthly meeting.Those opposed fear increased renovation costs and bureaucratic red tape associated with even the slightest home improvement, and increased property taxes.
“If this goes to Landmarks, you are opening a Pandora’s box,” warned Dr. John Romanelli, who lives in a historic district in Cobble Hill and has a medical office in Carroll Gardens. “It will cost [homeowners] a lot more money,” he said, noting that the difference in property tax between historic Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens is significant.For the neighborhood’s remaining old timers, the extension could potentially be disastrous, he said. “[Carroll Gardens] has a lot of people living on fixed incomes...and those people are being pushed out.”
De Bourbon said there has been no evidence that historic districts are commensurate with higher taxes. In fact, she said, “the value of houses in historic districts increase at a slightly greater rate than comparable buildings.”
Anna Gallo said she has attempted to speak out against extending the district in the past — but was silenced at the meeting two years ago. “I was told point blank to keep quiet,” she said. She doesn’t plan on keeping quiet this time around. “I speak for 200 people,” she said.
CGNA Land Use Chair Glenn Kelly said the intention is not to “ram this down anyone’s throat.” He said the CGNA plans to poll every homeowner in the proposed district in order to gauge neighborhood sentiment. It is expected that the measure will proceed in phases, with the so called “place blocks,” First to Fourth Place, from Smith to Hicks, proceeding first.
Changes made to homes in historic districts require approval by the Landmarks Commission. That’s a good thing, according to CGNA member Barbara Brookhart. “What’s special about Carroll Gardens is its uniformity. When someone puts something in that takes uniformity away, it takes away the value,” she said.
CGNA’s History/Landmarks Committee Chair Vincent Favorito said the soaring towers of Manhattan hold no allure, Favorito said. “We don’t see that as beneficial to our way of living,” he said. “We’re trying to conserve the livability of our neighborhood.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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