Commissioners Seek Revisions to Proposed Rowhouse Renovation and Construction Project in Cobble Hill

Congress Street project rendering.

Developer wants to restore and enlarge four mid-19th century rowhouses and replace a low-rise garage with five rowhouses. On September 11, 2012, Landmarks considered Congress Street Development LLC’s proposal to restore four circa 1850 rowhouses, demolish a 1983 two-story garage and replace the garage with five, single-family rowhouses at 110 through 128 Congress Street in the Cobble Hill Historic District. The four rowhouses, which had been used as hospital buildings, and garage extend from mid-block of Congress Street to the corner at Hicks Street.

At the hearing, Ward Dennis of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners LLC testified on behalf of the developer. According to Dennis, St. Peter’s Hospital had used the four existing rowhouses beginning in the 1870s. The hospital converted the four buildings into a single unit by the 1880s. The existing garage had been built in 1983 with Landmarks’ approval. The developer plans to convert the existing rowhouses to single-family homes.

Architect Morris Adjmi described the proposal, which called for zinc-clad, one-story additions to the four existing red-brick, three-story buildings. The zinc would be etched in a brick pattern, and the set-back additions would be visible from several vantages. The facades of the rowhouses would be restored, as would the cornices, lintels, and brownstone bases. New painted steel stoops would be built to replace the original stoops that were removed long ago. Adjmi proposed using a lateral, “side-stair” configuration, rather than the more typical front-facing stoops, because of the block’s narrow sidewalk.

The five new four-story rowhouses would be clad in red brick. The first two buildings would include garages, which would take advantage of an existing curb cut. The last rowhouse, at the corner of Congress and Hicks Streets, would feature a contemporary projecting bay, inspired by other bays seen elsewhere in the district. The windows of all the new rowhouses would feature projecting black metal frames. The three rowhouses nearest Hicks Street would also feature laterally oriented stoops.

Existing rowhouses on the left.

The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams was the only member of the public to testify. Williams stated that many of the design features, particularly the steel stoops and metal entrance doors, had little or no precedent in the neighborhood and were too industrial for the district’s residential character.

The commissioners responded positively to the proposal, but asked for several revisions before voting on whether to issue a certificate of appropriateness. Commissioner Fred Bland recommended altering the materials of the stoops to differentiate between the new and historic buildings, and questioned the “highly visible nature” of the zinc additions to the existing rowhouses. Commissioner Michael Goldblum praised the “very cool project,” and said he did not have a problem with the zinc additions. However, Goldblum recommended that there be stronger differentiation between the new and old buildings, and suggested that the cornice, windows, and bays be given more detail. Commissioner Joan Gerner stated that the project would be a “great addition to this historic district,” but agreed that the new and old buildings needed to be better differentiated and the stoops needed to be refined. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea found that the project did not adequately take into account the slope of Congress Street, and suggested reducing the rooftop additions. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter stated that the addition to the first rowhouse had an excessive visual impact, and suggested setting it back from the edge, or otherwise treating it in a different way from the others.

Chair Robert B. Tierney agreed with the other commissioners, stating that the project would be “an important contribution to the district,” but finding there were modifications “on the margins” that needed to be addressed before Landmarks could approve the proposal.

LPC: 110-128 Congress Street, Brooklyn (13-3663) (September 11, 2012) (Architect: Morris Adjmi Architects).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.