Potential Developers Say Designation Would Likely Halt Adaptive Reuse of Former Dairy

Empire State Dairy Company Buildings. Image Credit: LPC.

Empire State Dairy Company Buildings. Image Credit: LPC.

Developer’s engineers say stabilizing the buildings while conducting environmental remediation would lead to six million dollars in unplanned costs. On September 13, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a second hearing on the potential designation of two of the buildings that once composed the Empire State Dairy Company at 2840 Atlantic Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

The older of the two buildings identified for potential designation in the complex dates to 1907, and was designed by Thomas Engelhardt, an architect known for his work in industrial buildings. It was built in a Renaissance/Romanesque Revival style, and displays extensive terra-cotta ornamentation. The second building, completed in 1915 to designs by Otto Strack, was inspired by the Viennese Secession, in an “Abstracted Classicist” style. The building possesses large polychromatic tile mosaics, made by the American Encaustic Tile Company, depicting pastoral scenes.

Landmarks previously held a hearing on July 19, 2016, at which representatives of the planned developers, LSC Development, asked the commission to lay over the hearing until the firm had the opportunity to further examine structural and environmental issues related to the property. Kramer Levin attorney Valerie Campbell stated that the buildings had undergone extensive alterations to accommodate various industrial occupants and were in various states of structural decay. She further added that an oil tank leak had exacerbated soil contamination at the property. Campbell stated that developers intended to retain the Strack-designed building, and maintain the mosaics.

Preservationist organizations and representatives of community organizations testified at the hearing in favor of designation. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan acceded to the developer’s request to hold a follow-up hearing at a later date.

At the September 13th hearing, engineers from Langan Engineering testified to the necessary remediation work and the stabilization that would be required should the property be designated by Landmarks. Alan Poeppel said the 1907 building had prominent cracks in its walls, and would require stabilization, underpinning, and other support systems to keep the building intact while excavation necessary to remove contaminated soil took place. Jason Hayes testified that the buildings had hosted a variety of manufacturing uses after dairy operations ceased that utilized petroleum products, solvents and hydraulic fluids that had probably contaminated the subsurface. These contaminants were identified in addition to the recent discovery of a leaking oil tank that had contaminated the soil and groundwater. Hayes said excavation and disposal of contaminated material was the recommended and most effective, safe and efficient manner of remediating the site.

The engineers estimated remediation costs at approximately two million dollars, and stabilization work at another four million. Maintaining the Engelhardt building during remediation, rather than demolishing it for mass excavation in the open air, would also expose workers to more contaminants.

Technical memoranda on the issues were submitted to the Commission.

Attorney Scott Furman, of Sive, Paget and Riesel, stated that environmental contamination must be addressed “first and foremost” before any redevelopment as a matter of law. Furman said remediation would probably be done under the State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program.

Valerie Campbell testified that the developers had not accounted for the accumulated costs of environmental remediation, stabilization, and restoration in their plans to revitalize the property. She stated that is the property was landmarked, redevelopment would be rendered infeasible, and they would likely not proceed to take title, and terminate their contract.

Columbia Professor Andrew Dolkart said the buildings were significant on many levels, for their architecture, their role in Brooklyn’s history of industry, technology, and the work of the American Encaustic Tile Company. Area resident Miriam Robertson testified that the dairy company buildings were among the few historic structures remaining in the community, and asked Landmarks to help “preserve our history.”

Chair Srinivasan said Landmarks staff would review the submitted materials and make recommendation to the commission before the designation was brought to a vote. Srinivasan said the matter would be brought back before the commission at its meeting on October 25, 2016.

LPC: Empire State Dairy Company Building, 2840 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn (LP-2575) (Sept. 13, 2016).

By:  Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

One thought on “Potential Developers Say Designation Would Likely Halt Adaptive Reuse of Former Dairy

  1. Is there no tax relief for environmental remediation efforts, which may include partial or full stabilization of both buildings, required to save an important historic property? It seems to me that the size and historic nature of this property makes saving it worthwhile depending on the proposed future uses of the property. If this will be supportive or affordable housing, or an arts or education facility, we should help a future owner make it possible.

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