Landmarks Has Concerns with Proposed Four-Story Residence in Brooklyn Heights Historic District

Proposed design of new building on Middagh Street with 56 Middagh Street on the left./Image Credit: Pratt + Black Architects

The proposed building features a ground floor garage that is modeled off of storefronts in the historic district. On January 14, 2020, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing for a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a new four-story residential building on a partially vacant L-shaped lot on Middagh Street, located within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. The short part of the lot fronts Middagh Street to north and the long part of the lot extends into the rear yard. Currently, there is a three-story residential building, 56 Middagh Street, on the east end of the short part of the lot. There is a 25’ by 25’ foot vacant space currently used as parking located between 56 Middagh Street and a one-story garage that belongs to 45 Hicks Street. The proposed building will be built on this space. Both the existing adjacent building and the proposed building will have the same owner.

Elizabeth Pratt of Pratt + Black Architects, the project’s architect firm, stated that the owner of the existing adjacent building had two requests for the proposed building’s design. First, the owner wanted the proposed building to look consistent with the existing adjacent building. The existing adjacent building is a three-story clapboard building with dark gray painted wood siding. The building features a sloped roof, white cornices that line the top and bottom of the attic façade, and windows with white casing. Second, the owner wants a two car garage to replace the parking space.

The proposed building will be a clapboard building like the existing adjacent building and the proposed building will be closer to the curb. A garage and entry door made from dark gray painted wood will be located on the building’s ground floor. The entry door is located to the left of the building and the garage door spans across the rest of the ground floor façade. The garage is a single door garage; however, the door is painted to look like a double bay garage. Fiberboard pilasters outline the sides of the entry door and the garage door. A painted fiberboard frieze lines the top of the ground floor.

The second, third, and fourth floor front façade is made out of light gray fiberboard siding. Three windows with white wood casing and crown span the second and third floor. A white painted fiberboard cornice with decorative frieze lines the top of the third floor façade that aligns with the existing adjacent building’s frieze. The fourth floor of the building is located in a dormer that juts out of the building’s sloped roof. There are three windows with white casing that span the façade of the dormer. A white fiberboard cornice divides the fourth floor façade from the dormer roof.

Elizabeth Pratt stated that the proposed building’s design details were modeled after details of buildings within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. The Brooklyn Heights Historic District is the first historic districts to be designated in the City and most of the architecture remains intact from when the buildings were first built in the 19th Century. Architectural styles that could be seen in the district include Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Anglo-Italianate. The buildings in the district have prominent design details such as decorative friezes and pilasters that frame a doorway. There are also 61 carriage houses located within the district. According to Elizabeth Pratt, some of the carriage houses were later converted into garages. While the proposed building is not a carriage house, Pratt stated that the design for the garage was inspired by local storefronts in the district.

Three speakers gave public testimony during the hearing. Julie Stanton testified on behalf of the Brooklyn Heights Association. She testified that the Brooklyn Heights Association does not support the project because they have serious concerns with the design’s historical appropriateness, typological and material authenticity, and massing.

Christabel Gough, who testified on behalf of the Society for Architecture of the City, testified that the Society believed the proposed design is not characteristic of the historic district.

Brittany Thomas testified on behalf of the Historic Districts Council. The Historic Districts Council believed the new building is appropriate; however, they believe the building should use more traditional materials for the cornice, siding, and window casing and the three cornices on the building should be refined.

The Commissioners generally had an issue with the typology of the proposed design and how it does not relate to the architecture of the historic district.

Commissioners Diana Chapin, Anne Holford-Smith, and Adi Shamir-Baron stated that the design of the garage does not fit with the style of the proposed building. Commissioner Shamir-Baron suggested using a carriage house style in order to accommodate the size of the garage. Commissioner Holford-Smith believed that the garage should be more secondary because the design makes it look like a house placed on top of a commercial garage.

Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy stated that the entry door should have more of a presence and the garage should be smaller. She also stated that the design of the dormers does not work and there needs to be reconsideration to the design at the top of the building to make it more cohesive and coherent.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum stated that the proposed building’s design details and fenestration of the windows do not match the details and fenestration seen in wood buildings of the historic district.

Chair Sarah Carroll asked the applicants to work with Landmarks staff to adjust the typology of the proposed building and to make the design relate better with the historic district.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)

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