Second Hearing Held for Proposed Five-Story Building Ended without Consensus

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Rendering of proposed development on 70 Henry Street, Brooklyn. Image Credit: Gerner Kronick & Valcarcel Architects.

Landmarks Commissioners failed to reach consensus for new mixed-use building plan for site of movie theater. October 22, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered a revised plan for a mixed-use development at 70 Henry Street in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. The site is currently occupied by the Brooklyn Heights Cinema in a one-story building dating to 1895 that has undergone extensive alterations. Landmarks previously considered a development plan for this building on November 27, 2012, but was unable to reach consensus on either the appropriateness of the proposed demolition or the design of the planned new five-story structure.

Cinema owner Ken Lowy stated that a new theater would be incorporated into the planned new building designed by an architect that he worked with. Lowy also said that local Assembly Member Joan Millman had provided a letter in support of the project.

Architect Randy Gerner of Gerner Kronick & Valcarcel Architects presented the plan for the proposed building which would rise to five stories, for a total of 50 feet, as it did in the previously presented plan. The structure would also contain a below-grade garage. The new plan proposes to demolish and reconstruct the existing building to serve as a base, using the salvaged brick, which will be reversed to display its original color. Gerner said reconstruction was necessary to stabilize the degraded structure. Existing piers, added to the building in the 1970s, would be retained, with large glass windows installed between the piers. A deep reveal would separate the first and second stories to separate the historic building from the new work. The façade of the new stories would be composed of ductile concrete, in a color similar to the brownstone buildings of the neighborhood. Ornamental elements would include denticulated floor slabs, and a concrete scrim around the windows on the upper stories. Brushed stainless steel signage would also be installed.

Brooklyn Heights Association’s Judy Stanton spoke in opposition to the proposal, arguing that the existing building’s demolition was inappropriate, and that the design was not cohesive with the original building or the historic district. Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council stated that the proposal to be more appropriate for Tribeca or SoHo than for Brooklyn Heights.

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that Brooklyn Community Board 5 had issued a unanimous resolution recommending approval of the project. Chair Tierney noted that Council Member Stephen Levin had submitted a letter asserting that although the project would constitute a “significant improvement” in the neighborhood, the developers should work with Landmarks to “retain the maximum amount of historic fabric.”

Commissioner and Brooklyn Heights resident Fred Bland stated that the existing 19th-century building, though altered, was a contributing building in the district, and he could not support its demolition and reconstruction. Although Bland did not rule out the possibility of using the existing building as a base for a new development, he suggested anything should be set back from the existing structure’s façade. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter found the proposal generally appropriate, determining that the building was not a significant contributor to the district. She commended the applicant’s approach to the upper floors, which she said would “float the new construction above this preserved neighborhood icon.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum suggested that building’s neighborhood status was likely owed to its function and history, rather than its architecture and historic fabric. However, Goldblum found the proposed design to be “kind of busy and somewhat aggressive.” Commissioner Diana Chapin found the demolition appropriate, saying it was not “a particularly distinguished building.”

Without any clear consensus among the commissioners, Chair Tierney asked the applicants to consider the remarks and return at a later date. Tierney did opine that the massing of the proposal was appropriate for the site.

 LPC: 70 Henry Street, Brooklyn (14-9159) (Oct. 22, 2013) (Architect: Gerner Kronick & Valcarcel Architects).

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

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