The new historic district becomes the largest in Queens. On October 29, 2007, the City Council approved Landmarks’ proposal to designate Sunnyside Gardens, making it the seventh largest historic district in the city.
In June, Landmarks voted to designate Sunnyside Gardens despite it being zoned as a Special Planned Community Preservation District, which requires local homeowners to apply to the Planning Commisssion for a special permit before altering their building or landscaping. 4 CityLand 92 (July 15, 2007). Two months later, City Planning proposed a rezoning that would eliminate the special permit requirement and make Landmarks solely responsible for reviewing any plans that impact the area’s unique character. 4 CityLand 121 (Sept. 15, 2007). City Planning’s proposal has not yet reached the Council.
On October 9, 2007, the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses heard testimony regarding the designation. A small number of homeowners testified against it, arguing that complying with Landmarks’ rules would be too difficult, burdensome, and costly. Also testifying against designation, Ira Greenberg, Counsel for “Preserve Sunnyside Gardens,” cited his group’s concern that Landmarks would focus its efforts on Sunnyside Gardens’ buildings, not its open spaces and courtyard areas.
Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney, however, testified that Landmarks did not propose to designate Sunnyside Gardens solely because of its buildings’ architecture. Rather, Chair Tierney told the Council that the neighborhood’s history and “small, private courtyards and gardens,” combined with the “human-scale buildings,” compelled designation.
Landmarks also addressed concerns over preservation costs, testifying that it would work with the community to devise low-cost preservation methods. Landmarks further testified that the not-for-profit New York Landmarks Conservancy would provide homeowners with professional advice, and, in some cases, help secure grants and low-interest loans for preservation work. Chair Tierney also announced that Landmarks would hold regular “office hours” near Sunnyside Gardens so that residents could speak directly with Landmarks representatives.
Council Member Eric Gioia, whose district includes Sunnyside Gardens, read a statement in favor of designation, praising Landmarks for its commitment to preserving the area while accommodating the community’s concerns. Representatives from the American Institute of Architects, the Municipal Art Society and the Historic Districts Council, as well as a large number of residents, also testified in support.
The subcommittee’s chair, Council Member Jessica Lappin, acknowledged Landmarks’ efforts to make compliance more user-friendly for local residents. The subcommittee, and later the full Council, voted unanimously to approve designation.
Council: Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, Queens (Oct. 29, 2007).