BY LYNN EDMONDS
Residents of Broadway-Flushing and elected officials rallied in Bowne Park on Saturday to say the neighborhood should be designated a historic district.
Homeowners believe that the designation could protect their picturesque suburban neighborhood from increased density, McMansions, and other types of development that would change the architectural character of the neighborhood.
The area is comprised of about 1,300 single family homes, including many Tudors and Colonials. The houses sit on generous, landscaped plots, and in a nod to aesthetics, a covenant prevents owners from erecting fences around their yard.
The neighborhood was added to the national register of historic districts in 2006.
Residents applied for the city’s historic district designation in 2009, but their application was rejected on the grounds that there were not enough houses of architectural, historical significance to justify the designation. The City downsized much of the neighborhood that year, aiming to prevent denser development.
But residents were not satisfied with the decision, arguing that nearby Douglas Manor, built by the same developer during the same period, was awarded the designation.
They are hoping that the commission’s new chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan, will reconsider the decision.
Vice President of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association Janet McCreesh said she was optimistic after the commissioner came on a walking tour last week.
“I said to the commissioner, I said, ‘We are not Manhattan, but New York City is more than just Manhattan,’ and she gets it, and that is the difference of what I got from her than the previous commissioner,” McCreesh said.
According to Landmark Preservation Commission’s website, historic districts “represent at least one period or style of architecture typical of one or more eras in the City’s history,” and have a “distinct sense of place,” and “coherent streetscape.”
But urban planner Paul Graziano, who worked with Avella and the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association to apply for the designation, says that the commission’s decisions are “completely subjective.”
“It’s totally their decision and their arbitration” which districts are designated, he said.
A spokesperson from the commission countered that the agency had a long list of considerations that guided their decision-making process.
She listed: “development history and patterns; age of buildings; quality of architecture; significance of architects/builders; social/cultural history; extent of alterations and removal of historic fabric; preponderance of non-contributing factors including vacant lots, significant alternations, and new construction; level of cohesiveness; creation of sense of place.”
She said the commission conducted a “house-by-house survey” of the neighborhood in 2006-2007 before they decided not to award the designation.
The spokesperson said the commission researched 2,300 buildings, comparing current conditions of buildings with those documented by historical photographs.
She said the agency decided to deny the historic status “based on the number of new buildings in the area, the numerous alterations to the houses, such as filling in of the porches, re-siding, changes in the shape and configurations of opening, and the removal of decorative details.”
“The agency found that there was a lack of strong architectural significance,” the spokesperson added.
But that did not appease Graziano, who argued that the commission tended to designate neighborhoods that were easier to regulate and could be swayed by political pressure.
“The attitude of the commission is that unless you literally hold a knife to their throat, they’re not going to do something,” he said.
The urban planner said the neighborhood was “in a fight for survival,” and estimated that the number of non-contributing homes, or homes that lacked architectural or historical significance, had “probably doubled in the last ten years.”
“If we lose this neighborhood it’s going to be a tragedy,” he said.
Avella also said there was limited time to act.
“Housing prices are rising. We are now at the beginning of another housing boom. Developers are going to have their eye on this neighborhood. If we don’t do this designation now, two to three years from now there won’t be anything left to designate,” he said.
Avella and Graziano also said that Queens was not getting as much attention as Manhattan.
“If somebody sneezes in Manhattan, that spot becomes a landmark. But the rest of us in Queens or Staten Island or the Bronx, we don’t have the history that Manhattan does. That does not mean that what we consider important isn’t historic,” Avella said.
“We have lost so many neighborhoods in Queens,” Graziano said, because of a “total disrespect towards what landmarks are in Queens” and “a total bias against what we call suburban development.”
Graziano said that while 50 percent of the city is suburban in nature, only 10 percent of historic districts are.
“We have not gotten our due,” he said.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) also attended the rally and pledged “to use any power of my office to support the senator and the homeowner’s association,” and Borough President Melinda Katz issued a statement in support.
Avella said he was just gearing up.
“I can tell you, if the commission doesn’t do this, they’re in for the fight of their life, and the mayor’s going to be in for the fight of his life,” Avella said.
The commission did not reply by press time as to whether they would be reconsidering the neighborhood for historic designation.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana