Commission Set To Vote On Central Plan Dec. 9
Creating Ridgewood’s largest landmark district was the focus of a public meeting that the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association (RPOCA) held last Thursday, Oct. 16, at the Peter Cardella Senior Center.
The designation process for the proposed Central Ridgewood Historic District began back in 2010 and is currently in its final phase. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a public hearing on the matter back in March 2011, as well as several community outreach meetings in the years that followed.
The purpose of this latest public forum was to update local homeowners on this issue, while giving them the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns, before the official designation vote on Dec. 9.
“Our association, which has about 500 homeowners, supports this process and has been supporting it all along,” RPOCA President Charles Ober stated. “As the economy improved, we started to see some people doing things that were damaging to the historic nature of the neighborhood. … That’s why we started moving forward on this process.”
LPC Chair Meenakshi Svinivasan stated he has been working closely with the RPOCA and Community Board 5 toward obtaining this historic designation.
“The creation of historic districts allow the city to protect the character of neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods with a strong architectural and cultural history to it,” Svinivasan explained.
The proposed district consists of about 990 brick row houses built between 1900 and the mid- 1920’s. According to LPC Director Sarah Carroll, these houses “represent one of the most harmonious and architecturally distinguished examples of past neighborhoods built in New York City in the early 20th century.”
Architects Louis Berger & Co. originally designed the houses in partnership with developers August Bauer and Paul Stier. Between 1895 and 1930, Berger & Co. designed an impressive 5,000 buildings and homes in Ridgewood and Bushwick combined. Bauer and Stier oversaw the development of 2,000 houses in Ridgewood prior to their partnership with Berger.
“Most of the houses in the proposed district were constructed at the turn of the century,” Carroll explained, “when Ridgewood was being developed by German Americans and immigrants from Germany.”
Similar architectural features such as projected bays and equal cornice lines, create what Carroll referred to as “a significant impact grouping” of buildings. One of the other unique elements of these homes is in their choice of locally sourced materials. The bricks featured in the iconic facades were produced here in New York by Kreischer Brick Manufacturing Co. of Staten Island.
The proposed district would consist of about 40 blocks generally bounded by Woodbine Street to the north, 71st Avenue to the south, Fresh Pond Road to the east and Forest Avenue to the west. This also includes a small section of homes surrounding St. Matthias Church, on the blocks bookended by Onderdonk and Forest avenues.
If approved, the proposed district would become the 11th historical in Queens, a significant achievement for the borough.
“Of all the five boroughs, Queens actually doesn’t have that many historical districts,” Svinivasan explained, “so I think that’s another reason we’re so excited here.”
The Central Ridgewood Historical District would also be one of the largest of its kind.
“It’s a large district,” Svinivasan added, “but I think it’s vitally important to Queens to put it on the map, as well as for the city overall.”
Many residents voiced concerns over the ability to make changes to their properties if the historic designation is approved.
“When a district is designated, the LPC does not compel you to make any changes,” Carroll explained. “We only review work when you want to propose changes.”
The LPC’s focus is primarily on the external facade of each building. Exterior alterations, including changes in paint colors, generally require permission. If a homeowner wishes to make significant changes to a home within a landmark district, an application must first be submitted to the LPC for a signoff.
“Approval is required for any work, including restoration, additions, window replacement, demolition and new construction,” Carroll stated. “The only things that don’t require a permit are ordinary maintenance.”
The LPC will work with homeowners to accommodate “modern needs” such as satellite dishes and solar panels, so the devices are minimally visible from the street.
Carroll urged homeowners to call the LPC ahead of time for advice on how and when to file necessary LPC applications. “It’s always good to call and check with us to see if the work you want to do does require a permit,” she added, “The LPC is here to provide guidance to property owners and to help them make changes in a way that meets their needs and yet doesn’t detract from the special character of the building.”
Jenny Fernandez, LPC director of community relations, reassured homeowners concerned about interior renovations: “We don’t regulate interiors. We only have purview over physical changes to the exterior fabric of houses in the district.”
According to Fernandez, the LPC provides several tools and publications, including the “Row House Manual,” geared toward helping homeowners navigate these changes.
Fernandez went on to explain that a landmark designation would not change a homeowner’s tax rate or the assessment of home values.
“There is no direct connection between higher property taxes, higher property values or increased home insurance and the historic designation of the home,” she stated.
There are, however, some incentives for homeowners living within a historic district. According to the LPC, lowincome, owner-occupied residential buildings may qualify for the New York State Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
Other tax credits and preservation grants are also available to homeowners and certain non-profit groups.
Yet, according to Svinivasan, one of the biggest perks of living in a historical district is the sense of reassurance and familiarity it offers in an ever-changing city.
“You know that you’re going to walk down that street and won’t suddenly see something being torn down,” Svinivasan explained. “That is a big plus, especially in a place like New York where things change fairly quickly. The predictability and certainty you get when living in a historic district is very significant.”
In the weeks before the scheduled Dec. 9 vote, the LPC will be sending homeowners specific descriptions of their individual buildings. These descriptions will then do into a larger designation report.
“This is another opportunity for you to correct information that is not accurate on that report prior to the vote,” Fernandez explained.
Homeowners can also submit written testimony, questions or comments to the LPC via email. According to LPC Director of Communications Damaris Olivio, the record from the previous public hearing in March 2011 is still open.
“You can send us an email with your testimony,” Olivio explained, “and it will go into the record and be taken into account when the LPC does vote in December.”
More information and email forms are available online at www.nyc.gov/landmarks.