By Patrick Donachie
The Landmarks Preservation Commission decided not to consider an extension of the Douglaston Historic District at a commission meeting last month, but it also took one step closer toward landmarking a famous Bayside house.
Opponents of the extension, including City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), said the decision was a victory for residents who were concerned that the property rights of homeowners in the area would be affected.
“When a property owner or a majority of homeowners are against the designation, landmarking does not provide a benefit to the city that can override the wishes of these residents,” Vallone said in an emailed statement after the LPC’s decision.
Lionel Morales, Vallone’s spokesman, said the councilman would be open to considering specific buildings within the extension’s boundaries for landmark preservation in the future.
The Douglaston Historic District was designated by the LPC on June 24, 1997. The district, which contains more than 600 houses, was originally constructed as the suburb Douglas Manor by the Rickert-Finlay Company in the early 20th century, according to the LPC’s Master Plan for the district. The extension would include approximately 22 buildings.
The LPC’s decision not to take action regarding the extension does not necessarily reflect upon the extension’s merits, according to Damaris Olivo, the LPC’s spokeswoman.
“There are several reasons why a property might be labeled as ‘no action,’” she said, and noted that questions about an area’s significance, the presence of other regulatory control or significant community opposition could all lead to removing a decision from the LPC calendar.
Susan Mathisen, the executive director of the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society, said an LPC designation would have economic benefits for homeowners.
“There is that feel of wanting to protect the investment that you’ve made. Everybody knows each other within the historic district and wants to protect that,” she said. “You have this encyclopedic history of architecture and the expansion of Queens from farmland to a commuter and suburban hub.”
She also said the extension could be readmitted for consideration by the LPC in two years.
Though a decision on the historic district was left in limbo, the Lydia Ann Bell and William J. Ahles House at 39-26 213th St. will now be considered for landmark status. The City Council tends to affirm the decision of the council member representing the district where the property is located, Vallone said. He supports granting landmarking status to the house.
Paul DiBenedetto, the president of the Bayside Historical Society, said the decision would help maintain older architecture in a neighborhood undergoing constant transition.
“It’s really important. We’ve lost so much,” he said. “We want to save these things when we can.”
The house was built by Robert M. Bell as a gift for his daughter Lydia and her husband John Ahles in 1873, and Bell Boulevard is named for the family. Though the street is now a Bayside commercial center, it was originally the road that split the Bell family farm, according to DiBenedetto. He said the decision was the only way to ensure the building’s future.
“There’s nothing else to guarantee this house’s survival than landmarking,” he said.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona