A plan to redevelop a parking garage in Brooklyn doesn’t have the green light just yet. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission did not approve an application to redevelop the site at 524 Halsey Street, in Stuyvesant Heights.
The site, between Lewis Avenue and Stuyvesant Avenue, contains two structures. One is the three-story-tall carriage house turned garage at 534 Halsey Street, designed by Axel S. Hedman and built around 1904. (Its current elevator shaft used to be a carriage hoistway.) The other is a much smaller one-story utilitarian garage building at 524 Halsey Street, also built in the 20th century. They both fell under the LPC’s jurisdiction in 2013, with the designation of the Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District.
Now, developer Brookland Capital has big residential plans for the buildings, and hired the Manhattan- and Brooklyn-based design firm ROART for the project. ROART’s Ran Oron spoke briefly to the LPC, but consultant Rick Azar delivered the bulk of the presentation.
The plan called for the larger of the two buildings to be renovated and expanded vertically, while the smaller one would be demolished and replaced with a five-story building, with the upper two stories set back, containing both townhouses and apartments. Part of the rear of the larger building would be shaved off, resulting in more light and air in the rear. The smaller building would, like its predecessor, still be set back from the larger building, lining up with the street wall of 522 Halsey Street.
The commissioners had many problems with the proposal. Commissioner Kim Vauss said she thought the new building might be out of scale for the block, but she might be able to support work on the existing building.
Commissioner Frederick Bland said the LPC had to decide whether the smaller building could be demolished. He supported the concept of demolition and said a contemporary design could work on the site, but what was proposed was “too formulaic” and “needs to be much more thoughtfully detailed.”
Commissioner Michael Goldblum called the proposal an “ambitious scheme” and didn’t see how a new five-story building could fit there.
Commissioner Jeanne Lufy praised the reduction in bulk in the rear, but not the use of such a big wall. She added that she appreciates that, rather than expand the existing building horizontally, a new building would be constructed, and it would present as two separate structures from the street. However, she said the expanded building and the new building shouldn’t be the same height. She also opposed the use of stucco in the new building. “Draw on original materials,” she said.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan started her comments by responding to public testimony and saying that unit count and noise from terraces are not things within the LPC’s purview. She said demolition of the smaller garage would be okay, but what was proposed was out of scale.
Thirteen people rose to deliver public testimony. Rebecca Wolf of 522 Halsey Street said what should happen at the development site should not be from a “shock and awe” approach. She said Brookland’s work would double the block’s population in “one fell swoop” and also worried about noise from terraces. Other neighbors also raised concerns about the building’s height, impact on neighborhood character, and style.
Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said the history of the larger building as a carriage house “isn’t embodied at all” in the proposal.
“HDC is opposed to the overwhelming amount of added bulk proposed for this group of buildings. With no precedent for a five-story building height on this block or its vicinity, the rooftop additions would stick out and call way too much attention to themselves. Considering the low-rise nature of this area, HDC feels that the proposed additions should be brought down to better respond to their context,” testified Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.
“While our committee finds the alterations to the base of the larger garage building to be thoughtful, the proposed design of the new building gave us pause. Despite the proposed use of quality materials, its design could certainly benefit from further finesse, especially in its proportions and response to the buildings on either side of it,” he added. “We also request that the cornice design and alignment take cues from the existing streetscape. As proposed, the cornice seems to float in an odd position apart from the building next to it and apart from the very consistent cornice line of the rowhouses on this side of the block. HDC asks the Commission to request another attempt at the proposed scheme for this site.”
In the end, the commissioners took no action. Brookland will have to make changes, likely including a reduction in height for the new construction, in order for this project to go forward.