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Preservationists seek DUMBO historic district

Count DUMBO as the latest battleground between preservationists and developers. On the one side are developers who buy properties with plans on converting them to make money. On the other side is the DUMBO Neighborhood Association (DNA), which has been trying for several years to get a DUMBO Industrial District approved through the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). “We have submitted an entire plan [to the LPC] and have a list of all the buildings including some that go back to the Civil War,” said DNA member Milton Herder. Herder said the district boundaries would include Bridge Street on the east to Old Dock Street on the west, and York Street on the south the East River on the north. “Nothing in DUMBO is landmarked. There are some things [landmarked] in Vinegar Hill, and since the DNA was founded in 1997, this is one of the things we have lobbied for,” said Herder. According to The DNA co-founder and Landmarks Committee chair Doreen Gallo, the LPC told the DNA last September 16 that the district would be put on the calendar for a public hearing in December. However, LPC Chair Robert Tierney recently notified the DNA that the hearing is on hold until he hears from more DUMBO citizens who support landmark designation, according to Gallo. According to a DNA email sent out to friends and neighbors of DUMBO, “Local developers have recently lobbied the Landmarks Preservation Commission to stop the historic designation process for DUMBO.” “They have told Chairman Tierney that they oppose landmark designation and will testify in opposition once we are calendared and hearings to approve DUMBO as a landmark protected district to begin,” the email reads. Gallo said the chief developer against the historic designation is Two Trees Management owner David Walentas, a major developer in the area. Calls to Two Trees were not returned at press time. LPC spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon LPC said a public hearing was never put on the calendar so it was never removed. “Generally with other designations we meet with everyone affected by the potential designation,” said de Bourbon. “We welcome and actively seek out opinions from owners, residents and anyone in the community who would like to have a say in what goes on in their neighborhood,” she added. At press time, de Bourbon was still looking into where exactly the LPC was in the process regarding the specific DUMBO historic designation issue. City Councilmember David Yassky said he has asked the Department of City Planning and the LPC to move forward as quickly as possible to create a historic district in DUMBO. “The process so far has been haphazard. My hope is that the city will give this historic area the attention it deserves,” said Yassky. In the meantime, the latest front on the battle concerns the property at 205 Water Street/188 Plymouth Street, a former foundry erected in 1867 for the E.W. Bliss Company. Last December, the property’s owner Harry Kotowitz of the HK Organization put scaffolding up and obtained a permit to demolish the building. According to Herder, local residents soon observed smoke, fumes and clouds of duct, and fearing hazardous material the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was called, but dismissed complaints. The DNA then alerted City Councilmember Yassky, who spoke to Kotowitz and was told there was no rush to demolish the building and in fact were considering “adaptive re-use,” according to a DNA fact sheet. When the demolition permit expired last month, DNA members were relieved only to learn Kotowitz obtained an extension of the permit to January 2008. The DNA alleges they have tried to meet repeatedly with a representative from the HK Organization to no avail. A spokesman for the developer said the owners of 205 Water Street bring over 40 years of experience with development in Brooklyn. “Throughout that time, we have been and continue to be sensitive to the community’s concern. This project is no different. We are still in the planning phase for this project,” said the spokesperson. “Once we have a final design team in place, we will share our plans with the community as well as the elected officials who represent DUMBO,” the spokesperson added.

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