Doug Hill continues fight for historical recognition

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Will Douglaston Hill retain its 1900s-era character or will development send it the way of the hoop skirt?

Ever since the slice of Douglaston between Northern Boulevard and the Long Island Rail Road was placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in the summer of 2000, members of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society have hoped to attain the same recognition by the city to make sure any future development would be done in keeping with the area’s old New England flavor.

But even though they were told by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission last fall that their application would be formally considered, society members are still waiting for action on the city’s part.

“Other than some nice platitudes from them, they haven’t done anything,” said Joe Hellmann of the historical society’s Hill Committee. “They just seem to be interested in Manhattan.”

Diane Jackier, director of government and community affairs for the Landmarks Commission, could not give an estimate on how soon the commissioners, who are volunteers with other occupations, could make another visit to Douglaston Hill.

“It takes time to schedule five people with busy schedules to make a site visit out to Queens,” said Jackier.

To put pressure on the commission to move ahead with the landmark designation, the society distributed postcards pre-addressed to the commission at the March 3 meeting of Community Board 11, with the printed message of “Preserve it or lose it!”

On the other side, the postcards feature a black-and-white photograph of a Colonial Revival-style house in Douglaston Hill with a distinctive porch built in 1903.

Douglaston Hill, whose historic homes were largely developed in the early 20th century after construction of the East River railroad tunnel made commuting to Manhattan feasible, also contains examples of American Foursquare, Tudor and Queen Anne architectural styles.

A city landmark designation would require building owners within the Douglaston Hill historic district, which is bordered by Northern Boulevard, Douglaston Parkway, the LIRR and part of 244th Street, to get permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission before making changes other than ordinary repairs and certain interior alterations.

Only half of Douglaston Hill is registered as a historic place, said Hellmann, as the eastern half of the Hill had undergone too many architectural changes by 2000 to qualify for the designation.

With city landmarking, Hellmann and others want to make sure that what is left of Douglaston Hill’s unique architecture remains intact.

“People will do willy-nilly things to houses,” said Hellmann, citing situations in which developers would “buy a house, tear it down, and put up three or four little McMansions.”

While Hellmann acknowledged that development in Douglaston Hill could not be totally stopped, “at least we could have some architectural control on what would be built” if the district were landmarked by the city.

Douglas Manor, the landmarked neighborhood just north of Douglaston Hill, received its city designation in 1997, a process that Hellmann said took about seven years.

Community Board 11 and local elected officials have lined up behind the landmarking effort for the Hill, but Hellmann said it would take an intensive study and another site visit by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to gain approval.

An initial visit came almost a year ago, and Hellmann said he was told in September that another visit would come “very soon.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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