“It's unique character has existed for decades, and the community has spent its own money paying for countless lawsuits to preserve that character,” State Senator Tony Avella told about 175 residents on Saturday. “We are calling on the LPC to get off their butt and do something about this before we lose more homes.”
The effort to preserve Broadway-Flushing has been an ongoing fight since at least 2006, when residents worked to get the neighborhood designated a historic district by New York State. It has since been added to the National Register for its historical significance.
Urban planner and Flushing resident Paul Graziano worked on the application for both historic registries.
“The whole point of that work was so the city could not ignore designating it,” said Graziano, who added that nearly every district that is recognized by the state and federal government generally achieves city landmark status in a couple of years.
Ten years after Broadway-Flushing's recognition, residents still wait for the city to act. A landmark designation by the city is the only designation that will preserve the character and curb out-of-context development.
If the neighborhood were declared a historic district by the city, any external alterations or new buildings would have to be approved by the LPC to ensure they are in context with the existing historical character.
While waiting for landmarking, residents and Avella - when he was a member of the City Council – worked to rezone all of Broadway-Flushing in 2009 with one of the most restrictive zonings in the city, but zoning only does so much.
For example, the latest home in the crosshairs of demolition is at 33-05 157th Street. Even with the more restrictive zoning, Graziano noted, the current house could be torn down and replaced with one approximately three times its size.
Graziano said in the past year alone, ten homes in the proposed district have been torn down in what he called an “orgy of destruction.”
The LPC has repeatedly argued that too many of the homes in the proposed district, which includes over 1300 properties, have been too greatly altered from their original state to meet the criteria for historical significance.
But Graziano said on Saturday that he believes LPC has a bias toward suburban districts, because it requires regulating not just a facade on a block of rowhouses or brownstones, for example, but the four walls of a building, as well as open space and other distinguishing suburban characteristics.
“That means 50 percent of the city is just completely written off,” he said.
Broadway-Flushing was designed as a suburban community in 1906 by the Rickert-Finlay Realty Company, which also developed nearby Douglas Manor, which was granted landmark status by the city in 1997.
“Unless there is a concerted effort by the city to save the historical context of our planned community, a piece of New York City will be lost forever,” said Maria Becce of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners' Association. “Once it is lost, it cannot be replaced.”
Bearing the brunt of the criticism on Saturday was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who speaker after speaker challenged to force the LPC to take action and recognize Broadway-Flushing as a historic district.
“The mayor needs to protect the city and not worry about his national agenda,” said Avella.