One civic group is floating the idea of naming Laurelton a historic district, asserting that the designation would increase property values, lure new homeowners and visitors and protect the architectural beauty of the neighborhood’s century-old homes.
Most of the 60 people or so in the audience at a meeting to discuss the subject on Jan. 31, hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Laurelton, were intrigued by the idea, but there were some concerns that along with increased property values come increased property taxes.
There are two very different kinds of historic districts, noted urban planner Paul Graziano, who gave a presentation on the possible landmarking. There are the national and state registers of historic districts, which are what the civic wants for Laurelton, and then there is a city landmark historic district, which is what was granted to Addisleigh Park about two years ago.
The main difference is that the former have no restrictions and only alterations to government-owned buildings while the latter applies to all buildings. However, in both cases the designation would require a majority vote from residents.
The consensus of the block associations that have been meeting with the CCOL is that they don’t want the restrictions associated with the city designation.
“The reason why we worked on this project in Laurelton and really wanted it to happen is because we understand the investment we have in our properties, and we understand that the market isn’t doing so well and, we deserve in Southeast Queens to get the best bang for our buck for our properties,” said Kim Francis, president of the CCOL.
The historic district would be bounded by 121st Avenue to the north, Sunrise Highway to the south, Springfield Boulevard to the west and Laurelton Parkway to the east and include 850 buildings.
Becoming a historic district is a lengthy process. Graziano, whose work is being funded by the offices of Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), has to compile a report that then goes the state Historic Preservation Board. If the HPB decides to approve the report, then prior to a final vote homeowners will receive a certified letter asking them whether they want the designation district or not.
“There are no drawbacks of any kind for property owners,” Graziano said. “None.”
Higher property taxes were a concern expressed at the meeting, but Francis said hers are going up even without the increase in home values a historic district would bring.
Roughly 30 percent of Laurelton’s homes are in foreclosure, according to David Lucas, a Springfield Gardens-based realtor, who attended the meeting. “We have a very serious problem here,” Lucas said. “So, I am in favor of this move.”
Laurelton is over 100 years old. It was founded in 1906-07 and laid out by of William H. Reynolds, the same person who designed Long Beach on Long Island and also laid out certain developments in Coney Island, according to Graziano.
“He was a state senator and quite a colorful character, very involved in real estate and very controversial, Graziano said. “But he created a beautiful community here and one of his signature designs are the green malls, the center malls in your neighborhood, which are very rare in the city. There are only a few neighborhoods that have them.”
There are about a dozen original homes, which are known as model villas, built between 1910 and 1915. When the area really started to develop in the 1920s, a mix of designs including Colonial revival houses, Tudors and row houses appeared.
“These were built for people of means, and they were built to make a point,” Graziano said. “They weren’t just built to be a box for people to live in.”
Even the school where the meeting was held, PS 156, which was built in 1928, is a lovely piece of history.
“This is a classic 1920s school building in great shape,” Graziano said.
In the early 1930s, the Gross Morton Company constructed a mix of detached and row houses, rich in Tudor-style detail including windmill designs on the chimneys.
That same decade, simple, square concrete bungalows appeared on 224th and 231st streets. “These are much more at home in California,” Graziano said. “They are very unusual to be on the East Coast.”