A spirited group of some 200 people gathered in a corner of Bowne Park early Sunday morning to protest a recent decision by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to not grant historic district status to a section of Broadway-Flushing.
The protest was the most recent development in a decades-long struggle by Broadway-Flushing homeowners to prevent real estate developers from altering their neighborhood.
The area under consideration was placed on the New York State Register of Historic Districts and National Register of U.S. Historic Districts in 2007. Many therefore were stunned by the LPC’s decision, the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year application process.
According to Paul Graziano, a land use and zoning consultant who has been working for 16 years to protect the Broadway-Flushing homes, the LPC gave three reasons for rejecting the proposal: it didn’t find the neighborhood architecturally significant, it contains too much infill, and it has too much new construction.
Some at the meeting expressed outrage over the latter two reasons, noting the infill and new construction are the very reasons why they feel landmarking is needed.
Broadway-Flushing was developed by the Rickert-Finley Company in the first three decades of the 1900s. The firm placed restrictive covenants on properties in order to preserve the harmony of the area’s architecture and landscaping. Although the covenants succeeded in their purpose for decades, developers have more recently become willing to ignore them.
The area that was to be landmarked contains about 1,300 homes and is bounded by 155th Street between 29th Avenue and Northern Boulevard on the west; Northern Boulevard and Crocheron Avenue up to 170th Street on the south; 32nd Avenue to the north; and 162nd Street back to 29th Avenue on the east.
Graziano believes part of the LPC’s decision stems from a bias against landmarking suburban areas. Of the 95 historic districts in New York City, only 11 are suburban, he said.
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) told the crowd that when the LPC’s chairman, Robert Tierney, told him the panel had decided against the landmarking, he replied: “Well, you know, you got a fight on your hands.”
Judging by the enthusiasm expressed at the protest, Avella’s words were on the mark. Moreover, the LPC will not be fighting a single neighborhood in this battle, for Sunday’s meeting included supporters from from communities as far away as Bayside, Kissena Park and even Malba.
Some at the gathering seemed to find the LPC’s decision inconceivable. Homi Cooper, a member of the Kissena Park Civic Association, said that “it’s definitely not the right decision. They will change their minds.” His wife, Kashmira, suggested that the LPC “really needs to attend these (meetings). …They really need to come here and educate themselves.”
Arthur Viviani, a former president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowner’s Association, said the federal and state officials who visited the neighborhood needed no convincing to designate it as a historic district. In his view, the LPC’s decision therefore seems even more misguided.
Other BFHA members who had worked on the landmarking proposal expressed frustration.
According to Cheshire Frager, one of the community’s residents who helped organize the drive for the landmark designation, the landmarking is supported almost unanimously among the district’s homeowners. Frager had expected difficulty in convincing some of community’s many immigrant homeowners, but to her surprise, she found they understood the issue clearly and showed strong support for the cause.
Maria Becce, a member of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowner’s Association’s Landmark Action Committee, described painstaking efforts she made trying to explain to the LPC the special sense of place her community possesses. (On its website the LPC lists a special sense of place as one requirement for landmarking.)
Each year, for example, the neighborhood holds a contest to determine which home has the most beautiful garden, and Becce would send photographs of the top 10 gardens to her contact at the LPC. Yet it wasn’t easy relating the significance of such intangible neighborhood qualities, she indicated. “People never consider the psychological [effects of environment],” she said.
Eventually, Becce’s contact at the LPC was replaced, so any progress she had made with that one person went to waste.
Becce urges anyone who doubts that Broadway-Flushing is worthy of landmark designation to walk down Cocheran Avenue between 163rd and 169th streets, from which are seen clearly both the harmonious design of the area’s old homes and the new McMansions and apartment buildings that break that harmony.
Former Broadway-Flushing president Marjorie Ferrigno told the crowd that another two houses in the neighborhood are now being torn down for reconstruction. She urged the politicians and community leaders present to act quickly to win the landmark designation.
New land zoning rules for a section of northern Flushing that includes Broadway-Flushing take effect in six weeks. The new regulations will help better protect the neighborhood from developers, Graziano said, but he added that “landmarking is the only way to protect design.”