The Market

How to turn your neighborhood into a historic district

By Virginia K. Smith  | October 29, 2014 - 11:59AM

Living in a historic district comes with its own ups and downs, but if you're hoping to shield your 'hood's streets from the forward march of glassy new developments, getting landmark status from the city is one way to go. As such, a group of Sunset Park residents is working to landmark 15 blocks, meaning that the buildings would be preserved in their present state. (The neighborhood already has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that doesn't come with the same specific protections.) 

If you're hoping to do the same in your neck of the woods, it's a difficult process, but not necessarily impossible, as DNAinfo notes. Below, a few steps you (and your neighbors) will need to take:

  • Map it out. In order to apply for historic status, you'll need to figure out which blocks have high concentrations of buildings that are somehow distinct to the neighborhood's character and history; for instance, a block with a high number of 19th century single-family brownstones in Bed-Stuy might be a good candidate.
  • Make it a group effort. Sunset Park residents went door to door to get neighbors involved in the process, and indeed, it's wise to get as many residents on board as possible. In part, they may be able to help you collect information that'll strengthen your area's case for historic designation, but they'll also be good to have in your corner when it comes time for the public hearing (more on that later).
  • Submit your applications, and be patient with the process. Once you've gathered all your information and come to a consensus on your proposed district boundaries, you'll submit something called a request for evaluation (the application for which can be found here) with historic material on the neighborhood, including maps, deeds, old photos, and any other documentation that supports your case. The application process is anything but quick: it can take three to five years, and involves the Landmark Preservation Commission researching and writing up a report on the properties involved, as well as a public hearing where anyone can testify, whether they're for the change or against it.

Even if you're gung ho on the idea of a perfectly preserved neighborhood, be prepared to face some opposition. Landmark status can create headaches for homeowners renovating their buildings, requiring use of expensive "historically appropriate" materials for certain repairs, as well as approval from the city for potential updates. This can also mean a smaller pool of buyers for anyone trying to sell their home in your newly-quaint nabe. These days, keeping your neighborhood old school comes at a price.


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