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Sloped Building Deemed 'Too Temporary' for Brooklyn Heights

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Right now, there is a walled-in lot at 20 Old Fulton Street, which is between Everit Street and Elizabeth Place near the Brooklyn Bridge. It's been vacant for decades— (it did serve as a parking lot for 7 Everit Street and other nearby buildings) and it'll be staying that way for the time being, since the Landmarks Preservation Commission has rejected a proposed one-story commercial building for the site.

The proposal, which was presented by site co-owner Tobias Levey, preservation consultant Mary Dierickx, and Canadian architect Marc Andre Plasse (hence the use of "storey" in the presentation slides) was for a building with space for three businesses, and a tea shop and café had already been lined up as tenants. The roof would lead to a sloped parapet, with a series of awnings over 16 feet in height with non-uniform sections. Dierickx said the team wanted to bring "vibrancy back" to the area and Plasse said it would "infuse it with new life." He added that the sloped parapets would help open the building to the street and the concrete on the back would help it transition to the neighboring building.

The members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission had no problem with redeveloping the site, which has been without a building since 1975, but the design was not able to pass muster. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said there was a "compelling reason to redevelop the site" and said the idea for the use of it was "appropriate," but pointed to the non-uniform awning sections. Commissioner Michael Devonshire called the design "almost contemporary," but not appropriate. Commissioner Roberta Washington said the "concept is okay," but wasn't sold.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the proposal presented "an inexpensive, aluminum-type view" and wanted more detail, depth, and scale. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron wondered why making it a garden or beer garden (which, actually, it once was) wasn't explored. Commissioner Frederick Bland wasn't wild about the use of corten steel panels, which are known to drip rust. He also wanted a "more solid"- and "less temporary"-looking structure. He also disputed the presenters' assertion that the area was dead and in need of revitalization. They obviously weren't walking around there on a Sunday when there was a packed Smorgasburg, a line down the block at Grimaldi's, and plenty of people queueing for the East River Ferry. (Update Friday 12:50 p.m.: While the people in the LPC hearing room seemed to believe it was suggested that the area needed revitalization, the architect has issued a reply saying "We were rather making the case that the pedestrian experience walking on the south Side of Old Fulton is not that interesting with the presence of the concrete wall. We know the area is very crowded on Sundays, actually for most of the week.")

According to Srinivasan, the proposal had the support of Brooklyn's Community Board 2, but it was not unanimous. Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council said her organization was "not entirely sure that this rather temporary-looking structure is appropriate to its context, in which powerful masonry buildings are dominant. However, the building seems to emulate the look of market stalls, which could work here." She also objected to the use of corten steel and added "while our committee was glad that the applicant is not proposing glass awnings, it would prefer to see more articulation for this prominent feature on the building." Several area residents spoke out against the proposal, siting everything from its "temporary" look to the trees that would be removed. A representative of Councilman Stephen Levin delivered his opposition, saying the design was out of character and that the community's input was not adequately "heard or heeded."

The applicant is free to re-work the design and try again.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Plans Filed for One-Story Retail Building On Old Fulton Street [Curbed]
· All 20 Old Fulton Street coverage [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]