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Trio of Narrow Brooklyn Heights Townhouses Fails To Impress

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A proposal for three neighboring townhouses at 295-299 Hicks Street between State and Joralemon Streets in Brooklyn Heights failed to impress the members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The lot is currently vacant and has been for decades, perhaps since the late 1940s, when a small church stood on the site. Designed by Krista Demirdache of Nikolai Katz Architect, each townhouse would have four stories, four bedrooms, and front and rear terraces. The townhouses look quite normal in the renderings, but one commissioner called the plan "awkward" and the neighbors didn't like the color of the brick.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she is "always in favor of vacant lots being infilled," but wondered why the developer, Heights Advisors, chose to go with three narrower buildings instead of two wider ones. Demirdache said that approximately 16.5-foot-wide buildings aren't without precedent. Several commissioners took note of, but didn't exactly pass judgment on, the fact that the stoops of the townhouses would extend into the public right of way on the sidewalk.

Commissioners Michael Devonshire and Diana Chapin both commented on the massiveness of the cornice and called for its height to be reduced. Commissioner Roberta Washington said she thought the cornice should better communicate the fact that there are three buildings and not one, a sentiment echoed by other commissioners. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said the "façade is awkward on multiple levels."

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said that the design could have been either flatter and more contemporary or more traditional, but what was proposed didn't get either right. Commissioner Frederick Bland, a Brooklyn Heights resident, decided to spend some time listening to his fellow commissioners before speaking and was impressed with their understanding of the neighborhood. He said that "three narrow townhouses can work here," but that the architect needs to start again with the façade. He said they were "in the right ballpark," but hadn't hit the home run yet.

Community Board 2 recommended approval, but several community organizations did not, and stated that in oral testimony. Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said there was "room for further study" and wanted darker brick. The Historic District Council's Barbara Zay echoed concerns about materials and the lack of definition between the three buildings, particularly on the rear. Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association said the building would have a "significant impact" on the neighborhood and the design was "incomplete in scope" and "weak and ill-conceived."

The hearing closed with no action, which means that the applicant is welcome to come back with a new 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.
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]