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On BPR: City’s BQE fix could create landmarking crisis not seen since destruction of old Penn Station

Brooklyn Paper
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The city’s proposal to turn the Brooklyn Heights Promenade into a six-lane speedway in order to repair the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s crumbling triple cantilever could undermine decades-old local and federal landmark laws put in place following the destruction of the old Penn Station, according to a preservationist.

“I dislike going back to that well, but this has the opportunity for having profound implications for how landmarks are treated in New York,” Simeon Bankoff, head of the privately run, citywide preservation group the Historic Districts Council, told Brooklyn Paper Radio co-hosts Anthony Rotunno and Johnny Kunen on an all-new episode.

Bankoff joined the show to discuss the letter he and other local leaders recently fired off to officials, which noted the city’s so-called innovative approach that would transform the Promenade into a roadway for no less than six years while workers repair the three-tiered expressway — one of three options currently on the table for the fix — could generate a flurry of legal opposition if ultimately chosen, due to the walkway’s locally and federally protected status.

The Promenade is protected by no less than three designations, Bankoff explained. It is within the city’s first-ever protected neighborhood, the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, an enclave the Feds later recognized with two separate distinctions, including a spot on the country’s list of National Historic Landmarks, and another spot on the National Register of Historic Places — whose main purpose is to ensure local governments do not destroy historically significant sites as they execute public projects, such as roadway repairs, according to the preservationist.

“It doesn’t affect privately funded development, but very much affects publicly funded development,” Bankoff said of the historic places register. “The main function is to make sure that government, in the course of doing a road widening proposal, doesn’t knock down the house that George Washington slept in.”

And should officials proceed with turning walkway into speedway, they risk setting a dangerous precedent that could defang city landmarking restrictions established to protect historic homes and other sites after workers redeveloped Manhattan’s once grand railroad hub into a far less impressive commuter-and-commercial space.

“How are you supposed to tell somebody that they need to reconstruct their stoop when the city is destroying a major national landmark with public money?” Bankoff asked.

Kunen and Rotunno let that question linger in the air before welcoming the show’s next guests: wood expert Zack Rike, who told our hosts why he doubts Brooklyn Bridge Park officials’ claims that faulty black-locust planks will require them to raze and replace the Squibb Bridge following its second closure, and Kensington-based musician Lucy Kalantari, who earlier this month took home her first Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album.

And, of course, beloved Arts Editor Bill Roundy again joined the guys to share his picks of where to go and what to do in the better borough this week.

Tune in now to hear it all go down — and don’t forget to stream the latest episode of our sister Power Women podcast, featuring an interview between Schneps Media President and Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis and preschool developer Margarycel Nunez.

Brooklyn Paper Radio is recorded at our studio in America’s Downtown, debuts new episodes every Tuesday, and can be found, as always, right here on BrooklynPaper.com, on iTunes, and of course, on Stitcher.

Updated 5:53 pm, February 27, 2019
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