Big-bucks landlord Larry Wohl wants to construct a six-story, four-unit apartment building in landmarked Brooklyn Heights that would loom over the nave of historic St. Charles Borromeo Church.
But the city Landmarks Preservation Commission didn’t give its blessing at a public hearing Tuesday to the proposed transformation of 144 Clinton St. — which is a single-story Art Moderne-style commercial building — into a 75-foot apartment house with a glass storefront.
Instead, Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, newly appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, sent architects for Wohl’s Joseph P. Day Realty Corp. back to the drawing board.
She told architects Harry Simino and Marina Ovtchinnikova they would have to be “more respectful” of the existing building, which was constructed in 1937 and is considered a “contributing building” — one which adds to the historic character of the landmarked district.
The proposed apartment at 144 Clinton St. would tower over St. Charles Borromeo Church, pictured here, its pastor, the Rev. Edward Doran, told the landmarking agency. Photo by Josh Ross
She also instructed them to come up with arguments for why the building should be enlarged and suggested, “The Commission is looking for a lower building.”
Commissioner Frederick Bland, who said he has been a Brooklyn Heights resident for 40 years, called the design presentation “wrong-headed in all its aspects” and said the existing Clinton Street property should not be used as the base of a taller building.
A living legend among preservationists, Otis Pratt Pearsall, appeared at the hearing to offer testimony against the proposed development — saying that disrespecting 144 Clinton as a contributing building would be a mistake that would threaten the integrity of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pearsall was a leader in the ultimately successful fight to make his neighborhood the very first in New York to be granted city landmark protection.
The proposed development is on the corner of Aitken Place, cheek by jowl with St. Charles Borromeo, an 1860s-vintage neo-Gothic Catholic church designed by renowned Irish-American architect Patrick Charles Keely.
Its pastor, the Rev. Edward Doran — known in Brooklyn Heights as Father Ed — said in testimony that the planned apartment would tower over his church and block the light that illuminates a stained-glass window depicting its patron saint.
The architects insisted their design would cut off light from the church mostly on winter mornings.
The planned apartment project would also loom over two 1850s-vintage Italianate townhouses that are its other immediate neighbors.
Tom Chittenden, who has lived at 142 Clinton St. with his wife Wendy since 1973, testified that having a tall building next door would block the sunlight from the townhouses’ gardens, likely kill their trees and “substantially reduce” the homes’ market value.
Joseph P. Day Realty Corp. has owned 144 Clinton St. through an LLC since 1999, according to city Finance Department records. The firm has taken heat from preservationists for allowing a property in the nearby Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, Romanesque Revival-style 186 Remsen St., to sit vacant for several years and grow decrepit.