Guest Post: Hicks Street Neighbor on New Construction at 27 Cranberry Street

Hicks Street resident Jeremy Lechtzin sends us this guest post about the proposed new construction at 27 Cranberry Street:

You might know that the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing for the development at 27 Cranberry Street is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon (June 7).

I’m a neighbor (I live on the Hicks Street side of the block) and believe that the proposed building is far too massive for the Commission to determine that its size is “appropriate” for this block, which happens to have the single largest concentration of Federal-era wood-frame houses in all of New York City. These houses, almost 200 years old, are characterized by their modest size, and allowing this development — a single-family house that in fact is as large or larger than many of the multi-family apartment buildings on the block — at this location will significantly detract from the character that makes this part of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District special.

[Click on photo for larger version]
I’ve attached a few architectural renderings that show the oversize mass of this development. In particular, its intrusion into the core of the block (historic preservationists call it the “green donut” formed by the depths of the other buildings) is very noticeable.

I’ve also attached a Google SketchUp file with the complete 3D architectural model that lets you view the development and the surrounding houses from any angle. (Google SketchUp is a free 3D drawing program for Macs and PCs available at

Share this Story:

, , ,

  • Quinn Raymond

    A lone setback on the roof of a townhouse almost never looks right– and certainly not on that block. And as mentioned the depth of the proposed house also seems way out of context.

    Nice work in Sketchup! I’m a big fan of that software too.

  • resident

    This NIMBY’s arguments are fairly weak. The addition of a building isn’t going to change how many Federal Era wood-frame buildings are in this portion of the neighborhood. Incidentally, that side of Cranberry only has the one, while Middagh has several more.

    The size of the building does look large compared to it’s immediate neighbor, but as Mr. Lechtzin points out, there are similarly sized buildings on this “block.” Maybe even a few larger, and certainly one or two that dig further into the “doughnut.” The fact that it is a single family home is a red herring. The question is the design of the building within the context of a historical neighborhood, not the use. If the building fits, the owner should be able to build and use it as he sees fit.

    I don’t really care if the owner has to trim the size of the building or not, but everyone should understand that whatever is built on that site will seem hulking next to it’s immediate neighbor. The property and cost to build is just too expensive to put up a two story building. It wouldn’t be cost effective for any owner.

    I’m all for maintaining the historical context of the neighborhood. The owner knew the rules when he bought the property. But with the tremendous diversity of the buildings on that block, the arguments against the building should be more than “look how big it is.”


    I am glad it’s not my proposed neighbor. The backyards of the houses to its left and right will be much the poorer for this great intrusion. It looks like they’re depending on having about a third of the building extend way beyond the poor neighbors’
    rear walls. There goes their light and air.
    It’s an inappropriate extension and is terribly unfair to all the property owners on the block.

  • Minding my business

    Why doesnt everyone just mind their own business. Honestly if you have a prob with the building, chances are youre just jealous you cant afford it. Those of you who want the neighborhood to stay as it was 200 hundred years ago should move to colonial williamsburg. find something better to do with your time like fighting for shool funds or keeping guns out of kids hands. its THIS really your top priority? losers!

  • David on Middagh

    If some people were truly minding their business, they wouldn’t have free time for kibbitzing.

  • lois

    Thanks to the sketches, it doesn’t look bad at all. I don’t think it is inappropriate.

  • Quinn Raymond

    I don’t think the pejorative “NIMBY” is really a fair label for the writer– although ironically “not in my backyard” may never have been a more accurate or fitting sentiment.

    I do see the point that any building will seem large next to what is adjacent to this lot, and that from the POV of preservation the fact that it’s a single-family home is not necessarily relevant. Those are reasonable arguments.

    However, saying that people should just “mind their own business” and that they’re “just jealous” is both anti-social and also not realistic given the nature and history of urban planning in Brooklyn Heights. This is not Nebraska, and properties do not extend for miles in every direction– people building new construction have both legal and social responsibilities to their neighbors, and they will ignore these at their own risk.

    The fact remains that the building is comparatively quite deep, and the offset on the roof is ugly. Maybe they can make a few reasonable modifications to the envelope of the building?

  • nabeguy

    So, Minding, the thinking goes that if you can afford to build a monstrosity, screw everybody else. Is that it? That line of thinking doesn’t breed jealousy, just contempt.

  • resident

    The question remains, what legal basis does anyone have for opposing this design? It is my understanding that the laws meant to protect the historical nature of the neighborhood, as they apply to new buildings and modifications, are only meant to protect the view from the street. It was never meant to protect the backyards of a handful of people. The only issue that the community should be able to challenge is whether the setback is appropriate, and I’m not talking about whether a few of you think it’s ugly. The point of the setback is that it is not supposed to be able to be seen, and the question becomes, does that make it impossible to have a setback thanks to the two-story neighbor, or is it ok, under the circumstances, if the setback can only be seen from specific angles. This is a legitimate question that will need to be answered.

    As to the depth of the building, again only the neighbors with a view from the rear of their own residences are affected. This is quite literally an argument that only a NIMBY can make. And unfortunately for them, should be completely governed by zoning laws. As long as the owner complies with setback and airspace usage requirements, he can do what he wants. The communities input on those issues shouldn’t be part of the public debate on this particular building but through the democratic process of creating laws.

    Finally, the utopian picture of the greenspace the poster presents is hardly accurate. The plots of land between Remson and Grace Ct., this block is not. A look at google maps, shows a space interrupted by building protrusions, fences, stone patios and large trees. I’m hard pressed to see the depth of the building affecting any but a couple of direct neighbors.

  • David on Middagh

    I am not on the block in question, but from one of my windows I actually can see into and through that green space. For me, it’s a visual corridor, a sliver, really, but I can rest my eyes in the depths of the branches. It is a treasured view that keeps me sane.

    A recent renovation on the Hicks Street side of that block did diminish the forest effect, a little bit. I don’t know if there’s a zoning proscription, or any structured agreement, that keeps people from building on what should be backyard. Are property owners really allowed to fill up the block interiors until they are solid?

  • julian

    Rest assured: The developer will fudge on his design to get the maximum bang for his bucks and the rest of us will suffer along, the more ill-informed masochists among us justifying it and the rest grumbling ineffectually! Kudos to the neighbors who cared enough to post the plans and tried to give some resistance.

    Minding one’s own business is a prescription for apathy and passivity. Civic action, awareness and responsibility are what democracy is about!

  • HicksStreet

    Hi – I do own on this block and I would like to tell ‘Resident’ that the green space behind is as much a utopia as Grace Ct. It is a tree and bird-filled space which has always been quiet. Yes, our gardens are divided by fences and some have very nice patios. Trees are hardly an ‘interruption’ but provide air cleaning and noise reduction. Old buildings protrude in at various depths but it’s really a unique, quiet space. That said, of course neighbors will build as zoning allows. Landmarks hearings and community input are part of that legal process however and I believe the recent Hicks street renovation was scaled back to ensure enough light and air for its neighbors. Landmarks has jurisdiction over rear facades as well – as we each have found out over the years. Plus, Brooklyn Heights is an historic neighborhood and only looks the way it does from the street because we all care about preservation. People who buy and build here should understand this going in and will then find that Landmarks and the BHA are very helpful and provide sensible advice. Preservation has no bias against modern houses – they are preferred to pastiches. For those who disdain our neighborhood interference I suggest a Google Earth visit to Potomac MD where every type of execrable, carbuncular McMansion has destroyed the former horse country.

  • business

    I still ike how the majority of you have no intention of dedicating your time and energy to matters that make a difference in the world but rather your opinion of whether or not a building is too big.

    If you are all aware that leagally whatever goes up will be within the right of the owner and approved by a board, what good is your squabbling on this blog going to do? I will be encouraging my family to build the ugliest biggest most obtrusive home we can, just so I can see the majority of you with your tails between your legs when we host a neighborhood party which you’ll all come to just to be nosy and check out our pad!

  • David on Middagh

    Oh, it’s a kid. I should have realized…

  • resident

    HicksStreet, everyone thinks there own backyard areas are wonderful oases. It’s the nature of private outdoor space in a dense, crowded, loud city. But apart from being more square than most, your outdoor space is very similar to many others in brownstone brooklyn (and beyond). Most open spaces between buildings in brownstone brooklyn can be defined as space, divided into various yards, courtyards and decks with the odd intruding building, an apt description of the block in question. If this house is built, I don’t see it changing the “unique” fabric of your collective outside space. The reason I brought up the properties on Remsen is because those properties ARE truly unique, since very few block length plots remain, let alone in succession. That is a space that should be protected by Landmarks.

    If I were the owner, I’d cut down on the size of the building to ensure a greater backyard garden, but his priorities may differ from mine. He apparently dreams of the amenities of the great Manhattan mansions, on a quite brownstoned block in Brooklyn. So be it.

    My main, overall point remains, the LPC doesn’t make decisions based on the size of the building. If the facade design is appropriate the building can be built without altering the historic nature of the neighborhood. If this bothers people, call your city council member and have the zoning laws changed.

    Finally, the comparison to “McMansion” filled towns is another red herring. How many empty lots can actually be built out within the historic district? Only a handful, far less than it would take to change our wonderful neighborhood.

  • Quinn Raymond

    Good to see our community does not seem to discriminate against misanthropes…

  • Quinn Raymond

    “If the facade design is appropriate the building can be built without altering the historic nature of the neighborhood.”

    The more recent post on this topic clearly demonstrates that the facade is not even remotely appropriate.

    Wow… yikes.

  • Cranberry Beret

    “My main, overall point remains, the LPC doesn’t make decisions based on the size of the building.”

    @Resident: based on the more recent post on this topic, it appears the LPC begs to differ with your interpretation of how they operate.