January 21, 2012 / Brooklyn news / Cobble Hill / Brooklyn Is Angry

Update: Cobble Hill residents say planned renovation is too tall

The Brooklyn Paper
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Update (Jan 25, 7:45 pm): Story updated to include the perspective of the property owners and more context. Correction added below.

A Cobble Hill family wants to expand its three-story row house with additions in the backyard and on the roof — but preservationists in the historic district say such renovations could spark skyscraping changes in the community.

The proposed work at the home on Tompkins Place near Kane Street calls for building a new floor atop an existing two-story enclosed porch in the backyard and constructing a six-foot-tall addition atop a section of the building’s roof.

The backyard renovations wouldn’t be visible from the street and the new rooftop “bulkhead,” likely containing a staircase or building mechanicals, would only make one section of the building six feet taller than its many of its neighbors. But that’s enough to trigger an upward-sprouting, light-hogging development trend that could forever change the look of the block, some Cobble Hill residents fear.

“It could cause a domino effect,” said Jeff Strabone of the Cobble Hill Association.

Homes on Tompkins Place bask in good light thanks to the similar heights of the three-story row houses that constitute much of the block — but tall backyard extensions encroach on that, according to Strabone.

“Changes like this chip away at the neighborhood’s charm,” he said.

Community Board 6 approved the record-setting abode last week, with several members saying the proposed changes aren’t significant enough to disturb the historic character of the street, where rules bar buildings from rising more than 50 feet.

“The building was badly in need of a renovation,” said Glenn Kelly of Community Board 6, adding the revamp will likely be an aesthetic upgrade. “The owners are well within their rights.”

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has the final say on the plans.

Homeowners James Cavoli and Julie Scelfo declined to comment, except to note that their renovation will actually be small — using only 10 percent of the buildable space available to them.

The historic district is already home to at least two backyard extensions that exceed two stories, but those structures were approved before the area became landmarked.

Despite the existing backyard additions elsewhere in the community, longtime neighbors described the proposed renovation as precedent setting — at least in the post-landmark era.

“We take a hardline on these issues,” Strabone said. “Otherwise it becomes the Wild West.”

Correction: An earlier version of the story described the planned work as a three-story backyard addition. The work actually calls for building a one-story addition atop an existing two-story enclosed porch. The original story also described the block of Tompkins Place as “uniform” in building height, when, in fact, the street features some buildings that are not three stories tall. The first version of this story indicated that the property owners “did not return calls,” but The Brooklyn Paper was calling the wrong number.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Peter Park Slope from Park Sllope says:
Glenn Kelly says "the owners are within their rights".
But not if they are breaking zoning laws-and how can 3 additional stories be "unobtrusive"?
Jan. 21, 2012, 12:12 pm
ty from pps says:
How is an extension in the BACK of a building have anything to do with the "character" of the neighborhood??! Uggh.
Jan. 21, 2012, 5:31 pm
fatimah from cobble hill says:
Occupy Brooklyn! Brooklyn's beauty and low-key charm is being distinguished. Trader Joe's? Getting in there is tantamount to storming the beaches at Normandy. What's the point? Hyper-consuming white sheep being led around by Internet, Facebook, Twitter, ad nauseum. How about "Miles End" Deli at Hoyt @ Atlantic? Extremely popular. Known for its good bar-b-que, Not one Black customer. Young White Mothers with Hum-Vee strollers. Run you over in an instant. When challenged, the mothers spew obscenities. Right in front of their babies. All the while talking on their cell phones. Shameful, shameful, shameful.
Jan. 22, 2012, 7:24 am
hbklyn from carroll gardens says:
You cray-cray Fatima.
Jan. 23, 2012, 9:56 am
newsfella from Park Slope says:
@Peter Park Slope: There is no zoning issue at stake and no proposal to add three additional stories. The proposal is to increase, from two stories to three, an existing, 8-foot-deep extension in the rear of the building, and, separately, add a six-foot-high bulkhead covering a small area near the center of the roof, that would not be visible from the sidewalk on Tompkins Place.
Jan. 23, 2012, 12:37 pm
Architect from windsor terrace says:
Newsfella is correct - no zoning issues and rear yards have only recently become the domain of a Landmark Commission overeaching it's mandate. What is this new activism Strabone is espousing where your back yard is everyone else's castle? Domino effect? Really? LPC will extract a very high price (too high maybe) in quality to approve any new project so I have no fear that this renovation would be bad for the neighborhood. The building will be restored and given the cost, it will be well maintained, which it has not been.
Jan. 23, 2012, 4:30 pm
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Stage left: angry villagers with pitchforks and torches.
Stage right: Obnoxious busybodies.
Jan. 23, 2012, 4:54 pm
Kane Street from Cobble Hill says:

Learn the difference between "distinguished" and "extinguished." Please leave your racism off of this board. Nobody is stopping any non-white person from eating at Mile End for their excellent "bar-b-que."
Jan. 24, 2012, 10:53 am
BrooklynResident from Cobble Hill says:
I'm an owner of the referenced property and despite the story's claim that "Owners of the building did not return calls," we were never contacted by the reporter. (Ms. O'Neill says she left a message for someone listed in a phone book at that address).

There are many other inaccuracies in the story and we have asked for a correction. Among them, the proposed work would add not "three stories of living space behind the home," but one story on top of an existing two-story extension; other buildings in the same courtyard have 4- or 5-story extensions and bulkheads are visible throughout the neighborhood (i.e. the requested changes are far from "unprecedented"); and per the photo accompanying the story, not all homes on Tompkins Place are of uniform size (less important, but still incorrect).
Jan. 25, 2012, 2:18 pm
BKtompkins from Carroll Gardens says:
Look at the correction of this article - it's about 50% of the content of the original article. Classy reporting - you're doing Jayson Blair proud.
Jan. 27, 2012, 12:18 am
iCanSeeYourHouseFromHere says:
I can see it. They are building it. And it's GIGANTIC. They're building out in the back, and up. There was pile driving - they're building a foundation.
June 6, 2012, 3:04 pm

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