May 23, 2018 By Tara Law
A group of Jackson Heights history buffs are reinvigorating their campaign to expand the neighborhood’s historic district.
A core committee of 12 Jackson Heights residents, working in concert with the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, aim to mobilize the public to press the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to extend the Jackson Heights Historic District.
The group aims to expand the district—which roughly stretches from 76th Street to 88th Street (between Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue)— west to 69th Street and east to 91st Street.
The expansion of the historic district would protect the neighborhood from overdevelopment while maintain the uniqueness of the area, the campaign organizers say. The designation requires property owners to maintain the upkeep of buildings and to obtain special permits from the Landmarks Commission to make alterations.
A large piece of Jackson Heights was designated as a historic district in 1993. The Landmarks Commission awarded the designation to the portion of the neighborhood that was primarily constructed between 1914 and 1939 as part of a garden apartment community.
The organizers of the 1993 campaign did not advocate for a wider area at the time because they wanted to assure a historic district was carved out in the first place, said Len Maniace, the former head of the Jackson Heights Beautification group. However, the garden apartment community extends beyond the existing historic district and features buildings constructed in the 1940s and 1950s.
“The buildings in the newer area are just as worthwhile as the buildings in the older district,” Maniace said.
The campaigners are concerned that large-scale development is threatening those buildings, as they fall outside the landmarked area.
Daniel Karatzas, one of the leaders of the project and the author of Jackson Heights: A Garden in the City, said that the campaign started in 2011 but has gained greater urgency given the development wave.
“Any detached building has a target on its back,” Karatzas said.
Maniace, Karatzas and their group first filed an application to expand the development in 2011.
The Landmarks Commission reviewed their application and issued them a letter later that year that stated the project “merits further study.” The letter is the first step for the designation to go forward, which would be followed by a period of research. The study’s findings would ultimately be presented to the 11-member Landmarks Commission.
The research period, however, requires the commission to invest significant resources and time, which means the commission must be selective about which projects to pursue, according to Zodet Negron, a spokesperson for the agency.
The Commission typically dedicates its resources to areas where there are few landmarks, Negron said, and Jackson Heights already has a 700-building historic district. However, the Commission does consider neighborhoods that are undergoing significant changes— such as rezoning— to also be a priority.
“LPC recognizes that many communities seek to expand their landmarked districts and we carefully review those areas to determine whether they are meritorious,” Negron wrote in a statement.
Karatzas said that his group hopes to push the Commission to move the designation process forward. The committee plans to submit a package to the Commission in the next few months of photographs and spreadsheets in order to support their case that the historic district should be expanded.
He and his committee are also organizing a postcard campaign to encourage the public to reach out to the commission and urge it to expand the district.
The postcard campaign will launch during the “Celebrate Historic Jackson Heights” weekend on June 8 and 9. Postcards will also be available at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket, which is open weekends.