Homeowners on the south side of Fenimore Street between Rodgers and Bedford avenues became concerned after a demolition permit application was filed for 176 Fenimore Street.
Paul Graziano, a preservationist and planning expert that has been advising the residents, explained that 16 of 19 homes on the block – and two on Bedford Avenue – have specific restrictions that state “no tenement, flat or apartment building may be built here.”
Residents are prepared to go to court to enforce the restriction. Their legal action is part of a larger effort to downzone the south side of Fenimore Street from R-6 to R-2.
Supporters of the change, which includes Community Board 9, say the properties have the same deed restrictions as homes in nearby Lefferts Manor and should have been given the lower-density zoning, like the north side of Fenimore Street, when it was established in 1961.
The year before, in 1960, all of the property owners in Lefferts Manor – except for those on the south side of Fenimore Street – sued when a developer tried to build a multi-family home.
A court ruled the deed restriction applied and the area could only be single-family homes, which led to the R-2 designation for those properties.
“From that, the Department of City Planning was essentially ordered to rezone those eight blocks, which otherwise would have been R-6, just like this side of [Fenimore] street [now],” Graziano explained.
The current or a new owner could demolish the home as of right, and Graziano fears that if a developer starts laying a new foundation before the zoning change is adopted, they will be able to proceed and alter the character of the entire block.
Resident Calvert Hadley said the deed restrictions were part of the Lefferts family's last will and testament.
“It's been over 100 years,” Hadley said. “They were very specific about what can be built on this property in addition to all the other lots. They had an intent at the turn of the 20th century.”
“We want to save what it is a very unique block,” added Edna May Carlson, a resident of the block since 1973. “Our northern side of the block is landmarked, and we're exactly the same. The houses have been in place for over 100 years with little changes to the outside.”
To help fund their legal battle, Fenimore Street residents have set up a GoFundMe page that has raised $4,000 of its $20,000 goal.