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Norah Jones home sparks push for Landmark changes

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It looks like the window of opportunity to have a glass-heavy landmarked home just like Norah Jones’ is closing.

The push is on to change a city Landmark’s Preservation Commission’s (LPC) rule that last year allowed Jones to add ten windows on the side of her home on Amity Street in Cobble Hill without a public hearing -- a move that drew the ire of neighbors and landmarks preservationists.

Moments after the inauguration in City Hall, freshman City Councilmember Brad Lander (D, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens) said that one of his first acts in office will be to “work with residents of Cobble Hill and preservationists throughout the city to propose a change to the law.”

City officials said Jones’ contractor went in front of the Landmarks Commission back in June with some modest interior changes in mind. The LPC approved the changes, which did not raise any red flags with the community.

The contractor returned to the LPC a few months later with their request to put ten windows on the side of her $4.9 million 19th Century Greek revival home looking out onto a side lot of a neighboring coop.

The LPC approved the changes in house, explained Lisi de Bourbon, an LPC spokesperson.

As of this writing, coop officials and Jones’ people have been in negotiations to reduce the number of windows on the side facade. Jones has agreed to reduce her side windows from ten to seven.

“The rule exists to allow the [LPC] staff to make these kind of approvals if it’s not the front facade of the house so they had the authority to approve [the changes to Jones’ home],” Lander explained. “But when a sidewall is so visible to the street, they should follow the rules that govern the front facade of the building and hold a public hearing before a change.”

Despite the clamor of the Cobble Hill Association and other neighborhood preservationists, the LPC is sticking to their guns, refusing to change their decision.

Roy Sloane, the president of the Cobble Hill Association, recently sent the LPC a detailed letter with several technical reasons as to why the side windows should be denied.

“We found out that there are 52 buildings in the area that were built pre-1850,” Sloane said. “About twelve of them had additions to their walls over the years, but none of them had ten windows.”

“We felt we proved that this is a precedent setting decision,” Sloane said. “That’s our concern -- a new precedent like this shouldn’t be made without a public hearing.”

The LPC responded on December 8, shooting down each and every argument.

“This application [for the windows] satisfies the criteria of the rule and the Permit for Minor Work was properly issued,” wrote Mark Silberman, General Counsel to the LPC. “While I understand that this is not the answer you were looking for, I would remind you that these specific rules have been in existence for many, many years.”

Sloane said that this is not the first time these rules have rubbed preservationists the wrong way.

“We and the Historic District Council are using this as an opportunity to get these rules changed and we’re glad that Brad will be helping,” said Sloane. “Our hope has always been that neighbors work together to cooperatively resolve issues.”

“We want our residents happy and Norah Jones happy and living in Cobble Hill,” he said.

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