The Real Deal New York

Despite Upper East Side pedigree, Yorkville still affordable

October 15, 2007
By Eric Marx

Viewed by some as one of the most affordable areas in Manhattan despite its Upper East Side pedigree, Yorkville has seen a continuous 10-year building boom that has kept inventory plentiful, although prices have begun to rise, as they have throughout the rest of the city.

A 65-block area running from 79th to 96th Street and Third to East End Avenue, Yorkville is still very much a neighborhood of contrasts – somewhat undervalued but affluent. The area attracts fresh-out-of-school graduates looking for affordable studios and one-bedrooms in the side street walkups or high-rise apartments west of Second Avenue on 79th, 86th or 96th Streets, as well as families with young children who want to be near East End’s Carl Schulz Park.

A neighborhood bursting at the seams with residential high-rise development, Yorkville is often associated with the towering edifices that, according to old-time residents, make the area around First, Second and Third Avenues somewhat cold and forbidding.

A serene, small-town residential feel still dominates the low-lying townhouses and prewar tenement buildings that dot the side streets. Further east along York and East End Avenues’ rolling promenades, open green spaces and discreet restaurants and shops lend the neighborhood a parochial, even folksy air.

“It used to be much more of a bargain than it is now,” said Seiglinda O’Donnell, a 30-plus-year East End resident and vice president with William B. May. She offered as an example a three-bedroom post-war apartment on 86th Street between First and York Avenues, which she sold for $452,000 four years ago and which has since doubled to $925,000.

Recently built high-end buildings such as the Chartwell House (finished in 2001) on Second Avenue between 91st and 92nd Streets and the Philip Johnson-designed Metropolitan at 90th and Third Avenue (nearing completion) filled up quickly and are near 100 percent occupancy, noted Gordon Golub, manager of Citi Habitats’ East 84th Street office.

With interest rates rising, many buyers are turning to the rental market instead, and rental prices for high-end apartments in the area have increased more than 10 percent in the past six months, according to Golub.

Overall, in the past four years, about 1,000 rental units have been developed along First Avenue in the high 80s and low 90s, most of them in the $2,400 to $5,000 a month range, Golub said.

Older luxury high-rise buildings such as the Normandie Court at Third Avenue and 95th Street are also seeking to draw more high-end renters by combining units to draw families to the building.

“We’ve already noticed a change in more married couple types and families,” said John Sutherland, director of leasing for Ogden Cap Properties, which manages the Normandie Court, a 20-year-old 1,477-unit complex that has a reputation as one of the most affordable high-rise buildings in Manhattan.

In recent months, the Normandie added a children’s playroom and renovated its apartments, with particular attention focused on combining units to form larger two and three-bedroom apartments.

“We still have a number of people fresh out of college and sharing units, but the big difference is they’re paying more money,” Sutherland said of the building, which has earned the nickname “Dormandy Court” because of its young population.

Sutherland said rents have increased roughly 10 percent at the Normandie in the past six months, part of the first sustained resurgence for rentals in the city since Sept. 11.

Going forward, in addition to expansion northward, the neighborhood could soon see new residential development at the site formerly known as Doctor’s Hospital on East End Avenue, opposite Gracie Mansion. The trustees of Beth Israel Hospital voted in May to sell the site, and have reportedly attracted over 40 bids, most of which have plans for residential development. The site could be one of the most valuable sold for development in years.

With the new and existing development, Yorkville’s density is a concern to some residents and community activists like Gorman Reilly, president of CIVITAS, a zoning land use and neighborhood advocacy group. Reilly said the population is taking a toll on the transportation infrastructure in the area. “The M15 is the most heavily used bus route in the city, if not the nation, and it’s difficult to make any time [getting downtown],” Reilly said. He is lobbying the MTA for a rapid transit bus service for the area.

While the planned Second Avenue subway line – if it’s ever completed- could ease transportation woes, it would also spur on more condo and retail development as the area continues to evolve, said O’Donnell – something that she and other residents in the area said they welcomed.

“Up until six months ago Fresh Direct refused to deliver to the neighborhood,” said O’Donnell. “And now we have a health spa. We’re thrilled to pieces. The only thing we don’t have is a museum and a department store.”

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