Landmarks rules against First Avenue Estates demolition

The Landmark and Preservation Commission did not grant developer "hardship" exception

May.May 21, 2014 12:45 PM

UPDATED, 1:00 p.m., May 21Two historic buildings on the upper east side, which house 190 affordable units, will remain standing following a ruling by the Landmark and Preservation Commission. 

The Stahl Organizaion has proposed to build a skyscraper at that location, which will include affordable units. To be able to do so, however, two six-story buildings known as the City and Suburban First Avenue Estates, which house hundreds of affordable apartments, will have to be torn down.

The same topic was discussed on a Crain’s panel on the topic on Tuesday, when experts all agreed that the current landmarking policy is in dire need of reform. 

The First Avenue Estates on York Avenue between 64th and 65th streets, on which construction began in 1898, include spacious apartments and small courtyards. The Stahl Organization started buying the buildings on the block in the 1980s, with ultimate plans to construct a big development there. In 1990 — and then again in 2006 — the buildings were designated as landmarks, based on their lay out and place in history. The Stahl Organization has altered the facade of the buildings over the years.

Stahl, also the developer of the highest residential tower in Brooklyn and a total of five million square feet of property in the city, is asking for a “hardship” exception from the Landmark and Preservation Commission, arguing that the organization is currently unable to achieve an annual 6 percent return on investment because of the size of the building and its rent regulations. The scope and scale of the new tower that would be built on the site is still unclear, and the majority of the 190 apartments in the buildings are unoccupied.

The Landmark and Preservation Commission on Wednesday decided that the building could be profitable, especially if Stahl decided to fill the building’s vacant units. The apartments average 370 square feet.

Councilman Benjamin Kallos, who represents the district, told the New York Times he hopes the hardship exception isn’t granted.

“No matter how many affordable units they promise to build,” Kallos told the paper, “it can never make up for the generation of rent-regulated apartments that have sat vacant for decades now.” [NYT]  – Claire Moses

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