Council reverses 16-year-old Bd. of Estimate vote

Council re-designated buildings despite owner’s offer to tenants. On February 1, 2007, the City Council voted unanimously to overturn one of the final actions of the Board of Estimate. In 1990, Landmarks designated the entire 15-building complex called the First Avenue Estate that occupies the block bounded by East 64th and East 65th Streets and York and First Avenues. At its final meeting, the Board of Estimate carved out two buildings from the designation to allow the owners to redevelop the site.

The new development never materialized, and residents and preservationists pushed the City to re-designate the buildings. After a 16-year delay, Landmarks voted in November 2006 to reestablish all 15 buildings as an individual landmark. 3 CityLand 169 (Dec. 2006).

When the designation came up for confirmation – this time to the City Council – Council Member Jessica Lappin, Chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks & Public Siting, voiced support even before the public had a chance to speak, commenting that it presented a rare opportunity to “right a wrong created by government.” She added that its significance rested in the fact that it was “a full-lot tenement.”

After residents and preservationists added their support, owner Stahl York Avenue Company’s attorney, Paul Selver, testified in opposition. Selver’s main challenge to the designation came from the landmarks law, which requires that a building be “special” to substantiate designation. Selver argued that the First Avenue Estate failed to meet this standard because its developers, the City and Suburban Homes Company, constructed its first, full-block affordable housing tenement one block away, called the York Avenue Estate. Since special means “singular,” he argued, the York Avenue Estate, a designated landmark, provided the best example of City and Suburban’s altruistic housing principle.

If the Council permitted Stahl to construct a new building on the site by a renowned architect, Selver explained that Stahl would retain 200 apartments, relocate displaced tenants to comparable apartments on the block, and would invest $15 million in the restoration of the remaining 13 designated buildings. Stahl’s new building could become a “landmark of the future,” Selver argued, adding that, if Landmarks existed in the 1930s, the city might not have the Empire State Building since its construction required demolition of the original Waldorf- Astoria Hotel.

Lappin told Selver that he incorrectly referred to the Council’s action as “designation.” Landmarks designated the buildings twice, Lappin said, and the Council only confirmed that action. She then added that the City has no need for a future landmark on the site, because “it has a landmark of the present.” When Selver responded to her arguments by saying the Council “should not rush” its vote, Lappin responded “it has been 16 years.”

Responding to questions by Council Member James Oddo, Selver confirmed that Stahl never discussed the relocation offer with the buildings’ tenants, and it was making it for the first time at the hearing.

After the public hearing closed, the subcommittee voted unanimously to confirm Landmarks’ designation. The full Council followed its recommendation.

Council: City and Suburban Homes Company First Avenue Estate, 429 E. 64th Street and 430 E. 65th Street (Feb. 1, 2007). CITYADMIN

One thought on “Council reverses 16-year-old Bd. of Estimate vote

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.