Renovation of Fifth Avenue landmark blocked

Preliminary injunction issued after preservationists claim renovations exceeded proposal approved by Landmarks. In April 2011, Landmarks approved Vornado Realty Trust’s proposal to renovate the Manufacturers Trust Company Building at 510 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Landmarks designated the Skidmore, Owens & Merrill-designed, glass and metal building as an individual City landmark in 1997. In February 2011, Landmarks designated the building’s first two floors as an interior landmark.

Shortly after the interior landmarking, Vornado proposed converting the building to accommodate two retail tenants. The approved plans included creating two new entrances, demolishing an interior bank-vault wall, and relocating two escalators on the ground floor. 8 CityLand 63 (May 15, 2011). Vornado began renovations after it obtained a certificate of appropriateness in May 2011.

In July 2011, a group made up of the Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation and four residents challenged Landmarks’ approval of Vornado’s proposal. The group claimed that demolition and renovation work on the building had exceeded the work approved by Landmarks and asked a lower court to stop Vornado from performing additional work on the building. Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings issued a temporary restraining order blocking Vornado from working on the building. Vornado and Landmarks moved to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that the Citizens Emergency Committee and the residents lacked standing to challenge Landmarks’ approval or to enforce the City’s landmarks law. Justice Billings denied the motion to dismiss and converted the temporary restraining order to a preliminary injunction. 

Justice Billings found that one of the residents had established standing. Professor Eric Allison, from Pratt Institute, regularly led architectural students on walking tours of the building to demonstrate its importance as an example of mid-20th century International Style. According to Billings, Allison’s focus on the building’s aesthetic, architectural, and historic value “unquestionably” embodied the interest intended to be protected under the landmarks law. The Citizens Emergency Committee, of which Allison was also a founding member, established standing because the organization represented the interests and objectives sought by the challenge. Finally, Justice Billings refused to dismiss the challenge, noting that the record before the court was incomplete.

Allison v. LPC, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op 3228(U) (N.Y.Cty.Sup.Ct Aug. 18, 2011) (Billings, J.) (Attorneys: Albert K. Butzel and Michael S. Gruen for Allison and Citizens Emergency Committee; Maria T. Vullo and Aliza J. Balog for Vornado; Amy Weinblatt for LPC).

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