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Landlord Wants to Raze Landmarked Walk-Ups For New High-Rises

By Amy Zimmer | January 7, 2012 6:20pm
An image of First Avenue Estate after the landlord stripped the facade in December 2007.
An image of First Avenue Estate after the landlord stripped the facade in December 2007.
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Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts Council

MANHATTAN — It’s not easy to tear down a city landmark — but that’s what a landlord of two historic Upper East Side walk-ups is trying to do.

The Stahl real estate organization claims it needs to tear down 429 East 64th and 430 East 65th streets, telling the Landmarks Preservation Commission the buildings don’t generate enough cash and should be replaced by a shiny new high-rise with East River views.

The firm first submitted its “hardship application” in September 2010, making changes this summer. The LPC will hold a hearing on the application on Jan. 24.

Stahl’s six-story buildings along York Avenue are part the City and Suburban Homes First Avenue Estate complex. The 15 walk-up apartment buildings, built between 1898 and 1915, were the first privately built apartments to address the sub-standard housing conditions of poor workers across the city. Many of the apartments continue to be rent-stabilized.

According to Stahl’s application to the LPC, more than 100 of the building's 190 apartments are vacant. The landlord has admitted to warehousing units to prepare for demolition, residents said.

It would cost more than $2 million to make the vacant units “lawful and habitable,” the application said. The apartments, which average 371 square feet, would generate an average rent of $600 a month, the application added. The landlord claimed the building would then be operating at a net loss of $530,943  — or 12 percent — in the first year following a renovation.

Monica McLauglin, who has lived at the building for 20 years, found Stahl’s rent figures laughable.

"You can’t even rent out your bathroom for as little as $600 a month in this area, even if you have to sleep in the bathtub and cook on a hot plate," she explained.

McLaughlin pointed out that Stahl also owns Apple Bank, saying, "This is a perfect example of the 1 percent just taking over. There one set of laws [for everyone else] and one set of laws for them."

This marks the 18th hardship application submitted to the LPC since the landmarks law was enacted in 1965, noted Tara Kelly, executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, a group fighting the plan.

It would be only the fourth submitted by for-profit landlord, Kelly said, noting the odds were in the building owner's favor since all the others were passed.

"We hope that the commission is able to evaluate the application on its merits — which is none," said Kelly, also calling Stahl’s calculations "preposterous."

"These are important buildings for their cultural and social significance," Kelly said. "They were the first privately-] funded affordable housing, and they were so much more humane and generous than similar housing at the time."

Stahl did not respond to requests for comment.

"We’re just preparing ourselves for what might be an inevitable lawsuit," McLaughlin said. "Because if we lose, we sue. If they lose, they sue."

Public hearings on the application begin on Mon., Jan. 9. 

Community Board 8’s Landmarks Committee will have a hearing on the application on Jan. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Marymount Manhattan College, 221 East 71st St.,, Regina Peruggi Room, 2nd Fl.

Community Board 8’s full board will hear it on Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at Ramaz School, 125 East 85th St., Auditorium.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will have a hearing on Jan. 24 at the Municipal Building, 1 Centre St., 9th Fl. (Time to be determined.)