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Locals, Pols Demand City Save East Village Buildings Slated for Demolition

By Allegra Hobbs | August 22, 2016 5:58pm
 Protesters outside 112-120 E. 11th St. chanted
Protesters outside 112-120 E. 11th St. chanted "Save our history! Save our housing!"
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — Community members and elected officials on Monday rallied at the site of five pre-war buildings slated for demolition, demanding the city take action to save the structures before they are replaced by a trendy hotel development.

As The Lightstone Group prepares to demolish a row of 19th-century tenement buildings spanning 112-120 E. 11th St. to make way for a hotel catering to millennials, neighborhood groups whose initial efforts to save the buildings were snubbed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission are doubling down on their request, demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio intervene before the wrecking ball seals the deal. 

“The lack of this administration’s [action] to save these buildings and save our history is shocking,” said Elizabeth Oyen of the East Village Community Coalition, one of several groups that penned a letter in June asking the LPC to consider designating the block between Third and Fourth avenues a historic district, noting the agency itself had put forward the potential designation during a 2008 East Village rezoning.

But the commission never put the potential designation on its calendar, and two weeks ago the developer filed for permits to demolish the buildings.

“Where was the mayor? This was affordable housing,” continued Oyen. “Where was the Landmark Preservation Commission? This was a historically significant row of buildings.”

Group members and dozens of locals gathered outside the buildings, where workers have already started asbestos abatement ahead of demolition, waving signs demanding “housing not hotels” while chanting “Save our history! Save our housing!”

The protesters were joined by state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who is also demanding de Blasio himself take action to thwart the demolition, arguing the supposed failure by the LPC falls under his leadership. 

“It’s his administration, and I am very disappointed at the LPC,” said Hoylman. “That is their mission. I think they have clearly failed, in this case, to respond to concerns of preservationists and offer an explanation as to why they are no longer protecting the buildings or even considering to protect them.” 

Hoylman also noted the mayor in July appointed Lightstone CEO David Lichtenstein to the Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors — a body that purportedly “leverages the City’s assets” to ensure “equitable and sustainable” development” — which the senator argues should give Lichtenstein a greater understanding of the need to preserve housing and historical structures in the neighborhood. 

“I think he’s in a unique position to do the right thing here,” said Hoylman of Lichtenstein’s role on the EDC board.

Though it is unknown how many of the roughly 100 now-vacated units were considered "affordable," The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has stated that several of the units were rent-stabilized. Hoylman said his office is looking into the circumstances surrounding the removal of the buildings' tenants.

Lightstone partnered with Marriott International to bring four of the group’s youth-centric Moxy Hotels to the city in the coming years, and bought up the East 11th Street site in May for one of the developments, as first reported by The Real Deal

Community members quickly moved to pitch the designation that would save the “wonderfully intact” Beaux Arts-style structures, which they argued represent the East Village’s immigrant past.

A spokeswoman for the LPC said the commission did review the request, but ultimately determined the block did not meet the standards necessary for a historic designation. 

“After careful review, the commission responded to this inquiry on Aug. 9, finding that the nine buildings submitted for historic district consideration lack cohesion and a distinct sense of place in terms of age, scale, typology and their siting on only a portion of the block, and therefore, do not rise to the level of architectural significance necessary for designation as an historic district,” said LPC spokeswoman Damaris Olivo.

A mayoral spokesman stated that while a designation from the LPC would have prevented the buildings from being demolished, it would not have preserved the residences inside or prevented a developer from operating them as a hotel. A Department of City Planning spokesman further clarified that the development required no land use actions from the agency, as the hotel use is compatible with the area's zoning.

A representative for Lightstone pointed to the LPC’s rejection of the request for a historic district, and stated that the development group has a record of preserving city history.

David Lichtenstein had previously been identified as the donor behind a $50,000 donation to the Nassau County Democratic Committee at the request of Ross Offinger, de Blasio's top fundraiser, the New York Post reported.

The Lightstone Group declined to comment on the report.