PRESERVATION IN ACTION
Since 1982 FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts has been dedicated to preserving and celebrating the architectural legacy, livability, and sense of place of the Upper East Side.
Our advocacy goes beyond traditional historic preservation. We are also the leading voice for common-sense development on the Upper East Side. FRIENDS has played – and continues to play – an important role in maintaining and improving the zoning laws which govern development on the area’s avenues and residential side streets.
Building on decades of experience, FRIENDS recently published a comprehensive planning study of the Yorkville neighborhood, identifying what contributes to its special character, and what is threatening it. To amplify that vision, we published Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville, a richly illustrated chronicle of Yorkville and its architectural legacy. As vocal advocates, FRIENDS regularly monitors, attends and testifies before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, City Planning Commission, Community Board, Board of Standards and Appeals, Public Design Commission, and New York City Council to encourage appropriate preservation and development on the Upper East Side. When needed, FRIENDS mounts administrative or legal challenges to private or public actions that might adversely affect our neighborhood.
In addition to advocating for sound zoning and land use policies that will encourage reasonable development, FRIENDS continues bring attention to its fight against out-of-scale developments that threaten neighborhood character and exploit loopholes and strategies never intended by the city’s Zoning Resolution through challenges to specific buildings and developments in our neighborhood.
Friends has been involved in several challenges to buildings either planned or under construction that have used these manipulations, which include gerrymandered zoning lots, enormous floor to floor heights, and vast intra-building voids that can be approved as mechanical spaces even though they are empty, and are only intended to raise a building’s height.
Planning & Zoning for Livable Neighborhoods
In 2015, FRIENDS commissioned BFJ Planning to examine the parts of the Upper East Side most vulnerable to out-of-scale development, while identifying the values and resources that create its special sense of place, including its history as the immigrant community of Yorkville. In response to findings from the study, FRIENDS is working to examine ways to amend our area’s zoning to help encourage reasonable, rather than out-of-scale, buildings, and reinforce its character.
The results of the study were published in The Upper East Side-A Framework for the Future of Five Neighborhoods, which identified specific development risks threatening community integrity in the neighborhoods of Lenox Hill, Yorkville, East Harlem, Carnegie Hill, and the Upper East Side. Risks include the loss of existing small businesses and a diverse range of housing options, including a vast stock of stabilized and regulated housing (38 percent of all parcels in the Study Area included affordable units).
Yorkville Initiative, Illustrated History & Video
As a part of our holistic mission to preserve the many facets of neighborhood character, FRIENDS undertook a comprehensive study of historic Yorkville, the multi-cultural neighborhood that was home to waves of immigrants in the 19th and early-20th century. Our research culminated in the 2018 publication of Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville, and an accompanying video that together bring the compelling legacy of Yorkville’s architectural and immigrant history to a broad public.
FRIENDS is committed to the protection of the many buildings that embody that heritage, while also enriching the beauty and complexity of the neighborhood. The scale and detailing of the tenements and early apartment buildings, the unique characteristics and historical context of each religious property, and the message of humanity in the educational and philanthropic institutions in Yorkville must remain as integral parts of its future.
Positions & Testimony
The Preservation Committee at FRIENDS reviews every Upper East Side Certificate of Appropriateness item before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, offering advisory testimony at each public hearing. Hearings range from the review of small items such as window replacements in buildings located in one of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, to larger items such as wholly new facades or even the occasional new building within the districts. Our Preservation Committee also plays an important role in monitoring the work and policies of the Landmarks Preservation Commission as an agency.
You can help us be the eyes and ears of the neighborhood! These maps help FRIENDS keep track of two important features – proposed new development, and the conditions of the 73 POPS, or Privately Owned Public Spaces, that grace our streets. If you know or notice something we may have missed, let us know.
UES FRIENDS' Development Tracker
In response to the ever-increasing number of large-scale developments on the Upper East Side, FRIENDS maintains an interactive Google map to track ongoing new construction in the neighborhood. Each pin on the map will bring you to a dedicated webpage featuring information on the architect, developer, building height, and relevant news stories. We will be periodically updating each development page as information becomes publicly available. See a new development that concerns you? Click here and let us know!
There are a total of 73 Privately Owned Public Spaces, also known as POPS or bonus plazas, on the Upper East Side. Together, they contribute to the meager 1% of land area on the Upper East Side that is comprised of park and open space, compared to 14% citywide. All of them were created by developers in exchange for building bonuses, with the requirement that all should be properly maintained for public enjoyment and use.
In response to the continued neglect and closing of many of these precious places, FRIENDS led an effort to require owners to bring their POPS up to the required standard. In 2017, a Local Law spearheaded by Council Member Ben Kallos was passed that requires building owners to post a sign on a POPS detailing the required amenities, imposes fines for violations, and mandates a survey of these sites by the Department of City Planning every three years.