CITY AND SUBURBAN FIRST AVENUE ESTATE
As of October 2019, the City and Suburban First Avenue Estate has been saved from demolition, thanks to a years-long, hard-fought battle waged by the LPC, our elected officials, and concerned preservation organizations like FRIENDS.
The First Avenue Estate is a full-block complex built by the City and Suburban Homes Company between 1898 and 1915, and designed by architect James E. Ware & Sons. The First Avenue Estate is the oldest, and was the most successful, of New York’s privately-financed, limited-dividend, Model Tenements, which endeavored to give low-income New Yorkers access to safe, clean homes.
As pioneering experiments in workers’ housing, these “light-court tenements” featured interior courtyards, wide stairwells and large windows, offering tenants an abundance of light and cross-breeze, amenities that were unheard of in workers’ housing up to that time. Those amenities made First Avenue Estate a haven for a diverse immigrant population, which would have otherwise been relegated to cramped and dangerous tenements. According to the 1930 census, residents had immigrated from Serbia and Switzerland; Czechoslovakia and Ireland; Finland and Italy; Austria and Yugoslavia. The complex helped make Yorkville a melting pot, and allowed people from all over the world to live with dignity as they made new lives in America.
The designation of this complex as an Individual Landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has been vigorously opposed by its owner since its first designation in 1990. Since then, the owner of the complex, Stahl York Avenue, has tried multiple times to overturn the designation, and has challenged its status administratively as part of a hardship challenge to the LPC, and in Court. Most recently, NYS Court of Appeals denied Stahl’s motion for permission to further appeal the case. The very brief decision stated the appeal was dismissed upon the ground that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved. In October 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Stahl an appeal for the second time, bringing this years-long fight to an end!
For a detailed description of the Hardship Application and legal fight, see the Timeline of Events below. Read the original designation report and its 2006 amendment here.
Timeline of Events
The U.S. Supreme Court has DENIED Stahl’s petition for writ of certiorari seeking permission to appeal the case to the nation’s highest court. Following the NYS Court of Appeals’ denial to appeal the case in December 2018, this route was the last legal option available to Stahl in its years-long battle to demolish and develop the City & Suburban Homes First Avenue Estate site.
Like the groundbreaking Penn Central case of 1978, this legal victory affirms the City’s right to regulate landmark-designated properties as a benefit to “all New York citizens… and quality of life in the city as a whole.”
The future of the First Avenue Estate is now safe!
The NYS Court of Appeals has denied Stahl’s motion for permission to further appeal the case. The very brief decision stated the appeal was dismissed “upon the ground that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved.” This is the final level of the NYS court system, and this victory upholds the lower court and the LPC’s denial of the hardship case. Though the federal case has been over since November 2016, Stahl may now seek to appeal the state case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The NYS Appellate Division has upheld the lower court ruling and the LPC decision on the hardship case. The decision reads, “First, the extension of the FAE landmark designation to include the two buildings in question did not result in any further economic impact on Stahl beyond that resulting from preexisting legal restrictions limiting Stahl’s use of the property even absent landmark status, such as rent control and rent stabilization. Second, Stahl’s reasonable investment-backed expectations were not destroyed by the inclusion of the two buildings within the FAE landmark designation. As the LPC determined, the buildings in question are capable of earning a reasonable return, limiting the designation’s economic impact on petitioner. Third, the character of the government action in question favors the LPC, since, as the Court in Penn Central found, the ‘preservation of landmarks benefits all New York citizens and all structures’ and ‘improv[es] the quality of life in the city as a whole’ (id. at 134).” Read the entire court ruling here.
Although the federal case is over, Stahl continues to push on at the state level and has filed an appeal to the New York State Appellate Division. Read FRIENDS’ amicus curiae brief here.
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Stahl the chance to appeal, which means that the federal case is over! The New York State case is still pending, but experts are confident that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision will have a direct impact on the outcome of the State case.
The NYS Supreme Court has upheld the LPC’s denial of the hardship application and refuted the claim that the City’s action was an unconstitutional taking. The decision reads, “Stahl has not met its burden of demonstrating that respondents acted arbitrarily or capriciously or in violation of law by denying Stahl’s hardship application. Stahl has not set forth a cause of action for an unconstitutional taking and thus has no viable claim either for money damages, costs, or attorneys’ fees.” Read the full decision here.
The Federal Court has dismissed Stahl’s lawsuit for “failure to state a cause of action for a substantive due process violation.” Read the entire ruling here.
Read the City’s Reply Memo of Law in Further Opposition here.
Read the Amicus Curiae Brief from FRIENDS here.
Read the City’s Motion to Dismiss Stahl’s petition here.
THE LPC HAS VOTED UNANIMOUSLY TO DENY THE FIRST AVENUE ESTATE HARDSHIP APPLICATION!! FRIENDS praises the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for voting unanimously to deny Stahl York Avenue’s request to demolish landmark affordable housing on the Upper East Side. A hearty round of applause goes to tenants, neighbors, advocates, and elected officials who have worked tirelessly over the last four years on this hardship case. Thanks especially to those who contributed financially to our effort, as well as the following champions of this cause: Former Council Member Jessica Lappin, Council Member Benjamin Kallos, the Historic Districts Council*, Friends of the First Avenue Estate, Concerned Citizens of East 64th & East 65th Streets-First to York Avenues, Residents of 429 East 64th & 430 East 65th Streets, and, of course, the Landmarks Preservation Commission for making the right decision!
*FRIENDS is thrilled to be included in the Coalition to Save the First Avenue Estate, recipients of a 2014 Grassroots Award from the Historic Districts Council!!
Read the Landmarks Preservation Commission's final decision here, and hearing transcript here.
Read the most recent response from Stahl York Avenue here.
Read the correspondence from this winter between Stahl York Avenue and the Landmarks Preservation Commission here.
Read yet another submission from Stahl York Avenue here, in response to questions posed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission at the October public meeting.
Read the latest submission from Stahl York Avenue here, in advance of a public meeting on Tuesday, October 29th.
Read Stahl York Avenue’s response to questions from the Landmarks Preservation Commission following last year’s hearing here.
Read the latest submission to the Landmarks Preservation Commission from Stahl York Avenue Co., LLC., including:
- Kramer Levin Letter
- Wolpert Letter
- 2012 Comparative Economic Feasibility Study
- Gleeds New Elevator Scheme
- Gleeds Market Rehab Scheme
View Stahl York Avenue’s presentation here and read over 200 pages of testimony from FRIENDS, elected officials, preservation organizations, and members of the public here, here, and here, respectively.
Read the Independent Economic Feasibility Study prepared by HR&A Advisors, on behalf of FRIENDS here.
Responding to Misleading Arguments Against Local Landmark Laws, by David Brown. National Trust for Historic Preservation, July 25, 2016
New York City’s Landmarks Commission Wins Important Takings Lawsuit, by William Cook. National Trust for Historic Preservation, March 29, 2016
Judge Rules Against Stahl in UES Demolition Case Against Landmarks Commission, by Terence Cullen. Commercial Observer, January 14, 2016
Judge Rules Against Stahl In UES Landmarks Hardship Case, by Evan Bindelglass. Curbed, January 14, 2016
Two Upper East Side tenement buildings will keep their landmark status, to developer's and owners' dismay, by Barbara Ross. New York Daily News, January 12, 2016
Landlord Sues for Permission to Raze Landmarked Buildings, by Jeremiah Budin. Curbed, September 26, 2014
Stahl Organization sues city over landmark rentals, by Adam Pincus. The Real Deal, September 25, 2014
A Cautious Victory for Yorkville Tenants, by Megan Finnegan Bungeroth & Omar Crespo. Our Town, May 28, 2014
Landmarks Still Won't Let Developer Raze UES Tenements. Curbed, May 21, 2014
Landmarks Denies Developer’s Upper East Side Demolition Plans, by Al Barbarino. Commercial Observer, May 21, 2014
Landmarks Panel Votes to Protect 2 Upper East Side Tenements, by Matt A.V. Chaban. New York Times, May 20, 2014
LPC Says Landlord Warehoused Units in Rejecting Demolition Bid, by Lindsay Armstrong. DNAinfo, May 20, 2014
Landmark Status Could Block Luxury Tower Plans at Upper East Side Site, by Matt A.V. Chaban. New York Times, May 20, 2014
UES Building Caught in Landmarks Fight Allowed to Deteriorate, Tenants Say, by Lindsay Armstrong. DNAInfo, March 10, 2014
Landmarks Commission Slams Landlord's Hardship Application, by Jeremiah Budin. Curbed, October 30, 2013
Stahl's Plan to Demolish a Landmark Might be Falling Apart, by Jeremiah Budin. Curbed, June 12, 2013
UES Landlord and Preservation Group to Meet Before LPC Over Apartment Demolitions, by Billy Gray. Commercial Observer, June 11, 2013
Fate of 2 historic UES tenements weighed, by Matt Chaban. Crain’s, June 10, 2013
Landlord Seeks Demolition, Argues Buildings Aren't Profitable, by Hana R. Alberts. Curbed, June 10, 2013
Tenants fight Stahl plans to demolish their homes, by Sarah Trefethen. Real Estate Weekly, February 9, 2012
Upper East Side Landlord's $600 Rent Claim Disputed, by Amy Zimmer. DNAinfo, January 24, 2012
New Spat Over Upper East Side Rent, by Laura Kusisto. Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2012
Owner Of UES Landmarks Seeks Permission To Tear Them Down, by Rebecca Spitz. New York 1, January 7, 2012
Landmarks Are Called a Hardship, Setting Off a Fight, by Joseph Berger. The New York Times, April 20, 2011
York Ave. Tenants Fight Plan to “De-landmark” Building, by Megan Finnegan. Our Town, April 13, 2011
Tenants Battle Landlord Over Fate of Landmarked Upper East Side Buildings, by Amy Zimmer. DNAInfo, April 13, 2011
Court Upholds Landmark Status of City and Suburban First Avenue Estates, by Robin Pogrebin. New York Times, June 25, 2010
For a Landmark Un-landmarked, a Bid to Undo the Undoing, by Jake Mooney. New York Times, November 12, 2006