Landmarks Commission Slams Landlord’s Hardship Application

Six-story tenement buildings 429 East 64th Street and 430 East 65th Street were landmarked in 1990 due to their social and historical significance as some of the first progressive affordable housing blocks, with windows in every room to make the small units more livable, but promptly had their landmark status stripped by the soon-to-be-defunct Board of Estimate with the express purpose of allowing a developer to tear them down and build luxury housing. Sixteen years later, in 2006, the Landmarks Commission re-landmarked the buildings. The only problem: by then, owner Stahl Real Estate did have a plan in place to tear the buildings down, and they weren’t about to give it up easily.

Stahl’s first course of action when the buildings were calendared by the Landmarks Commission was to make them as ugly as possible, replacing the Beaux Arts-style exterior ornamentation with pink stucco. That didn’t work (well, it worked, but the Commission landmarked them anyway) so Stahl appealed the decision in court. They lost. Their next move was to file an economic hardship petition, claiming that, even with renovations, there was no way the two landmarked buildings could be made profitable. This approach was something of a hail mary.

Stahl’s legal counsel was back in front of the Landmarks Commission yesterday afternoon after making a similar—a very similar—presentation concerning the hardship petition back in June. That presentation was, to say the least, not well received by the Commission or the public, so Stahl was allowed to come back to address some of the questions, concerns, reproofs, invectives, and tirades that had previously come up. Much to the dismay of the commissioners, nothing had really changed. “The information we’re receiving is misleading,” said commissioner Margery Perlmutter, who went on to say that Stahl’s strategy of basing their presentation on 2009 market reports instead of current ones (the market having, you know, changed) “defies credibility.”

Other aspects of Stahl’s argument that the commissioners weren’t pleased about included the part where Stahl juked potential construction costs by pretending they could only renovate four units at a time; the part where Stahl claimed that the building was economically unviable because they had vacated it in anticipation of demolition; the part where Stahl said square footage is the most important factor in renting apartments (and not, for example, location, location, or location); the part where Stahl claimed that they couldn’t rent tiny studio apartments on East 65th Street for more than $800/month; the part where Stahl claimed that the buildings were not in close proximity to subways or shopping; the part where Stahl misrepresented the average square footage of the apartments they were trying to destroy; the part where Stahl had the nerve to call into question HR&A’s numbers crunching practices; and also all of the other parts.

The Commission delayed voting in order to leave the record open for two more weeks, but it’s no secret which way the wind is blowing on this application.

We  urgently need your support again. Please consider contributing toward  this important effort to save the First Avenue Estate, and the future of  every New York City landmark.

The record closes on November 12th. Please send your letter of OPPOSITION to:Chair Robert Tierney
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Municipal Building
One Centre Street, 9th Floor New York, NY 10007

Please call 212-535-2526, or email with any questions.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 by Jeremiah Budin in Curbed