As reported by our allies the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, the New York State Supreme Court recently upheld the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s denial of the hardship application by a developer on the Upper Eats Side seeking to demolish two historic buildings which are part of the landmarked City and Suburban Homes First Avenue Estate. This ruling affirms the City’s right to regulate landmark-designated properties. Click here for full press coverage of the case. GVSHP was part of a coalition which filed amicus briefs in support of denying the bogus hardship case.
We fully recognize that when there is a legitimate financial or other hardship, a property owner must be relieved of the obligations of landmark designation under the law, or some other accommodations must be made. But that does not mean one can claim ‘hardship’ without being able to prove it, and this developer certainly did not, claiming he was unable to rent apartments in this Upper East Side property in a prime location at rents which would support it maintenance and operation.
In fact, this developer has tried every tactic imaginable over the years to try to avoid or get around landmark designation of these historic buildings and demolish them, including stripping them of their architectural ornament.But the historic significance of these buildings is nevertheless self-evident.
The complex was developed between 1898 and 1915 by the City and Suburban Homes Company to address subpar housing issues and they continue to be a source of affordable housing on the Upper East Side. Most of the block was designated a landmark in 1990 and the designation was amended in 2006 to include the two remaining buildings. Although the buildings may not look too unique at first glance, they were designated for the significance of their design and their pioneering role in social housing reform.
According to the designation report, this property “is the oldest extant urban project of the most successful of the privately financed, limited-dividend companies which attempted to address the housing problems of the nation’s working poor at the turn of the twentieth century; that the company’s investors included many prominent New Yorkers; that the investors voluntarily agreed to limit their profits from the company in order to provide wage-earners with comfortable, safe, hygienic, well-maintained housing at market rates; that by paying a dividend, the company attempted to establish what its president E.R.L. Gould described as “a middle ground between pure philanthropy and pure business” to encourage others to invest in housing of an equally high caliber; that City and Suburban’s success in building model tenements encouraged others to enter the field, notably industrialist Henry Phipps who established the Phipps Houses in 1905; that in the 1930s when the federal government began to seriously develop a national housing policy, City and Suburban’s large-scale development projects, management techniques, and financial structure were studied as guides for the development of new programs; that from its inception City and Suburban Homes has been linked to the light-court tenement, a building type first proposed by architect Ernest Flagg in Scribner’s Magazine in 1894 as an economically viable alternative to the dark, unventilated dumbbell tenements of the period.”
Click here to read the LPC designation report.