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Owner Of UES Landmarks Seeks Permission To Tear Them Down

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The owner of two landmarked buildings on the Upper East Side is attempting to have their status revoked so that they can be torn down, and Community Board 8 will hold a hearing Monday on the controversial proposal. NY1’s Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.

Two very different looking buildings are actually part of the same complex at the First Avenue Estate, which is a city landmark.

Its owner is now trying to get that designation overturned in order to demolish the structures and develop new ones.

"When it was built, it was the first of its kind—affordable, clean, sanitary housing for the working people of this city—and it has remained affordable housing, and we want to keep it that way," says City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin.

Built between 1898 and 1915, the complex was the city's first privately-funded housing for the working poor.

In 1990, the buildings were designated as individual landmarks, but the owner, Stahl York Avenue, managed to have two of them un-landmarked almost immediately.

Preservationists say the owner then went to work to try to prevent them from ever being landmarked again.

"They began work on the facades, removed all the architectural detail, removed the cornice, stripped it of all of its ornamentation and then installed this ugly pink stucco," says Tara Kelly of Friends of the UES Historic Districts.

Kelly says the buildings were returned to landmark status in 2006. Now the buildings' owner has filed a so-called hardship application with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to seek permission to tear them down.

He wouldn't go on camera, but he says in his filings that he can't make a six percent profit on the property as defined by the landmarks law: Preservationists say he's intentionally keeping as many as 110 of the 190 apartments in the two buildings vacant.

People NY1 spoke with say the buildings should stay.

"I think people in New York should have a history. If everything is just a high rise modern building, it could be Anywhere, USA," said one New Yorker.

"Whatever the modernization you want, you can do it, but inside. Outside you should keep it as it is to show how old it is," said another.

Community Board 8 has a committee hearing on this issue Monday night, and the hardship application goes before the Landmarks Preservation Commission later this month.

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