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MAS Praises Court Decision on First Avenue Estate Buildings

city suburban first avenue estateMAS applauds last week’s decision of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which upheld the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s re-designation of two buildings on the Upper East Side. The buildings, which were built at the turn of the 20th century, are part of the City and Suburban Company’s First Avenue Estate model tenement complex and are important for their innovative design as well as in their role in social housing reform. MAS filed an amicus brief (that is, a brief filed as a friend of the court) in support of the designation. “MAS is very pleased with the court’s decision to uphold the LPC’s designation,” said MAS President Vin Cipolla. “It is crucial that we celebrate both our architectural and social heritage, and the lasting impact of the City & Suburban Company’s efforts to improve low income housing through projects like the First Avenue Estate. “Just as crucial, and as argued in our amicus brief,” he continued “is that the expertise of the LPC be accorded appropriate deference in matters of determining which of our City’s historic resources are sufficiently ‘special’ to merit designation.” The buildings were first designated as landmarks in 1990 as part of a larger City and Suburban First Avenue Estate. The site consists of a full block of light-court tenement buildings and is bounded by First and York Avenues, between 64th and 65th streets. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, light-court tenements were an essential aspect of the reform housing movement in New York City, offering an alternative to the dark, unventilated housing in which the city’s poor lived. In designating the site, the LPC noted both the complex’s architectural and historical significance. In addition to noting the buildings’ physical features, the LPC’s designation report stressed that the First Avenue Estate “can be seen as an important achievement in the social housing movement.” Notwithstanding the buildings’ merits, the now-defunct Board of Estimate, during its final session, modified the designation of the First Avenue Estate and removed the buildings from among those included as part of the landmark site. Sixteen years later, at the urging of MAS and local groups, principally the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, the LPC amended the designation to include all of the originally designated buildings. The City Council affirmed the amendment to the designation in February of 2007. MAS was joined in filing by the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Friends of First Avenue Estate and New York City Council Member Jessica Lappin. Amici argued, and the Appellate Division ruled, that the lower court properly found the LPC’s amendment of the designation to include the buildings originally excluded by the Board of Estimate to be rational and supported by the record before it. The Court also adopted MAS’s position that the buildings were sufficiently special to merit designation notwithstanding minor alterations to their facades in the interim between their original and amended designations; the designation of a similar site elsewhere in the City; and limited variations among the buildings contained on the landmark site.