City Moves To Designate West End Avenue as Historic District

scaffolding 732 wea City Moves To Designate West End Avenue as Historic DistrictThe city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is taking early steps toward designating as a historic district a large swath of West End Avenue, running from 70th Street to 107th Street.

The LPC is currently surveying side streets that will form the borders of the district, said LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon. The district would include the area proposed by local preservation groups, but West End Avenue will not be calendared, the first official step toward landmarking, until next year, after the survey is completed, she said.

“We are taking the preliminary steps to creating a district,” Ms. de Bourbon said. “Signs point in the direction that the commission is serious about this.”

“It is a priority. We understand the urgency, but at the same time, there are neighborhoods across the city that are fighting for districts as well,” she added. “We don’t have any established timeline, because we have so many things in the pipeline.”

The Upper West Side already includes seven historic districts, including West End Avenue from 87th Street to 94th Street and West End Avenue from 74th to 78th Street. This new district would encompass several existing districts, but it is still undecided how each area will be delineated.

Richard D. Emery, president of the West End Preservation Society, has been fighting for designation for the last two years. “The merits are overwhelming,” he said.

The WEPS has spearheaded the preservation movement, retaining Andrew Dolkart, a professor at Columbia University, to conduct a study of West End. The WEPS submitted his findings to the LPC in the spring of 2009; it also created an online petition that gained over 1,200 signatures supporting the designation.

 

THE WEPS FORMED IN JUNE 2007 in response to the threat of demolition of four brownstones: 508 and 510 West End, between 84th and 85th streets; and 732 and 734 West End Avenue, between 95th & 96th Streets; all are owned by Sackman Enterprises, Inc.

Alan Sackman, president of Sackman Enterprises, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gale Brewer, a City Council member on the Upper West Side, wrote a letter in April 2008 urging the LPC to protect the brownstones after Sackman successfully applied for a demolition permit. But the LPC rejected an individual landmarking of 732 and 734, and the buildings were destroyed over the summer.

Ms. Brewer welcomes a designation of the entire area, which would protect all existing buildings. “I believe in preservation; I don’t want anything to change,” she said.

Tall, 15-story apartment buildings jut from either side of West End Avenue, next to smaller brownstones. The WEPS’ Mr. Emery said any development, particularly modern sliver buildings, would be a jarring disruption of the neighborhood’s pre-war architecture.

While preservationists say there has been no direct opposition to the creation of a historic district in West End, the Real Estate Board of New York is generally opposed to the proliferation of such districts, citing the restrictions on development that they create. Although construction is still possible in such districts, all new projects must be approved by the LPC, which can be a difficult and extensive process.

Michael Slattery, a vice president at REBNY, expressed concern over the expansion of current historic districts and the threat to developers who purchase properties with the assumption that they are not limited in construction.

“What we’ve been seeing in these extensions of existing districts, there are a lot of buildings that don’t merit designation that get caught up in a large net,” Mr. Slattery said. “We, as a city, need to grow and change. That’s been the history of New York.”

The WEPS is holding a community meeting Thursday night on the effort.

rli@observer.com