Will the West End Avenue Historic District Kill the Upper West Side?

535 west end ave Will the West End Avenue Historic District Kill the Upper West Side?Steven Spinola, the all-powerful head of the Real Estate Board of New York, seems to think so.

He told the Post that “landmarking the entire city does not leave opportunity to grow,” and he has a point that there won’t be much of the Upper West Side left that is not protected by a historic district:

Using landmark designation to protect views from penthouse apartments, to freeze architectural-style preferences of a few current residents and to promote the self-interests of private parties is a misuse of the landmarks law.

This may be true for developers, because it will increase the cost of building, not only because the city will now review all new buildings but will also likely require higher-quality ones. As a West End supporter puts it, “They’re trying to protect the right of developers to put up junk.”

Yet the new historic district could also create a windfall, at least for those who are already there, though quite possibly for developers, as well. Preservationists argue that landmarking actually drives up existing property values by protecting what is there and, admittedly, restricting development.

But don’t forget that some of the priciest new developments have popped up in historic districts, from Park Slope to the Upper East Side, from Central Park West to Soho. There is even a prime example in 535 West End Avenue, developed by Extell and one of the best new buildings of the year. Its 12 units are commanding top dollar while blending in quite nicely with the neighbors, and this for a building that is outside of any historic district and thus needn’t go the faux classical route. Consider the broad successes of Robert A.M. Stern, as well.

It is true a new historic district will probably cost developers more money and time up front. But long-term, it should pay off for them, as well as the city, quite handsomely.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo