Mama, If That’s Movin’ Up …

In a candid and soul-searching interview published last week, Long Island fixture Billy Joel told a New York Times Magazine reporter that he was looking to rent a new home in Manhattan for the sole purpose of meeting women.

“I’m not going to meet anyone out here,” he told The Times , referring to the East End, where he’s famously lived for years.

(Of course, he’s been eulogizing the Hamptons since his 1989 song “Downeaster ‘Alexa.'”) But now it looks like the veteran rocker’s heart is taking him home-not to the big, bad city.

The hall-of-fame crooner recently put a halt to his Manhattan apartment search, backed out of a contract to buy a $14 million East Hampton mansion-losing a $2 million deposit in the process-and bought a $12 million waterfront home in his hometown of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

“Billy Joel’s real estate-I need a separate career just for that,” joked Mr. Joel’s publicist, Claire Mercuri.

“It has beautiful views, a good amount of acreage, it’s on the water, it’s private, and it’s in close proximity to the city,” the Piano Man told The Observer in a statement, referring to his most recent purchase-a 16-acre sprawl with a guest house and pool. “I was looking for an apartment in New York City, and I decided instead I would prefer to live in a house on the North Shore.”

Ever since selling his East Hampton mansion to Jerry Seinfeld in 2000, Mr. Joel’s brokers on Long Island and Manhattan have been scrambling to find his next “permanent” home. It appeared he was ready to settle down in North Haven with the purchase of a $7 million waterfront estate, but he put that place on the market this summer without ever moving in. It’s still for sale. Later in the summer, he toured several high-end Manhattan apartments, coming extremely close to signing a deal at Trump Palace, but he backed out at the last minute. Mr. Joel’s longtime Manhattan broker, Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, had no comment on the search.

In Mr. Joel’s latest bout of indecision, he reneged on a deal to buy a $14 million mansion on East Hampton’s Old Beach Lane, an offshoot of Further Lane.

“He just said he didn’t want to live in East Hampton any more,” said the house’s owner, Fred Stein, a Wall Street portfolio manager.

Ms. Mercuri said it’s no secret that Mr. Joel is prone to wavering on real-estate decisions.

“He changed his mind,” she said. “This isn’t the first time he saw a property he liked and fell in love with it on the spot, and then had second thoughts about it.”

Unfortunately, this time the second-guessing cost Mr. Joel a $2 million deposit, as well as some hard feelings from the lady of the house.

“It was very upsetting to my wife,” said Mr. Stein. “We had to move out 60 boxes full of stuff. But I think he paid for it-he left a big chunk of money on the table.”

Despite his wife’s anger, Mr. Stein said he doesn’t harbor any resentment toward Mr. Joel.

“I thought he was very decent. He acted like a gentleman,” he said. “We parted on friendly terms. If I saw him I’d say ‘Hi, Billy,’ and I’m sure he’d say hi, too.”

Mr. Stein said he believes that Mr. Joel “wasn’t being capricious at all” in his dealings. To offer proof of Mr. Joel’s good intentions, Mr. Stein explained how Mr. Joel had visited the house two or three times each week, bringing his architect, a designer and his teenage daughter, Alexa Ray.

“He had planned to build a music room and do all kinds of things,” Mr. Stein said. “That’s why it was such a shock to all of us.”

Referring to the Times Magazine piece, Mr. Stein said he empathizes with Mr. Joel’s plight.

“He’s just kind of a lost soul, and he’s got some problems he’s got to resolve for himself.”

Mr. Stein’s Old Beach Lane house, which does not have ocean frontage, has its comely features nevertheless: The 12,000-square-foot mansion overlooks the Maidstone Club and Hook Pond. John Golden of Sotheby’s has the listing.

Real-estate sources tell The Observer that Mr. Joel most likely flip-flopped at the last minute because the Oyster Bay house-which Mr. Joel had always wanted, but was then off the market-came on the market unexpectedly, and Mr. Joel couldn’t resist.

As for his other holdings, that North Haven waterfront estate is on the market, and Mr. Joel has a house on Shelter Island that is still for sale. He also owns a modest Sag Harbor house that was once a bait shop.

And regarding his New York state of mind?

“As far as questions on my intentions of moving to New York City,” Mr. Joel said through his publicist, “maybe in the future.”

Upper East Side

530 East 72nd Two-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op. Asking: $840,000. Selling: $790,000. Maintenance: $1,883; 50 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: 10 months.

THE SECOND TIME AROUND The woman who owned this Upper East Side co-op had lived there with her husband for 20 years before losing him to cancer. Upon remarriage-to a widower who had also lost his spouse to cancer-she and her new husband felt that there were too many memories bound up on 72nd Street. So they decided to stay only as long as it took to renovate a new home on East 58th Street. “In marriage and real estate, it was the second time around for both these people,” said their broker, Midge LaGuardia, of William B. May. That was in the summer of 2001. When Sept. 11 knocked the real-estate market on its duff, their first buyer dropped out. “The guy who was going to sign thought that prices would come down,” said Ms. LaGuardia. “So we lost it, and it took until July to close again.” Eventually, a neighbor in the building who was looking for a place like this-but with a separate dining room-took a look at the place. Since no pesky co-op application was necessary, they quickly sealed the deal.

Upper West Side

45 West 95th Street Four-unit townhouse. Asking: $2.595 million. Selling: $2.595 million. Taxes: $23,500. Time on the market: six weeks.

BROKER STAGES TOWNHOUSE INTERVENTION The family therapist who lived in this four-story townhouse for the last 20 years had originally fallen in love with the place because of its expansive and wide-open parlor floor. She had no problem carving up the upper two levels into rental units, but in order to create her own workspace, she had to make a more painful series of incisions: Her parlor floor became a waiting room, powder room and therapy room-which entirely destroyed the floor-through feel. “It broke up the space, so you didn’t see the pocket doors open to the back,” said the townhouse’s listing broker, Anne Snee, a senior vice president and director of townhouses at Corcoran. When the therapist originally put the 3,800-square-foot house on the market, the confined parlor-floor rooms made it difficult for prospective buyers to visualize the building’s potential. So Ms. Snee recommended that her client tear down the parlor partitions and restore the floor to its intended dimensions. “She ripped it out, and it was like night and day,” Ms. Snee said. “The minute we put it back on the market, it was sold.” The new buyer-a married financier with two young children-plans on going one step further: He’s restoring the house to a single-family dwelling.

Boerum Hill

71 Dean Street Four-bedroom, two-bathroom house. Asking: $925,000. Selling: $935,000. Taxes: $1,840. Time on the market: one week.

GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE If you leave old newspapers up in your attic for a few years, they’re considered garbage. If you leave newspapers up there for 200 years, they become relics. The previous owners of this Boerum Hill house were cleaning out their rafters when they discovered newspapers that dated back to 1814. The find established their house as one of Brooklyn’s oldest-though that title has been in hot contention ever since a fire early in the last century destroyed all of the borough’s buildings records. Further rummaging through the rafters turned up documents proving that the house was once used as a barber shop. “It looks like it should be a farmhouse out in the country,” said the owners’ broker, Christine Dugan of William B. May. “And it probably was-[this] was all farm country back then.” The owners decided to put their place on the market when the lady of the house-a minister-got an appointment in a leafy Bergen County town. They didn’t have any trouble finding takers. The minister’s husband, a movie-set designer whose credits include It Could Happen to You and The Preacher’s Wife , had restored the house with crown moldings, custom bookshelves and new door frames (people were shorter back in 1814). Mature geraniums and wisteria range through the backyard, and long wood planks comprise the house’s clapboard façade. “I marketed it as ‘Nantucket comes to Brooklyn,'” said Ms. Dugan-and it’s a strategy she applied in particular when she called these buyers, a couple that wasn’t even in the market for a new place. The woman, a children’s-book editor for Simon & Schuster, had married her husband, a stage actor and jewelry artist, on the exclusive island resort. “I know you’re not looking,” Ms. Dugan told them, “but if anyone should have this house, it’s you. This is a Nantucket house!” Ms. Dugan sold the couple’s Brooklyn Heights apartment in one day, and they beat out another prospective buyer on the Boerum Hill place-even though they had been outbid. “[The previous owners] really liked them …. The greed was not there,” said Ms. Dugan. “As I said, she’s a minister.”

Plastics King Votis Bids to Brick Over Perelman’s East 62nd Street Townhouse

by Petra Bartosiewicz

The view from the well-appointed parlor-floor offices of Revlon chief Ron Perelman’s holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes, at 35 East 62nd Street, is a forbidding one, according to company senior vice president James Conroy.

“It’s all concrete out there,” Mr. Conroy said.

But the Perelman-owned property is in for worse when neighbor George Votis, an investor, completes his five-story, 60-foot-high rear addition next-door at 41 East 62nd Street. The project will effectively brick over at least 10 windows on the side of Mr. Perelman’s townhouse, and the conflict is reverberating well beyond the rarefied party walls of East 62nd Street.

Mr. Votis, chairman and chief executive of Galt Industries-as well as the chief executive of Moll Industries, a $270 million plastic-manufacturing company-purchased the neo-Colonial townhouse in 2001 and quickly embarked on an ambitious $900,000 plan to renovate the property, at the time being used for office space.

But no sooner had his architect, Richard J. Walsh, rolled out the plans than neighbors were up in arms: At the heart of their displeasure was Mr. Votis’ intention to build out the final 30 feet of his rear yard with a single-story 18-foot-high addition. Though such a move would normally be forbidden under the city’s stringent zoning laws, Mr. Votis claimed an exemption, saying he intended the space to be home to the U.S. branch of the Philharmonia Foundation-the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra’s fund-raising arm, of which he is treasurer. Community facilities, such as nonprofits and doctors’ offices, are allowed to build out to their rear property lines.

Neighbors, however, were quick to cast doubt on the veracity of Mr. Votis’ philanthropic aims, asserting instead that he was cleverly exploiting a loophole in the zoning law in order to gain the additional space for his own personal use.

“Our concern has been that this is a sham application, and the community-facility aspect of it is not valid,” Mr. Conroy recently told The Observer .

Despite opposition from local preservation groups like the Historic Districts Council and Civitas-as well as Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, both of whom wrote letters to the Landmarks Preservation Commission protesting his plan-Mr. Votis has sailed through the approvals process, receiving his final permit from the city’s Department of Buildings on Aug. 23. With the news that construction could begin any day, attorneys for MacAndrews & Forbes went into high gear and obtained a temporary restraining order, issued by the State Supreme Court on Sept. 20, effectively stopping Mr. Votis from beginning work on his building.

Mr. Votis is certainly accustomed to having his elbow room. Despite maintaining a primary residence in Palm Beach, he owns a six-story Beaux-Arts townhouse on East 62nd just off Central Park. The residence, impeccably furnished and replete with marble floors and an abundance of gold detailing worthy of a Louis XIV salon, was the subject of a recent six-page spread in the July issue of Architectural Digest .

“I enjoy living in grand spaces,” Mr. Votis told the magazine.

Mr. Votis, who says he intends to keep his current residence, maintains that he’s just a classical-music lover who enjoys supporting musicians, allowing them the use of his home for practice time and hosting concerts. “The London Philharmonia is one of the great orchestras in the world, and I wanted to support them in New York,” he told The Observer . “I can’t speak for the other party’s motivations, but we have complied with every regulation and every law and have been vetted through an extensive process. And generally, I’m improving the property overall.”

Attorney Shelly Friedman, who is representing MacAndrews & Forbes, sees things differently.

“It may be that he can’t pull off the kind of concert recitals he’d like to have in his present home. He’s building a mini recital hall, and when you look at the layout of the plans, it will also serve as his living room. That’s just the way everything seems to flow,” Mr. Friedman said.

A hearing scheduled on the temporary restraining order this Friday was postponed for at least three weeks. If either party is unhappy with the court’s decision, they can appeal to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which has final say on the matter.

Mr. Votis’ attorney, Bob Davis, says the debate over the community facility is ultimately a red herring. The real source of the conflict and the legal muscle behind it, he claims, resides next-door in Mr. Perelman’s holding company.

“The owners of the adjacent building do not want to see their windows blocked,” Mr. Davis told The Observer . “They think if they stop the community facility, they can stop the entire project-and that’s not going to happen.”

Mr. Davis added that although the MacAndrews & Forbes building is itself a landmarked property formerly known as the Fleming School, Mr. Votis’ application-including bricking over the Fleming School’s windows-was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this year. The portion of Mr. Votis’ project that would block the windows, Mr. Davis said, is slated to become part of his private residence and requires no special permits.

Mr. Conroy conceded that this was true, but asked what would stop Mr. Votis from getting the permit for the community facility, then doing what so many townhouses on the Upper East Side have done: revert from institutional to residential use with an application to the Board of Standards and Appeals.

If that were the plan, Mr. Votis could well be out of luck. Roy Starrin, deputy director of the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, says that obtaining such a variance would not be so easy. “It might be more viable if the structure was built 30 years ago,” he told The Observer . “But if [Mr. Votis] comes back in a year looking for a variance on a new addition, I can’t imagine that we would entertain such an application.”

That doesn’t save Mr. Perelman’s view.

“Once it’s built, what can you do?” said Mr. Friedman. Mama, If That’s Movin’ Up …